Judge rules drivers should be paid for sleeper berth time

Legal Alert from MTAC partner Wilson Elser.

In a recent decision, a federal judge in Arkansas ruled that a legal class of nearly 3,000 truck drivers is entitled to compensation for time spent in the sleeper berth, even though the drivers were signed out as “off-duty.”

Background

The lawsuit alleged that P.A.M. Transport Inc. violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Law. Drivers alleged that for any given 24-hour shift, Department of Labor regulations prohibit P.A.M. from excluding more than eight hours from compensation for time a driver spends in a truck’s sleeper berth.

In response, P.A.M. moved for a motion to dismiss, claiming that it is legally permissible to exclude all time that a driver spends in a sleeper berth from compensation, regardless of whether the amount exceeds eight hours.

Court Decision

In the ruling dated October 19, 2018, U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks denied P.A.M.’s motion. The judge stated that while Department of Transportation regulation prohibit commercial truck drivers from being on duty more than 14 hours in any 24-hour period, DOT regulations have little, if any “bearing on the matter at hand.”

The judge explained that “the DOT regulations aim to make our roads safe, while the Department of Labor regulations aim to provide workers adequate compensation.” “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration believes that some motor carriers that have not understood the difference may miscalculate the minimum wage, placing the motor carrier in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Further, the judge stated there is no ambiguity on the point that employers must count as hours worked time employees spend riding in a commercial truck while neither sleeping nor eating. The judge reasoned that during this time an employee, “is working, and any work performed while traveling must be counted as hours worked.”

In response to the holding, American Trucking Associations spokesman Sean McNally argued that the judge, “through an idiosyncratic reading of a pair of Department of Labor regulations, arrived at the erroneous conclusion that motor carriers must treat all, but eight hours of time spent in a sleeper berth as time that requires compensation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.” McNally continued by suggesting that other courts have correctly recognized that, “under those same regulations, time during which a driver is permitted to rest in the sleeper berth does not count as ‘hours worked’ under the FLSA, [and as such, this decision] stands as an outlier that hopefully will be corrected in due course.”

However, it remains unclear whether P.A.M. will continue to litigate and fight the judge’s ruling by asking the court for reconsideration or by appealing.

Impact

Although the ruling does not institute any new requirements for carriers, it could open the door to lawsuits brought by drivers. It’s seen as one of the first decisions by a federal judge that finds sleeper berth time as compensable hours.

For further information on transportation or employment issues, please contact MTAC partners, Attorney Brian Del Gatto at (203) 388-2400 or Attorney Joseph Baiocco at (203) 388-2403 of Wilson Elser’s Transportation Law practice. Additional information can be found online.