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Media Alerts - David Bell v. SEPTA - Third Circuit
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August 20, 2013
  David Bell v. SEPTA - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Vacates District Court's Order Dismissing SEPTA Employees' FLSA Claims

Area of Law: Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Issue(s) Presented: Whether the District Court erred by granting SEPTA's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction where current and former employees' FLSA claims did not require interpretation of collective bargaining agreements?

Brief Summary: Plaintiffs brought a class action against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) on behalf of themselves and former and current bus drivers and trolley operators for SEPTA. Plaintiffs brought the action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to recover unpaid wages and overtime wages for work performed during morning pre-trip inspections required before the start of the daily run. The District Court granted SEPTA's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the FLSA claim required interpretation of three collective bargaining agreements between SEPTA and unions representing plaintiffs, and was therefore subject to the grievance and arbitration provisions in the agreements. The Third Circuit vacated the District Court's order, holding that the employees' FLSA claim does not require interpretation of the collective bargaining agreements.

Extended Summary: Plaintiffs, bus drivers and trolley operators for SEPTA, brought a class action against SEPTA under the FLSA to recover unpaid wages and overtime wages for work performed prior to the start of their daily run. SEPTA required that operators perform daily pre-trip inspections, which require the operators to spend approximately fifteen minutes checking several items on their vehicle, such as the braking system, lights, horns, and doors. The operators alleged that SEPTA failed to compensate them for the pre-trip inspections. Under the FLSA, operators must be paid 1.5 times their regular wage for all hours worked over 40 hours per week. Because many operators work 40 hours per week without accounting for the extra time conducting the pre-trip inspections, they alleged that SEPTA's failure to compensate them for the overtime work was a willful violation of the FLSA.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted SEPTA's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the operators' collective bargaining agreements requires the parties submit to arbitration regarding any dispute involving the interpretation of any of the provisions of the agreements.

The Third Circuit disagreed, citing the Supreme Court's decision in Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., where the Court held that an employee's right to relief under the FLSA is distinct from an employee's contractual rights in a collective bargaining agreement, as they involve individual workers as opposed to members of a collective organization. The Court noted that under the FLSA, individual employees are granted broad access to the court, and no exhaustion requirement or other procedural barriers apply. The Third Circuit also cited Vandino v. A. Valey Engineers, noting that in some cases, an employee's FLSA claim can require interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, such as when an employee contends he is entitled to additional payment under the collective bargaining agreement. However, in the present case, the SEPTA operators' FLSA claims regarding overtime wages exist independently of any right under their collective bargaining agreements and therefore require no interpretation of the collective bargaining agreements.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/124031p.pdf

Panel: Circuit Judges Greenaway, Sloviter, and Barry

Argument Date: 07/11/2013

Argument Location: Philadelphia

Date of Issued Opinion: 08/19/2013

Docket Number: No. 12-4031

Decided: Vacated

Case Alert Author: Larissa Staszkiw

Counsel: Bruce Bodner, Esq.,
Howard J. Kaufman, Esq., Kaufman, Coren & Ress, Counsel for Appellants; Jo Bennett, Esq.,
Michael G. Tierce, Esq. Stevens & Lee, and Zachary R. Davis, Esq., Hangley, Aronchick, Segal, Pudlin & Schiller, Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Judge Barry

Circuit: 3rd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 08/20/2013 12:45 PM     3rd Circuit  

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