Law School Case Brief
Allen v. City of Chi. - No. 10 C 3183, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 165906 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 10, 2015)
To succeed on their FLSA claim, plaintiffs must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they performed overtime work for which they were not properly compensated. In addition, plaintiffs must show that the City had actual or constructive knowledge that plaintiffs worked overtime without compensation because "the FLSA stops short of requiring the employer to pay for work it did not know about, and had no reason to know about."
Plaintiff Jeffrey Allen, a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department ("CPD"), filed the present action, on behalf of himself and current and former police personnel assigned to CPD's Bureau of Organized Crime ("BOC") (collectively, "plaintiffs") against defendant City of Chicago ("the City"). The plaintiffs alleged that the City willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. when the latter required them to use their BlackBerry devices to be available to access work-related emails, phone calls and messages while they were off-duty. According to the plaintiffs, they were not compensated for the work involved in receiving and following up on the communications received on their BlackBerry devices, because CPD maintained an unwritten policy to deny plaintiffs compensation for off-duty work they performed on their CPD-issued Blackberry devices.
- Were the off-duty activities in question compensable work under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
- Were the plaintiffs not properly compensated due to an existing CPD unwritten policy to deny them compensation for off-duty work they performed on their CPD-issued Blackberry devices?
1) Yes, for some of the off-duty activities performed.
To succeed on their FLSA claim, plaintiffs must prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that they performed overtime work for which they were not properly compensated. In addition, plaintiffs must show that the City had actual or constructive knowledge that plaintiffs worked overtime without compensation. First, the Court held that the plaintiffs performed some compensable work under the FLSA for which they were not remunerated. The Court noted that the Department-issued BlackBerrys gave the plaintiffs the ability to perform certain necessary work while on and off-duty. Some activities plaintiffs performed on their BlackBerrys had to be done immediately, even if they were off-duty. These activities include reaching out to CIs, gathering information on investigations that were heating up, and contacting and reallocating teams of officers in response to a shooting. Such off-duty activities were at times pursued necessarily and primarily as part of plaintiffs' jobs in BOC, and constituted compensable work under the FLSA. However, the evidence failed to show that all of the off-duty activities plaintiffs performed on their BlackBerrys were a necessary part of their jobs. According to the Court, the mere act of plaintiffs “monitoring” their BlackBerrys did not constitute an activity pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the City under the FLSA, so long as the plaintiffs could still spend their off-duty time primarily for their own benefit without persistent interruptions. Second, the Court held that the plaintiffs have not proven that the City had actual or constructive knowledge that plaintiffs worked overtime without compensation. According to the Court, the plaintiffs fell far short of showing a uniform culture or well-grounded understanding that off-duty BlackBerry work would not be compensated in BOC. Plaintiffs have not proven that supervisors within BOC had specific knowledge of off-duty BlackBerry work being performed without compensation (i.e., without a corresponding time due slip being turned in). The Court further noted that BOC members (including several plaintiffs) turned in slips for off-duty BlackBerry work and were compensated. In light of said evidence, the Court held that the plaintiffs have not shown that there was a common understanding or an unwritten policy that such work would not be compensated. As such, the Court entered judgment in favor of the City and against the plaintiffs, and considered the case as terminated.
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