The “Because I Said So” Wage and Hour Case

July 9, 2015

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) governs the relationship between employers and employees. Under the FLSA, employers are responsible for recording their employees’ hours worked. But what happens when an employee simply claims that he or she has worked more hours than recorded, without providing any corroborating evidence? A recent Sixth Circuit case suggests that such a scenario will automatically result in the claim going to trial.

In Moran v. Al Basit, the Court was asked to answer one question: “Where Plaintiff has presented no other evidence, is Plaintiff’s testimony sufficient to defeat Defendant’s motion for summary judgment?” In a decidedly pro-employee opinion, the Court held “yes.”

The employer-defendant, an auto repair shop in Michigan, hired the plaintiff, a mechanic, to work 30 hours a week for $300. However, the plaintiff alleged that he actually worked an average of 65-68 hours per week. After failing to receive overtime compensation on multiple occasions for these alleged hours worked in excess of 40, the plaintiff quit and filed suit. The plaintiff testified that he worked more hours than he was compensated for, but provided no corroborating evidence. Conversely, the defendant produced physical timesheets indicating that the plaintiff typically worked 30 hours a week. Nevertheless, the Court held that the plaintiff’s testimony, alone, was sufficient to withstand summary judgment and entitled the plaintiff to a trial.

It is possible that the particular facts of the case swayed the Court in its decision. For example, the plaintiff’s timesheets showed “in all but five of the ninety weeks Plaintiff was employed, [he] worked exactly thirty hours, despite his schedule varying notably from week to week” (emphasis in original). The Court also noted the employer’s odd method of tracking hours, which entailed watching security footage and documenting by hand when employees would arrive and depart.

In defending its holding, the Court stated that employees need not “recall their schedules with perfect accuracy in order to survive a motion for summary judgment,” and handwritten timesheets offered by an employer “do not amount to incontrovertible evidence” of a plaintiff’s hours.  The Court further relied on Sixth Circuit precedent (while rejecting other Circuit decisions), which affirmed that a plaintiff’s own uncorroborated testimony can create a genuine issue of material fact, thus foreclosing summary judgment and putting the issue to a jury.

The troubling aspect of the Court’s decision for employers is that it allows employees to survive summary judgment and force trial on claims for inadequate pay without providing any evidence other than their own self-serving testimony. Employers should protect themselves by recording time in a more sophisticated manner than watching security tapes and documenting the time by hand, as the employer did in Moran. Employers also should require employees to document their own time and attest to their accuracy. Employers should also have a clear policy forbidding “off-the-clock” work.  These steps may not foreclose all claims, but do provide employers with a stronger defense.

Please contact your KJK attorneys should you need assistance regarding wage and hour audits, claims or law.