Truck drivers are often perhaps usually exempted from overtime pay requirements by the federal Motor Carrier Act (MCA). But a recent Fifth Circuit decision, Olibas v. Native Oilfield Services, shows the limits of that exemption, and the perils an employer creates for itself by failing to maintain or by destroying documentary evidence including payroll records.
Truck drivers for Native Oilfield Services filed an overtime suit claiming that they should have been paid overtime for (1) their off the clock hours waiting to be assigned a truck, and (2) their off the clock hours spent waiting for their trucks to be loaded/unloaded. The trucking company answered that the MCA exempted the drivers from overtime pay requirements.
The MCA exempts drivers of trucks weighing greater than 10,000 pounds and other employees whose regular duties require them to "engage in activities of a character directly affecting" the safe operation of such vehicles and interstate commerce. Interstate commerce under the MCA doesn't just mean across state lines but includes "the ant trust state transport of goods in the flow of interstate commerce." But not just any duties or possible such duties are enough; where the drivers or other employees duties are so "trivial, casual, and insignificant as to be de minimis" the exemption does not apply. But again and in the way that the law is complicated generally, the exemption does apply if employees are, or are "likely to be, called upon in the ordinary course of their work to perform, either regularly or from time to time, safety affecting activities that are interstate in nature."
So here is where the drivers stood: (1) if they did actually regularly drive the trucks across state lines, they would be exempt; (2) if they were likely to be called upon in the ordinary course of business from time to time to drive the trucks across state lines, they would be exempt; (3) aside from driving the trucks across state lines, the drivers, if the drivers drove the trucks only intrastate but a regular part of the company's business would be to deliver goods across state lines, the drivers would be exempt.
There was conflicting testimony at trial regarding whether the drivers regularly and/or were subject to being required to drive their trucks across state lines. The jury resolve that issue in the drivers' favor. As the Fifth Circuit put it, "it was a pure jury question whether to believe the employees or the employer."
It was likely helpful to the drivers that the company was unable to produce documentary evidence supporting its position. The company could not at trial "produce drivers logs, bills of lading, time sheets, or other documents" showing interstate travel by the drivers. The company claimed that the logs had been destroyed by a third-party but also admitted that the logs had been destroyed after they had been requested by the drivers in pretrial discovery. Daily trip reports and driver time sheets, according to the company president, were supposedly stored in a banker's box after the drivers requested them but, inexplicably, were later destroyed. The company also failed to produce any customer orders supporting its claim that goods it transported intrastate were bound for interstate delivery. So not only did the company failed to produce documentary evidence supporting its position, it also offered incredible explanations for its failure to do so.
The Fifth Circuit upheld an award of $1,673,145 in unpaid overtime compensation, $1,673,145 in liquidated damages, $371,759.59 in attorney's fees and $10,564.32 in costs. There were 108 drivers covered by the case.