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Utility dispatchers, controllers may be entitled to overtime pay under FLSA


A New Hampshire utility’s dispatchers and controllers may be entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, in overturning a lower court ruling, in a case filed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Exeter, New Hampshire-based Unitil Service Corp., a subsidiary of public utility Unitil Corp., a public utility, was sued by the DOL in U.S. District Court in Concord, New Hampshire, for allegedly violating the FLSA’s requirement that its dispatchers and controllers were entitled to overtime pay, because they should not be considered exempt administrative employees, according to the ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in Martin J. Walsh, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor v. Unitil Service Corp.

The district court ruled in Unitil’s favor, and was overturned by a three-judge appeals court panel. The panel agreed with the DOL that the lower court had not properly evaluated the workers’ job duties in determining they are exempt from being paid overtime, basing its ruling on their job duties.

“As the DOL points out,” neither the dispatchers’ nor the controllers’ job description indicates they “do anything beyond engaging in their operational duties,” the ruling said.  They “do not design or plan the systems, nor do they analyze how the work or how they can be improved,” it said.

“At this stage, genuine issues of material fact remain unresolved,” it said, in vacating the lower court’s summary judgment and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Washington, D.C.-based regional solicitor of labor for the DOL Maia Fisher said in a statement, “The 1st Circuit’s decision helpfully clarifies the law governing when employees are administratively exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections. The court’s clarification of the law in this arena aligns with how the Department of Labor has litigated administrative exemption cases within the jurisdiction of the First Circuit. Employers should know that the Department of Labor takes very seriously whether employees are misclassified as exempt under the FLSA and, as shown by this case, will aggressively litigate to ensure that workers receive the wages that they are owed.”

Unitil’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

The DOL said last month that an Illinois home health care company must pay 69 workers a combined $1.1 million in back pay and damages after a court found the company improperly compensated the employees for hours worked.