5th Circ. will not reconsider the decision on the FLSA exemption for seafarers

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Container ships wait off congested Los Angeles and Long Beach ports in Long Beach, California, United States, September 29, 2021. REUTERS / Mike Blake

  • The tribunal dismissed the bench review and restored the panel’s decision
  • The panel said workers who mainly operated cranes were not sailors exempt from OT pay.
  • Dissenting judges say ruling will create uncertainty for shipping companies

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(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court said on Thursday that workers who use cranes attached to boats to load equipment onto offshore oil rigs are not “sailors” exempt from paying overtime under of federal wages law, launching a class action lawsuit against the lift boat operator All Coast LLC.

The 5th US Court of Appeals voted 15-2 to deny the bench review in All Coast and restored a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel in February that workers were engaged in industrial activities which had no effect on the operation or navigation of the lifting vessels. .

Liftboats are self-propelled supply vessels with three column-shaped legs, which can be quickly lowered to the seabed to lift the vessel out of the water.

Former All Coast employee William Adams said he and other lift boat workers were falsely classified as Fair Labor Standards Act-exempt seafarers and unlawfully denied overtime pay. Workers like Adams spent up to 90% of their time operating cranes and not maintaining boats, according to documents on file.

Circuit judges Edith Jones and Jennifer Elrod opposed denying the bench review, saying the panel’s decision “threatens uncertainty in the shipping industry” and marks the second time in a month that the 5th Circuit misapplied the FLSA exemptions.

Louisiana-based All Coast and its attorneys at Balch & Bingham and The Moeller Firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Curt Hesse of Moore & Associates, who represents Adams, said the suggestion that the move could upend the industry is false.

“As we pointed out in the brief, there was real evidence on the record… that other lift boat companies are in fact paying their workers overtime,” Hesse said. “This decision levels the playing field.”

In a 2016 lawsuit in Louisiana federal court, Adams claimed that the various job titles All Coast awarded to lift boat workers, such as journeymen, deckhands and sailors, hid their true work as crane operator. Since they weren’t sailors primarily involved in vessel maintenance, they should have been paid overtime, Adams said.

U.S. District Judge Jane Milazzo in Lafayette, Louisiana disagreed and granted summary judgment to All Coast in 2019. Citing a 5th Circuit precedent, she said the services provided by the workers were helping “to the operation of such a ship as a means of transport”, which made them sailors.

The 5th Circuit panel in the February decision reinstated Thursday has overturned. The court said that although the workers “acted like a normal nautical crew” when a boat was in motion, the loading and unloading tasks they mainly performed had no connection with the operation of the lifting boat.

The court returned the case to Milazzo to determine whether the plaintiffs qualified for the FLSA exemption on other grounds.

The panel included circuit judges Edith Clement, Jerry Smith and Andrew Oldham.

Dissenting justices who voted for a bench review said on Thursday that even when the lift boats were lifted, not in motion, the crew members were doing quintessential seafaring work, such as watching, checking the engines and checking the boat. cleaning.

And “without the cranes, the lift boat is useless for transportation,” wrote Smith, joined by Elrod.

Smith said the panel took too narrow a view of the FLSA exemption and ignored the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Encino Motorcars LLC v. Navarro that exemptions from the law should be “fairly read”.

The 5th Homer, Smith said, made the same error in its Sept. 9 bench decision in Hewitt v. Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc, which said that a management-level oil rig worker earning $ 200,000 per year had to be paid overtime because he was paid a per diem rate and therefore not exempt by FLSA.

The case is Adams v. All Coast LLC, 5th United States Court of Appeals, No. 19-30907.

For Adams: Melissa Moore and Curt Hesse of Moore & Associates

For All Coast: Armin Moeller of Balch & Bingham; and Matthew Moeller of The Moeller Firm

Daniel Wiessner

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor, employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy development. He can be reached at [email protected]


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