Sixth Circuit Concludes That an FLSA Plaintiff Must Do More Than Estimate Overtime Hours
In Viet v. Le, No. 18-6191, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit provided insight into the kind of evidence employees must present in order to create a jury question over whether they worked unpaid overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).
In the case, plaintiff Quoc Viet purchased used copiers in the United States and shipped them to Vietnam for resale by the defendants Victor Le and Copier Victor, Inc. Copier Victor classified Viet, who worked from his home and a nearby warehouse, as an independent contractor. Le paid Viet a fixed rate for each copier that Viet purchased, and he did not track Viet’s hours. After the parties’ relationship soured, Viet filed suit against Le and Copier Victor, contending that they violated the FLSA by failing to provide him with overtime premium pay.
Following discovery, the district court granted summary judgment to Le and Copier Victor. The district court assumed that Viet provided services as an “employee” under the FLSA, but concluded that Viet’s evidence that he worked more than 40 hours per week was insufficient to withstand summary judgment. The district court characterized Viet’s testimony about his estimated working time as “equivocal, conclusory, and lacking in relevant detail.” Viet appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s decision.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that although Viet had testified that he worked approximately 60-hours per week, he failed to support that conclusory assertion with “specific facts” about his schedule. More specifically, the Sixth Circuit found that Viet failed to provide “even basic details about his typical day (such as by saying, for example, that he preferred to work from 8 to 6 or 9 to 8),” and pointed to Viet’s failure to provide additional context about his work schedule during his deposition, noting that Viet “offered no estimate of his daily hours or schedule.”
The Sixth Circuit also found that Viet could not meet his burden of proof by relying upon estimates of the time he spent performing specific tasks for Le and Copier because his testimony on those topics was inconsistent and conclusory. Although Viet testified that it took him at least 30 minutes to find a copier to purchase, for example, he conceded that Le never asked him to find 80 copiers in a week. Viet also failed to estimate the average number of copiers for which he searched on a daily basis.
In his bid to overturn the district court’s decision, Viet argued that because the FLSA places the onus on employers to maintain accurate records of hours worked, and because a relaxed standard of proof applies when an employer fails to do so, his claims were subject to a relaxed burden. The Sixth Circuit rejected Viet’s argument, and reiterated that the relaxed standard applies only to damages calculations after an employee meets his or her burden to prove a violation under the FLSA. Because Viet exclusively relied upon conclusory and vague evidence, he failed to create an issue for the jury with respect to Le and Copier Victor’s liability under the FLSA.
While overtime claims under the FLSA are heavily dependent on the facts of each case, the Viet decision should provide employers in the Sixth Circuit with additional support to defend claims brought by litigants who cannot substantiate their allegations of unpaid overtime with specific evidence about their work schedules.