U.S. Third Circuit - The FindLaw 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Employment Plaintiffs' Appeal for More Money Fails

Two sheriff's deputies out of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania filed an appeal after winning a judgment against their employer for unpaid overtime in the Souryavong v. Lackawanna County case. The government employer contended that the failure to pay overtime was an administrative error, a payroll glitch and nothing more.

While the lower district court did award the three plaintiffs their unpaid wages, and even doubled the damages and awarded attorney's fees, the plaintiffs, and their attorney, filed an appeal seeking more money. Sadly for the plaintiffs and their attorney, the appellate court did not disturb the ruling of the lower court.

No Evidence of Intentionally Withholding Pay

As the appellate court pointed out, the plaintiffs' argument that the county intentionally withheld their overtime pay was not borne out by the facts presented at trial. Surprisingly though, facts were presented that showed the county was aware of the problem, and even specifically aware about the problem as it related to one of the three plaintiffs.

However, the lower court dismissed the issue of intent before submitting the unpaid overtime claim, which was pretty much just a question of "how much," to the jury. As discussed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the cause of the unpaid overtime problem related to employees that worked more than one county job, where each job was tracked separately. That meant that an employee with two part-time county jobs, could actually be working over 40 hours a week for the same government employer and thus entitled to overtime under the FLSA.

Sorry Attorney, No More Fees for You

The attorney on the case appealed the $55K award of attorney fees, seeking more of the $160K in fees she originally sought. However, the appellate court affirmed the massive reduction in hours and hourly rate. 

She requested about 370 hours at $400 per hour, and received 270 hours at $250 per hour. And if you're calculating along at home, you know the math doesn't work out to $55K, but rather $67.5K. After gutting her hours and rate, the lower court also chopped off $12.5K for the Loadstar calculation. Unfortunately for the attorney, the appellate court found no abuse of discretion, nor error in the law applied, by the district court, and thus refused to disturb the fee award.

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