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Third Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Pennsylvania Guard's FLSA Suit

Sandra Babcock, a guard at the Butler County Prison in Butler, Pennsylvania, filed a putative class-action in federal court alleging Butler County was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-209, et seq., for failing to provide overtime pay for the time guards worked in excess of 40 hours a week. The guards were required to work 8-hour shifts five days per week. They received a one-hour meal period, but only 45-minutes of it was compensated. The dispute was over the 15 uncompensated minutes.

The district court granted the county's motion to dismiss after finding that the guards received the "predominate benefit" of the meal period and therefore were not entitled to compensation. Babcock appealed.

The Third Circuit found that the predominate benefits test – which had been adopted by the majority of the other courts of appeal – was the appropriate test to use. It noted that during meal periods guards were not allowed to leave the prison without the permission of the warden or assistant warden and were required to remain in uniform, close to emergency equipment and on call, but held that the guards had the predominate benefit of the meal period. It admitted this went against the literal wording of 29 C.F.R. § 785.19(a).7, but said that courts had "generally eschewed a literal reading of the Department of Labor regulation in favor of a "totality of the circumstances approach" favored by the Supreme Court.

In this case, a collective bargaining agreement provided the benefit of compensation for 75% of the meal period with mandatory overtime pay if a meal period is interrupted by work. Since collective bargaining was available for any changes in the compensation, under the totality of the circumstances the dismissal was proper. Therefore, it affirmed the district court's judgment. Babcock was represented by Cherry Hill, New Jersey attorney Swartz Swidler.

See: Babcock v. Butler County, 3rd Cir. No. 14-467 (decided Nov. 24, 2015).


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Related legal case

Babcock v. Butler County