Midwest interstate truck drivers exempt from overtime pay

Rejecting the argument of truck drivers that it should apply a week-by-week analysis to determine whether the motor carrier exemption applied, a federal district court in Wisconsin concluded that the drivers were exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions. Because the drivers were subject to being assigned interstate trips to various destinations across the Midwest, they engaged in interstate commerce, explained the court, and so were subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The court also denied the drivers’ motion for conditional certification of an FLSA collective action for overtime pay.

The employer was engaged in commercial landscaping on public and private commercial road building projects, commercial snowplowing, and commodity trading in salt and topsoil used in building projects. It is registered with the DOT, and required all of its truck drivers to possess a commercial driver license (CDL) for interstate travel. The named plaintiffs were truck drivers employed by the company. The employer maintained a “driver qualification file” for each driver that included information required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The drivers filed a putative class action under the FLSA for overtime pay and the employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was exempt under the motor carrier exemption.

Interstate shipments

During the relevant time period, the employer’s truck drivers engaged in a minimum of 120 shipments of salt and scrap metal between Wisconsin and Minnesota, 93 shipments of commodities between Wisconsin and other Midwest states for Kohl’s Department Stores, and 516 shipments of salt from the Port of Milwaukee to various locations in Wisconsin. The loads of salt had been ordered in advance from various companies outside Wisconsin. At any given time, the truck drivers were subject to being called upon to transport products across state lines. According to the employer, approximately 30 percent of its revenue was generated by interstate commerce in any given year.

Job assignments

Job assignments varied from day to day, so the employer did not regularly assign specific drivers to specific trips or create a schedule in advance of any particular day. Instead, drivers were given work assignments on a day-to-day basis as needed. Because all drivers were qualified to operate in interstate commerce, the employer did not differentiate between interstate and intrastate trips for job assignments. Drivers were assigned to interstate work randomly with consideration given to their job availability on the day in question. All drivers have been assigned to interstate travel at some point during their employment. All trucks driven by the named plaintiffs and all other truck drivers across state lines or to the Port of Milwaukee exceeded a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds.

Motor carrier exemption

Employees subject to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Transportation’s are exempt from maximum hour and overtime requirements of the FLSA pursuant to the motor carrier exemption. The exemption applies if the employer is a carrier subject to the DOT’s jurisdiction and the employee is a member of a class of employees that “engage[s] in activities of a character directly affecting the safety of operation of motor vehicles in the transportation on the public highways of passengers or property in interstate or foreign commerce within the meaning of the [MCA].”

Here, the court found that there was little doubt that the employer was a “motor private carrier” under the MCA. Its truck drivers hauled salt and scrap metal between locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They also transported commodities from Wisconsin to Kohl’s Department stores located in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. The employer was registered with the Department of Transportation, and its drivers all possessed CDLs. Finally, the plaintiffs admitted that the employer engaged in interstate commerce.

The employer also satisfied the second part of the exemption because all of the truck drivers drove interstate routes. Accordingly, the court found that the named plaintiffs were members of a class of employees that engaged in activities directly affecting the operational safety of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce.

Interstate travel

Moreover, the court rejected the employees’ contention that the transport of salt in intrastate trips from the Port of Milwaukee was not relevant to establish the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction. Rather, “under the Motor Carrier Act, transportation within a single state is still considered interstate commerce if it forms part of a “practical continuity of movement.”

Here, the truck drivers transported salt that had been ordered from out-of-state companies. The trip from the port was simply the final leg of an interstate trip ending in Wisconsin.

Additionally, the court observed that the exemption was applicable even in a workweek when the employee happened to perform no work directly affecting “safety of operation,” so long as he or she was likely to be called upon to drive interstate routes. The relevant inquiry is whether the plaintiffs “reasonably could have expected to drive interstate.” In this instance, the employer regularly engages in and randomly assigns drivers to interstate work. Further, it derived approximately 30 percent of its gross revenues from interstate work. Thus, the exemption applied to the employer’s truck drivers.

Four-month rule

Further, the court rejected the drivers’ contention that it should apply a week-by-week analysis to determine when the exemption applied. Rather, the court concluded that “evidence of driving in interstate commerce or being subject to being used in interstate commerce should be accepted as proof that the driver is subject to [the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction] for a 4-month period from the date of proof.” Under the four-month rule, the named plaintiffs were exempt for the entire period of their employment. (Leipolt v. All-Ways Contractors, Inc., EDWis, 166 LC ¶36,44.)

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