Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Claims for FLSA and Rehabilitation Act Violations

This week the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s (N.D. Ala.) decision to reject a city employee’s claims for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 794. Boyle v. City of Pell City, 2017 WL 3429383 (11th Cir. Aug. 10, 2017). Judge Fay, writing for the three- judge panel, held that “the law simply does not require an employer to demote or discharge an employee” or create a new position “to accommodate another employee who is disabled.”

The City of Pell City (the “City”) employed the plaintiff, Paul Boyle, from 2001 to 2012 as a Heavy Equipment Operator (“HEO”). Shortly after beginning his employment, Boyle suffered an on-the-job injury that prevented him from performing his duties.  After the injury, Boyle’s supervisor allowed him to do office work while technically maintaining his position as an HEO.  Further, in 2005, Boyle’s supervisor allowed him to work as the Department Foreman, while the actual Foreman voluntarily worked as a mechanic.  The parties memorialized this arrangement, specifically agreeing that it would be a lateral move and that Boyle would receive payment at the HEO rate.  The actual Foreman maintained his title and rate of pay despite working as a mechanic.  In 2012, weeks before retiring, Boyle’s supervisor wrote a memorandum stating his opinion that Boyle should receive additional compensation for the time he worked as a Foreman while receiving payment at the HEO rate.  Boyle never received any additional compensation, and his new supervisor removed him from the Foreman position and assigned him to do inventory work.  The new supervisor reasoned that whoever was paid as the Foreman should perform the Foreman’s duties.  Boyle informed his new supervisor that he could not perform his newly assigned tasks and requested to be returned to the Foreman position. When the supervisor refused, Boyle applied for and received disability retirement.  He then sued the City for, among other things, violations of the FLSA and the Rehabilitation Act.

Concerning his FLSA claim, Boyle argued the City failed to pay him the correct hourly rate, citing his supervisor’s memorandum opining that Boyle should have been paid as a Foreman rather than an HEO. The district court summarily rejected this argument because the parties’ written agreement executed in 2005 specifically stated that Boyle would receive compensation at the HEO rate.  Likewise, the district court held that the City did not violate the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to return Boyle to the Foreman position.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision in all respects. Specifically, the court held that “[t]he fact that [Boyle’s supervisor] later opined that Boyle should have been paid at a higher rate does not change the calculation of his regular rate for purposes of the FLSA . . . .”  Further, concerning Boyle’s failure-to-accommodate claim under the Rehabilitation Act, the Court held that “[w]hen an employer provides a greater accommodation than that required under the Rehabilitation Act, ‘it incurs no legal obligation to continue doing so.’”  Although the Court found it commendable that Boyle’s previous supervisor permitted Boyle to serve as Foreman, it held the City did not incur liability for removing him from that position when the job had never actually been vacant in the first instance.

Posted by John Sharpe.

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