Bid to Include Similarly Situated Coaches in FLSA Claim Falls Short

Sep 25, 2009

A federal judge has denied the request of a group of high school coaches and other employees, who sought to include similarly situated coaches in a claim based on the Fair Labor Standards Act. The court reasoned that the other coaches weren’t comparable because each district paid them a stipend on a subjective basis.
The FLSA, among other things, entitles public employees to receive overtime payments where appropriate. This has traditionally been a controversial area when it comes to extracurricular activities, such as athletics.
The claim in the instant case was brought by James Purdham and Michael Bouchard and other similarly situated employees and former employees of defendant Fairfax County Public Schools. The plaintiffs contended that they worked more than forty hours per week, and were not paid proper overtime wages . Further, the plaintiffs alleged that, when the hours spent coaching and performing other services are added to their normal hours, the overall amount of money they were paid per hour falls below the minimum hourly wage.
Rather than address the merits of the claim, the court addressed the plaintiffs’ request to send notice to similarly situated employees so that such employees may “opt-in” to the suit.
“Even if the court assumed that a group of similarly-situated potential plaintiffs exists, … the court finds that conditional certification is inappropriate because of the probable necessity of an individualized FLSA coverage determination for each member of the potential class.
“Each Fairfax County public school exercises substantial discretion over the athletic and other activity ‘supplements’ paid to the ‘volunteers’ who provide athletic coaching services. No county-wide guidelines enforce a uniform distribution of supplements or regulate the number of hours that employees can devote to coaching and other volunteer activities. And the number of hours that different coaches work varies widely between sports and between coaches at different schools within the same sport. The amount of money that different coaches at different schools receive as a ‘supplement’ — and the amount they receive per hour of coaching — also varies significantly.
“The FCSB submitted evidence showing that the stipend paid to coaches and the amounts paid to ticket-takers are determined locally, within each individual school. Similarly, the hours that coaches work are determined by the coaches themselves. As a result, the amount of money each coach is paid as a ‘stipend,’ when computed as an hourly rate, varies widely between coaches. The hourly pay for coaching, then, depends on two inter-connected but localized decisions: the apportionment of the ‘supplement’ between coaches and other athletic officials, and the amount of time that a particular coach chooses to devote to his or her coaching duties.”
The court noted that the “FCSB agrees with Plaintiffs that non-exempt employees have performed certain services that, when combined with their regular work hours, add up to more than forty hours per week during some weeks. It also agrees that it did not pay overtime for those services. Rather than dispute these facts, the FCSB argues that conditional certification is not appropriate because, under FLSA statutes and related regulations, claims by coaches and ticket-takers will have to be evaluated on an individual-by-individual basis. The Court agrees with the FCSB: because the method by which coaches and ticket-takers are paid and the amount of money they are paid vary widely among individual schools, each FLSA claim will have to be evaluated on its own merits.
James Purdham and Michael Bouchard v. Fairfax County Public Schools; E.D. Va.; 1:09cv50 (JCC), 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52781; 6/22/09
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Nils George Peterson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Arlington, VA. (for defendant) Jeffrey Brian Hardie, Thomas Patrick Murphy, Hunton & Williams, McLean, VA.


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