Pennsylvania Overtime Lawyer Tip: Washington County Common Pleas Court Deems Federal Portal-To-Portal Restrictions on Compensable Time Inapplicable Under Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act

As many readers of this website already know, the federal Portal-to-Portal Act places significant restrictions on the compensability of pre-shift and post-shift work activities under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In recent years, these concepts have been explored by the U.S. Supreme Court in the IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez (2005) and Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk (2014).

However, as we often emphasize on this website, many states have enacted wage laws that are more worker-friendly than the FLSA. In this regard, Pennsylvania wage, overtime, and labor lawyers should be aware of a recent opinion issued by the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas in Bonds v. GMS Mine Repair & Maintenance, Inc. The Bonds litigation is summarized below:

Bonds started out as a hybrid class/collective action in federal district court. See Bonds v. GMS Mine Repair & Maintenance, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89181 (W.D. Pa. July 1, 2014). The plaintiffs were coal miners who sought to be paid under the FLSA and Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”) for various pre-shift activities such as attending mandatory safety meetings. See id. at *15. After discovery, the employer moved for summary judgment, and the district court set out to determine “whether the time that the underground mine workers spend attending pre-shift meetings is compensable under the FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947.”  Id. at *21. In answering this question, the district court undertook an extensive analysis of the FLSA, the Portal-to-Portal Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions applying the Portal-to-Portal Act. See id. at *21-35.  The district court then granted summary judgment against the miners, reasoning that the pre-shift safety meetings were not compensable under the Portal-to-Portal Act. See id. at *35-40.

Next, the district court turned to the miner’s PMWA claim. See Bonds, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89181, at *40-41. The district court observed that “‘the Pennsylvania General Assembly has not in any way adopted the federal Portal-to-Portal Act.’” Id. at *40 (quoting Ciarelli v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 46 A.3d 643, 648 (Pa. 2012) (McCafferty, J. dissenting from dismissal of appeal as being improvidently granted)). The district court then reasoned that, because the Portal-to-Portal Act’s applicability to the miners’ PMWA claim was a “novel issue of state[] law,” it would refrain from exercising supplemental jurisdiction over the PMWA claim. See id. at *40-41.

In the wake of the district court’s ruling, the miners pursued their PMWA claim in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. See Bonds v. GMS Mine Repair & Maintenance, Inc., 2017 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 10622 (Pa. Com. Pl., Washington Cty. Dec. 12, 2017). Once again, the employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the PMWA – like the FLSA – rendered the miners’ pre-shift activities non-compensable. See id. at *6-11.

The Common Pleas Court rejected the employer’s argument. See Bonds, 2017 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 10622, at *6-11. After explaining that the PMWA often provides Pennsylvania employees with greater protections than the FLSA, see id. at *9-10, the Common Pleas Court explained that the FLSA’s Portal-to-Portal limitations and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Integrity Staffing opinion were irrelevant to the miners’ claim: “Although the Integrity Staffing case significantly changed the scope of the federal law regarding compensation of pre- and post-shift work activities, the case ultimately has no impact on Plaintiff’s [P]MWA claim. As previously stated, the law in Pennsylvania provides greater protection for employees than federal law, and Pennsylvania has refused to adopt the FLSA. The standard set forth in Integrity Staffing is inapplicable to plaintiffs’ state law claims, therefore Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.” Id. at *11.

Bonds finds support in In re Cargill Meat Solutions Wage and Hour Litig., 632 F. Supp. 2d 368 (M.D. Pa. 2008), which observed: “The provisions of the Portal Act and § 203(o) indicate Congress’s intent to better define the liability of employers under the FLSA. They do not, however, supplant the traditional power of the state to more generously regulate wage and hours via th[eir] own state regulations.” Id. at 394 (internal quotations omitted). The holding also finds support in Lugo v. Farmer’s Pride, Inc., 967 A.2d 963 (Pa. Super. 2009), wherein the Pennsylvania Superior Court makes no mention of Portal-to-Portal principles in addressing food processing workers’ claim that pre-shift donning and doffing activities – precisely the types of activities covered by the Portal-to-Portal Act in FLSA lawsuits – were compensable under the PMWA.  See id. at 967.

Our firm recently filed a brief asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to certify to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the question of whether the Portal-to-Portal restrictions on compensable time apply to wage claims brought under the PMWA. You can find our brief and additional information by clicking HERE and visiting our page dedicated to litigation.

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