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Eleventh Circuit Finds for Plaintiff in DOC Wage-Hour Act Claim

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded on September 30, 1991, the circuit court’s decision on a federal Wage-Hour Act (the Act) claim brought by a Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) employee against the DOC. Joanie Dyback was a probation officer employed by the DOC from June 1985 to August 1988. She brought suit alleging failure on the part of the DOC to pay her time-and-a-half for hours worked over forty hours. Dyback relied on further provisions of the Act to claim “an additional equal amount as liquid damages,” and to open the suit to other like situated DOC employees to “opt-in” to the case. The DOC’s posture in the issue was that Dyback was exempt from the benefits of the Act, ineligible because of her status as a working professional, and that, even if all of Dybach’s assertions were ratified by the court, the DOC was still entitled to the benefit of the Good Faith Clause of the Act which protects employers who acted without malice aforethought from the sanction of the added liquid damages.

In U.S. District Court (MD Fla), the jury found Dybach an exempt professional, and the judge entered a judgment for the DOC. At appeal to the instant cause, following oral arguments, the court requested an amicus brief of the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor along with Dybach’s, then afforded the parties opportunity to submit further written argument.

In analysis, the court noted the term “professional” as used in the Act refers to a person employed in a field wherein the duties of the position call for a college degree in a specialized type of learning. Defendants put forth Dybach’s college degree as evidence of working in a professional field, but the court of appeals ruled that alone as insufficient to qualify her for the professional’s exemption. The relevant language of the Act requires that an employee be working in a bona fide professional capacity, the determining factor being the job description, not the education.

As to the “opt-in” clause of the Act which the circuit court obviated by precluding Dybach from the benefits of the Wage-Hour Act, the appeals court ruled it again as relevant by ruling Dybach subject to the protections of the Act. Likewise, when properly applied the wording of the Act makes it plain that absent any evidence to the contrary, Dybach was entitled to the full provisions stated therein, including the opt-in clause, the overtime rate calculation and the liquid damages award. The DOC”s claim of good faith immunity to the liquid damages award had no triable substance to it and was thus rendered of no consequence.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to ender judgment in favor of Dybach, calculate her overtime pay, add the liquidated damages and render the case open to opt-in action by other DOC employees. See: Dybach v. State of Florida Department of Corrections, 942 F.2d 1562; 1991 U.S. App. LEXIS 22510; 30 Wage & Hour Cas. (BNA) 934 Case No: 90-3238 Filed 30 Sept 1991.

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Related legal case

Dybach v. State of Florida Department of Corrections