Employment Law Daily Switcher who also loaded freight for interstate transport subject to motor carrier exemption
Monday, August 1, 2016

Switcher who also loaded freight for interstate transport subject to motor carrier exemption

By Ronald Miller, J.D. A federal district court did not err in classifying an employee as a loader who was exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA under the Motor Carrier Act exemption, ruled the Eighth Circuit. Although the employee was classified as a "switcher," a substantial part of his work activities involved the actual loading, distributing, and making secure of freight on board trailers for interstate transportation. Accordingly, the MCA exemption applied, regardless of the employee’s precise role in the loading process (Williams v. Central Transport International, Inc., July 28, 2016, Loken, J.). The employee alleged that Central Transport violated the FLSA’s overtime requirements when it employed him as a "switcher" at its St. Louis terminal. It was undisputed that the employer shipped freight throughout the U.S. and is a "motor carrier" subject to the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction under the Motor Carrier Act. The FLSA exempts "any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service" under the MCA (MCA exemption). The district court granted Central Transport summary judgment, agreeing that the employee worked as a "loader" of freight in interstate commerce and thus fell within the MCA exemption. This appeal followed. Loading activities. To fall within the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction, it is enough that an employee devoted "a substantial part of his time to activities directly affecting safety of operation." As a switcher, the employee’s duties included loading and unloading trailers, moving trailers to and from loading docks, and repositioning freight with a forklift. The employee loaded two types of trailers—"line-haul" and "city." Line-haul trailers carried freight from St. Louis to terminals around the country, and city trailers made deliveries in the St. Louis region. In line-haul trailers, freight is packed wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling to prevent shifting in transit. For city trailers, freight is spread across the floor, so the driver can access the freight at each delivery. The employee regularly loaded both types of trailers. Exercise of judgment and discretion. Despite undisputed evidence of his actual duties in loading freight on Central Transport trailers, the employee argued that the MCA exemption did not apply because he did not have responsibility "for exercising judgment and discretion in planning and building a balanced load or in placing, distributing, or securing the pieces of freight in such a manner that the safe operation of the vehicles on the highways . . . will not be jeopardized." In addition to agreeing with the district court that the employee’s loading activities, in fact, required the exercise of the requisite judgment and discretion, the appeals court further concluded that "exercising judgment and discretion" was not the governing standard. Accordingly, based on Supreme Court precedent, the appeals court found that, if an employee spends a substantial part of his time participating in or directing the actual loading of a motor vehicle common carrier’s trailers operating in interstate or foreign commerce, the Secretary of Transportation has the authority to regulate that employee’s hours of service and the MCA exemption applies, regardless of the employee’s precise role in the loading process. Thus, the district court properly granted summary judgment dismissing the employee’s FLSA claims.

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