The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that an employee who drives a motor vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 10,000 pounds falls within the “motor carrier exemption” of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to the Eighth Circuit, which issued the decision in McCall v. Disabled American Veterans, et al. on July 31, 2013, an employee falls within the exemption regardless of the actual weight of the vehicle when he or she is driving it.
The FLSA has long included an exemption from its overtime provisions for employees whose activities could be regulated by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. This exemption is known as the “motor carrier exemption.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1). At one time, this exemption applied mainly to over-the-road truckers, but it also had been applied by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the courts to employees who drove much smaller vehicles in interstate commerce and in some cases even their own station wagons in the performance of their duties.
In 2005, Congress enacted the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). This statute created a new definition of “commercial motor vehicle,” to mean a vehicle that “has a [GVWR] or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater.” 49 U.S.C. § 31132(1)(A). In 2008, however, Congress passed a Technical Corrections Act (TCA), which amended the SAFETEA-LU and reestablished the term “motor vehicle” instead of “commercial motor vehicle.” The TCA also contained a provision which apparently was not carried into the codified version of the law. According to this provision, the exemption from the overtime provisions of the FLSA would apply to a “covered employee,” which the TCA defined as a driver of a motor vehicle “weighing 10,000 pounds or less.” Pub. L. No. 110-244, Title III, § 306 (2008).
In the Eighth Circuit’s case, truck driver Birdell McCall drove a vehicle that had a GVWR of more than 10,000 pounds. But the total weight of the vehicle at the time he drove it did not exceed that rating limit. Thus, he argued that he was entitled to overtime compensation for hours that he worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. The district court denied his motion for partial summary judgment and granted summary judgment to the employer. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in a panel decision authored by Judge Lavenski Smith (with Judges Murphy and Gruender). The appeal was argued by Ogletree Deakins shareholder Chris R. Pace, of the Kansas City office, who also wrote the appellees’ brief in the case. The court held that the DOL’s interpretation of the law, set out in its Field Service Bulletin No. 2010-2, that the GVWR of the vehicle determined whether the motor carrier exemption applied was a reasonable interpretation of the law and would be accorded deference. Accordingly, the employee’s claim for overtime compensation was properly denied.