Postal Inspectors Sue USPS for Overtime Pay
A few excerpts from the recent federal case (note: the case was initially filed in 2003)
In a suit brought by current and former postal inspectors against the Postal Service alleging that they are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), summary judgment for the Postal Service is reversed in part and remanded where: 1) 39 U.S.C. section 1003(c), which requires payment to inspectors on the basis of “comparability” to other similarly tasked executive branch employees, is not in clear conflict with the FLSA; 2) Congress did not implicitly repeal the FLSA’s overtime provisions to plaintiffs; 3) thus, the Postal Service’s construction of section 1003(c) was unreasonable; and 4) a remand was necessary to determine whether the inspectors are otherwise exempt from the FLSA.
This appeal principally involves the relationship between two labor statutes — the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and a 1996 statute related to compensation for postal inspectors, 39 U.S.C. § 1003(c). Robert Nigg, a postal inspector currently employed by the United States Postal Service (”the Postal Service”) and Keith Lewis, a retired postal inspector, sued the Postal Service alleging that the inspectors are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (”FLSA” or “the Act. The Postal Service does not pay postal inspectors FLSA overtime, instead claiming that their pay is governed by 39 U.S.C. § 1003(c). At issue is whether the compensation provision in § 1003(c) trumps the overtime provisions of the FLSA
In general, postal inspectors undertake criminal, civil and administrative investigations involving the postal laws.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Postal Service, reasoning that 39 U.S.C. § 1003(c), which requires the Postal Service to pay the inspectors on a basis of “comparability” to other similarly tasked executive branch employees, permits the Postal Service to provide “availability pay” rather than FLSA overtime. The court adopted the Postal Service’s argument that postal inspectors are comparable to certain other federal law enforcement officers who receive availability pay under the Law Enforcement Availability Pay Act (LEAP).
FLSA overtime and availability pay differ significantly, both in terms of the hours of work required to qualify, and the way in which pay is calculated. For example, FLSA overtime entitles a covered employee to overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. In contrast, availability pay requires a covered employee to work an average of two extra hours of overtime per day beyond the eight hour day for the entire year to be entitled to extra pay for the extra hours worked.
FLSA’s overtime provisions presumptively apply to federal employees, such as the inspectors, unless a specific FLSA exemption applies. (”Each employee is presumed to be FLSA nonexempt unless the employing agency correctly determines that the employee clearly meets one or more of the exemption criteria[.]”). In enacting § 1003(c), Congress did not amend or repeal the FLSA, either explicitly or implicitly. We conclude that § 1003(c) is not clearly in conflict with the FLSA, and that Congress did not impliedly repeal the FLSA. (”‘Repeals by implication . . . are not favored and will only be found when the new[er] statute is clearly repugnant, in words or purpose, to the old statute . . . .’”) . We reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Postal Service and remand with instructions to consider whether the inspectors satisfy any FLSA exemption or are entitled to FLSA overtime.
In a deposition in this case of James K. Belz, a Postal Service executive in charge of budget issues, Belz testified he believed that with the creation of the IG office, longstanding pay inequities for postal inspectors had to be addressed or else the Postal Service inspectors would all seek to leave to go to the IG’s office.