Thursday, August 22, 2013

3d Cir.: FLSA Claims May Proceed Without CBA Grievance Arbitration

My home circuit, the Third Circuit, issued an FLSA opinion this week in Bell v. SEPTA (opinion here). Bus drivers and other vehicle operators claimed that they were not paid for pre-trip activities such as reading bulletins, checking detours, and performing vehicle inspections (and, as they worked 40 hours per week on top of these activities, all of that time was unpaid overtime). The district court dismissed the FLSA claims, holding that the claims were subject to collective bargaining agreement (CBA) grievance procedures.

On appeal, the Third Circuit noted that the FLSA claims existed independently of the CBA. The workers did not seek interpretation of the CBA, but merely payment for time spent working as required by the FLSA. The Third Circuit contrasted this with prior precedent holding:
[I]f a FLSA claim depends on the disputed interpretation of a CBA provision, an employee must first go to arbitration—through the representative union—before vindicating his or her rights in federal court under the FLSA.
The Court vacated the dismissal of the FLSA claims and sent them back to the district court where they can proceed without exhausting the CBA's grievance arbitration procedure.

Image: Third Circuit logo used in commentary on Third Circuit. Not official use.