Grooms and Hotwalkers Win Overtime Case

Grooms and hotwalkers employed by thoroughbred horse trainer Steve Asmussen were awarded $200,000 plus in overtime pay in a trial court judgment affirmed by the Sixth Circuit in Walsh v. KDE Equine. The appeals court sent the case back for consideration of liquidated damages that would double the amount.

The court described the hours worked each week by these employees as follows:

  • hotwalkers work 7 days a week from 5 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
  • some hotwalkers work some in the afternoon, usually 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm, every other day
  • hotwalkers typically worked "approximately 44.25 hours per week"
  • grooms work 7 days a week usually from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and then from "approximately" 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • grooms work and can earn extra pay one days when one of the horses they see to is racing
  • grooms typically work 48.5 to 52.5 hours per week

Both the hotwalkers and the grooms were paid a salary and received "extra compensation for additional tasks outside of their normal duties." But most of the hotwalkers and grooms did "not submit timesheets for the additional hours worked, while others submitted inaccurate time sheets." These additional duties included such things as $25 for unloading hay, $25 for transporting horses to the racetrack and $100 for doing laundry. 

The Sixth Circuit rejected three arguments from trainer Asmussen that overtime pay requirements had been complied with. First was the claim that the "payment scheme provided a premium for a fixed number of overtime hours[.]" This can comply but only when "an employee works a fixed number of overtime and non-overtime hours." Since the weekly workhours of the grooms and hotwalkers varied, this payment scheme did not comply. Second, the employer argued that its scheme met the "fluctuating work weeks" method which can apply "when employees work varying hours from week to week but are paid fixed base salaries." But this method requires accurate records regarding the hours worked by the employees, and trainer Asmussen's outfit did not do this. Trainer Asmussen last contended that overtime requirements were met because hotwalkers and grooms were paid "lump-sums for additional tasks outside of their normal duties." This didn't apply because the lump-sum payments were too regular. 

The overtime owed totaled $211,541.76. The Sixth Circuit sent the case back to the trial court to determine if that amount should be double for trainer Asmussen's willful violation of the overtime law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to Equibase, horses trained by Steve Asmussen have won 379 races and purse money exceeding $28 million in 2022. 

Robert L. Abell

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"Lets have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it." - Abraham Lincoln
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