In July 2019, we reported regarding a new opinion letter issued by the Department of Labor (DOL), which stated that the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumed to be non-working time that is non-compensable and therefore not subject to the requirements of the FLSA.
The opinion letter was issued in response to two decisions out of Arkansas and Arizona, which had concluded that motor carriers may owe minimum wage pay under the FLSA for time spent by its drivers in the sleeper berth. At that time, we mentioned that the opinion letter was not legally binding, but such opinion letters are typically utilized by courts for guidance in interpreting the applicable regulations.
Arkansas Federal Court Rejects DOL Opinion Letter on Compensability of Sleeper Berth Time
In the case pending in Arkansas, Browne v. P.A.M. Transport, Inc., the federal district court refused to give deference to the DOL’s interpretation of its regulations. The defendants attempted to de-certify the class-action based upon the July 2019 opinion letter, but the court refused to consider or give deference to the DOL’s interpretation and found no reason to reverse its prior ruling in the case. The court felt that deference to the DOL’s interpretation was only necessary when the regulation was genuinely ambiguous. The court found that the regulation was not ambiguous and, therefore, it did not need to consider the DOL’s interpretation.
The court also refused to give deference to the Arkansas Department of Labor’s letter issued in September 2019 setting forth that the state agency would follow the DOL’s interpretation on the issue of compensability of sleeper berth time.
future court rulings
It will be interesting to see whether a federal appellate court rules on this issue. It will also be interesting to see if other courts give more deference to the DOL’s opinion letter in future cases.