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HARRIS v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

October 30, 1990

EDGAR HARRIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FLANNERY

 THOMAS A. FLANNERY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This matter came before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for an award of liquidated damages and for a declaration that defendant willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. As discussed below, the Court will grant plaintiffs' motion and order the relief requested.

 I. Background

 Plaintiffs are eleven supervisory housing inspectors who work for the municipal government of the District of Columbia. They filed this action on October 11, 1988, seeking an award of overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. Section 207(a) of FLSA requires that employees be paid one and one-half times their standard hourly wage when they work in excess of forty hours per week. Id. § 207(a).

 Defendant District of Columbia ("the District") had refused to pay overtime compensation to plaintiffs, maintaining that plaintiffs work in an executive capacity and are exempt from FLSA's overtime requirement. Id. § 213(a)(1). In a memorandum opinion dated April 19, 1990, this Court found against the District and held that plaintiffs were entitled to backpay in the amount of the wrongfully withheld overtime payments. Harris v. District of Columbia, 741 F. Supp. 254 (D.D.C. 1990) (Mem. Op.). Plaintiffs are now back before this Court seeking an award of liquidated damages in an amount equal to the overtime payments and a declaration that the District willfully violated the provisions of FLSA.

 II. Liquidated Damages

 An employer who violates FLSA § 207(a) "shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation, as the case may be, and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Under 29 U.S.C. § 260, however, the Court may, in its sound discretion, reduce or decline to award liquidated damages "if the employer shows to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission [in violation of FLSA] was in good faith and that he had reasonable grounds for believing that his act or omission was not a violation of" FLSA. Id. § 260. *fn1"

 The District bears a "substantial burden" of proving that its failure to comply with FLSA was in good faith and was predicated upon reasonable grounds. Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 185 U.S. App. D.C. 322, 567 F.2d 429, 464-65 (D.C. Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1086, 55 L. Ed. 2d 792, 98 S. Ct. 1281 (1978). To meet its burden of good faith, the District must show "an honest intention to ascertain what the . . . Act requires and to act in accordance with it." Id. at 464 (citation omitted); D'Camera v. District of Columbia, 722 F. Supp. 799, 800 (D.D.C. 1989). It is not enough that the employer probably did not act in bad faith; the "good faith" defense requires the employer to make "an affirmative showing of a genuine attempt to ascertain what the law requires." Dove v. Coupe, 245 U.S. App. D.C. 147, 759 F.2d 167, 175-76 (D.C. Cir. 1985). In addition to this subjective inquiry, the employer must satisfy the objective standard that it have "reasonable grounds" to believe that its actions complied with FLSA. Laffey, 567 F.2d at 464; D'Camera, 722 F. Supp. at 800.

 Examining the facts of this case, it is evident that the District has failed to sustain its heavy burden of showing good faith and reasonable grounds for its actions. Credible evidence suggests that the District made no attempt to determine plaintiffs' day-to-day duties, thus making it impossible to determine whether plaintiffs were subject to the "bona fide executive, administrative, or professional" exemption to FLSA § 207(a). See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). Indeed, in the earlier bench trial before this Court addressing the issue of the District's FLSA liability, the District presented witnesses who had never "met with plaintiffs or reviewed their duties in detail before making a decision about their status under FLSA." 741 F. Supp. at 259. Similarly, the District employees charged with determining plaintiffs' FLSA status undertook no investigation in support of their findings, and instead "lumped together in the executive class everyone with the word supervisor in their job title." Id. at 260. The District's failure to ascertain its employees' duties can be considered neither in good faith nor reasonable grounds for misclassifying those employees for FLSA purposes. See Day & Zimmermann v. Reid, 168 F.2d 356, 359-60 (8th Cir. 1948).

 Moreover, the District knew of FLSA's applicability but made no effort to conform its conduct to the statutory requirements. The District was certainly on notice of FLSA's overtime requirements, as it was litigating the very same issues with respect to its police officers when this action was filed. Wyland v. District of Columbia Gov't, 728 F. Supp. 35 (D.D.C. 1990); D'Camera, 722 F. Supp. 799. Additionally, plaintiffs in this case submitted three written inquiries specifically addressing the issue of their entitlement to overtime compensation. *fn2" They received one response indicating that they were eligible for overtime payments, Pl. Mem. Exh. F, *fn3" yet no compensation was forthcoming.

 The District's claim that its classification decisions were in good faith and reasonable is vague and unconvincing. The District essentially attempts to shift the blame to the federal government, claiming that the Department of Labor's delay in issuing FLSA regulations applicable to municipalities forced the District to incorrectly classify plaintiffs. The District claims that it was forced to rely on these regulations because its personnel system was not implemented until 1980 and because it had no other relevant information available to it.

 The District's attempts to justify its actions ring hollow. The District offers no excuse for not attempting to properly classify plaintiffs. Although the information available to it may have been scarce, the District certainly could have reviewed plaintiffs' job responsibilities and made some independent effort to ascertain the appropriate FLSA requirements. The District did neither, instead choosing to passively wait while other entities did its work for it.

 The record reflects the District's lack of concern with ensuring that its actions complied with FLSA. This action was not filed until October 1988, approximately two and one-half years after the FLSA effective date. Faced with three plaintiff complaints during this interim, the District should have made some attempt to comply with FLSA. Instead ...


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