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Fifth Circuit: No FLSA Minimum Wage for Texas Prisoners

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) did not apply to Texas prisoners working in Texas state prisons.
Douglas Loving, a Texas state prisoner, filed a civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that, under the FLSA, he was entitled to minimum wage for his work as a "drying machine operator" in a state prison. With very few exceptions, Texas prisoners are not paid for their labor but are required to work as unpaid slaves of the state. The district court dismissed the suit as frivolous and for failure to state a claim. Loving appealed.

The Fifth Circuit noted that, whereas it had previously held that a jailer was not a FLSA employer of a jail prisoner privately employed outside the jail in a work-release program, and prisoners working inside a prison for a private employer were not FLSA employees of the private company, it had never addressed whether prisoners working for the state in a prison were employees for FLSA purposes.

The Fifth Circuit joined every other circuit that has addressed the issue in holding that state prisoners doing prison work are not employees of the prison pursuant to the FLSA. Thus, just as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th and 10th Circuits had already decided, the Fifth Circuit held that prisoners working for or in the prison are not entitled to the federal minimum wage.

The Fifth Circuit also held that Loving's claim that prison employment was discriminatory failed because he did not identify the victims of the discrimination or the grounds for the discrimination. His claim that the "State should restore his work credits to his inmate trust fund account" failed because it appeared to be intertwined with the rejected claim of a constitutional right to compensation for prison labor. His claim that the record of his work created an enforceable right to payment under Texas negotiable instruments law also failed. Thus, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Loving's suit for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted. See: Loving v. Johnson, 455 F.3d 562 (5th Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Loving v. Johnson