?Takeaway: An employee who repaired hydraulic cranes that were permanently affixed to trucks and could travel on highways was exempt from the FLSA’s overtime compensation requirements because he was a mechanic under the Motor Carrier Act.
?A worker who repaired hydraulic cranes that were permanently affixed to trucks and could travel on highways was not entitled to overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal appeals court held. The employee was exempt from the FLSA’s overtime compensation requirements because he was a mechanic under the Motor Carrier Act (MCA), the court ruled.
The employer owned and leased self-propelled, hydraulic cranes to companies for projects in oil fields. The cranes—which were permanently affixed to a truck chassis and could legally travel on highways—were transported to customer jobsites throughout the southern and southwestern United States. The employee traveled to these sites and other office locations where the cranes were stored to perform repairs and maintenance on the hydraulic, electrical and pneumatic systems in the cranes. On average, the employee serviced five to 20 cranes a week and would travel out of state to service these cranes several times a month, if not several times a week. He estimated that he worked, on average, 80 hours per week.
The worker was employed in this position for approximately three years. Initially, he was paid hourly and received overtime compensation, but after about a year, despite no change in job responsibilities, the employer converted him to a salaried position. Two years later, he was terminated.
The employee sued the company, claiming that it failed to pay him overtime compensation in violation of the FLSA. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit before trial, concluding that the employee was exempt from the FLSA’s overtime compensation requirements under the MCA exemption as a mechanic. The employee appealed.
Generally, the FLSA requires an employer to pay overtime compensation to any employee working more than 40 hours in a workweek. The overtime-pay rule is subject to several enumerated exemptions, however.
Under the MCA exemption, the overtime compensation requirement does not apply if the secretary of transportation has the power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service for the employee. The secretary of transportation need only possess the power to regulate the employees at issue; it need not actually exercise that power for the MCA exemption to apply, the court explained.
Under U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, the secretary of transportation may establish qualifications and maximum hours of service for employees of motor carriers who engage in activities directly affecting the safe operation of motor vehicles in interstate commerce, explicitly including mechanics, the appeals court said.
To determine whether an employee qualifies as a mechanic under the regulations, neither the name given to the position nor that given to the work done is controlling. What is controlling is the character of the activities involved in the performance of the job, the court said.
The employee claimed that he should be permitted to take his claim to trial because there was no evidence that his qualifications and hours of service were actually regulated by the secretary of transportation. The appeals court rejected this claim, noting that the secretary need only have the power to regulate the worker’s employment. It was therefore not relevant whether the secretary actually did so.
The court also rejected the employee’s claim that he did not qualify as a mechanic under the MCA because the bulk of the work he performed on the self-propelled cranes was to the crane itself, not the truck chassis, and his work on the crane did not directly affect how safely the vehicle could operate on highways.
A mechanic under the MCA is an employee whose duty it is to keep motor vehicles operated in interstate commerce by his employer in a good and safe working condition. Mechanics, the appeals court said, engage in activities that directly affect the safety of operation of motor vehicles when they prevent the vehicles from becoming potential hazards to highway safety and thus aid in the prevention of accidents.
The employee performed precisely the type of activities that the MCA contemplates as directly affecting the safety of operation of motor vehicles on the truck chassis itself, the court said. For instance, he performed repairs to the brakes, lights, horns, windshield wipers, transmissions, wheels and axles, and starters and ignitions in the self-propelled cranes. At least some of these components—such as the wheels and axles, transmissions, and starter and ignition—were affixed to or part of the truck chassis.
Therefore, the appeals court said, the trial court correctly concluded that the employee qualified as a mechanic under the MCA and so was exempt from the FLSA’ s overtime requirements. The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit.
Cunningham v. Circle 8 Crane Services LLC, 5th Cir., No. 22-50170 (March 24, 2023).
Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md.