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O'Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy - 851 F.3d 69 (1st Cir. 2017)

Rule:

Exemption F covers employees whose work involves the handling—in one way or another—of certain, expressly enumerated food products. Specifically, Exemption F states that the protection of the overtime law does not apply to: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 26, § 664(3)(F). 

Facts:

Plaintiffs Kevin O'Connor and four others ("Drivers") worked as delivery drivers for defendant Oakhurst Dairy ("Oakhurst"). The Drivers filed a lawsuit against Oakhurst in federal district court seeking unpaid overtime wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 201 et seq., and the Maine overtime law, 26 M.R.S.A. § 664(3). The matter was referred to a magistrate judge, and the parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment to resolve their dispute over whether the Drivers were covered by Exemption F of Maine's minimum wage and overtime law. Exemption F stated that the protection of the overtime law did not apply to certain listed occupations, and particularly work that involved the "packing for shipment or distribution" of agricultural produce, meat and fish products, and perishable foods. The Drivers contended that they fell outside of Exemption F and thus the overtime law protected them. Oakhurst argued to the contrary. The magistrate judge recommended that Oakhurst's motion for summary judgment be granted and that the Drivers' motion be denied. The district court adopted the magistrate's recommendation and granted Oakhurst summary judgment. The Drivers appealed.

Issue:

Did the Drivers fall within Exemption F of Maine's overtime law, Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 26, § 664(3)?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed the district court's decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court observed that § 664(3) omitted a final comma after the word "shipment," and thus there was an ambiguity as to whether it referred to two distinct exempt activities—"packing for shipment" and "distribution," and the act's legislative history did not cure that ambiguity. Maine's default rule of construction, which required that wage and hours law be liberally construed to further its remedial purpose, favored a narrow reading, such as that urged by the Drivers. The court adopted the Drivers' interpretation: § 664(3) referred to the single activity of "packing," whether the "packing" was for "shipment" or for "distribution," and although the Drivers handled perishable foods, they did not engage in "packing" them. As a result, the Drivers fell outside Exemption F.

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