Appellate Panel Finds Crew Leaders Are Not Subject to Agricultural Exemption to FLSA

Judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jose Ramirez and Joel Santana, plaintiffs who had appealed a prior ruling in their suit against their employer, Statewide Harvesting & Hauling (Statewide). The plaintiffs alleged that Statewide had unlawfully exempted them from overtime compensation for their work as crew leaders, overtime compensation that they claimed they were entitled to according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The appellate opinion explained Statewide is required by law to provide their workers with housing and food. They entered into a contractual agreement to provide their workers transportation to and from places like the grocery store, bank, and laundromat so that they could obtain food and complete other errands. The opinion said that as crew leaders, the plaintiffs transported the workers to and from these places, culminating in trips that lasted approximately 4 hours every week. The plaintiffs argued that between 2014 and 2017, they had not “received any overtime compensation when [they] had worked over 40 hours a week.” In 2017, the plaintiffs sued and sought damages for the overtime hours they completed when driving.

The judges said that there is an exemption from overtime compensation within the Fair Labor Standards Act that concerns work of an agricultural nature. Based on this, Statewide argued that the driving trips completed by the plaintiffs “fell under the exemption from the overtime requirements for agricultural work.”

 In the initial case, the magistrate judge recommended that the transportation completed by Ramirez and Santana did fall under the agricultural exemption because of its admittance of “work activities performed neither by a farmer nor on a farm when those work activities are incidental to primary agricultural activities performed on a farm.” The magistrate conceded the driving trips were not minor work and that the activities in questions occurred wholly off a farm. Statewide did not object to this statement. However, they stated that because the trips were related to agricultural activities in theory, the trips did fall under the exemption.

The district court rejected the magistrate judge’s recommendation, citing that “activities must be performed by a farmer or on a farm to fall under the exemption.”

Because Statewide had already accepted that the issue had occurred wholly off a farm and that the plaintiffs were not farmers, the appellate judges asserted that the driving trips “do not fall within the agricultural exemption,” which led them to “affirm the judgement in favor of the crew leaders.”

Both parties have “resolved the remaining issues by stipulating that Statewide’s conduct was not willful and agreeing to the amount of damages.” The plaintiffs were represented by Sorondo Rosenberg Legal, while the defendants were represented by Allen Norton & Blue.