By Cindy M. Cieslak & Bassil Chughtai
On June 20, 2023, the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld the prior ruling by the Superior Court, stating that chauffeurs working for Hy's Livery Service were not entitled to compensation for lunch hours, and affirmed the viability to applying the predominant benefit test in defining “compensable work.”
Between March 2015 and March 2016, Hy's was investigated by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor after employees complained about uncompensated preshift hours and the automatic deduction of a one hour meal break. During the ongoing investigation, Hy's chauffeur manager sent an email to the plaintiffs on December 30, 2015, and notified them of a new meal break policy that would soon take effect. The new policy stated that all chauffeurs would be given a one hour, unpaid meal break every day while on the road, at a time that would be decided by dispatch. Breaks could be taken anywhere within a radius of two miles from a chauffeur's next pickup.
In 2018, the plaintiffs, the chauffeurs of Hy's Livery Service, Inc., looked to receive damages from the owners of the service, asserting that their one hour meal breaks accounted for compensable work time and that their employer had unrightfully deducted the breaks from their pay.
While the case was pending, the United Case Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided that limousine drivers such as those working for Hy's fall under the jurisdiction of the taxicab exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which exempts drivers employed by employers “engaged in the business of operating taxicabs” as per Munoz-Gonzalez v. D.L.C. Limousine Service, Inc., 904 F.3d 208, 212 (2d Cir. 2018). Following the ruling, the plaintiffs moved for voluntary dismissal of the claims brought under the FLSA with prejudice and of the state law claims without prejudice, which was granted by the District Court on February 14, 2019.
When compared to federal law, state law has a more limited taxicab exemption that has not been extended to accommodate chauffeurs. Thus, Hy's filed the present action in the Superior Court on April 2, 2019, claiming only a state law violation. More particularly, the chauffeurs claimed that Hy's had violated General Statutes § 31-58 et seq., the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act, through the improper deduction of meal break pay. After one year of discovery, the chauffeurs filed a motion for class certification, which was eventually granted by the court, Ozalis, J., on April 20, 2020.
On September 24, 2020, Hy's filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that based on the undisputed facts, the chauffeurs' meal breaks did not characterize compensable work, especially when considering the predominant benefit test for compensable “work”. Since the plaintiffs spent their meal breaks in a manner that was predominantly for their own benefit, the time would not be compensable. The chauffeurs objected to the motion, then moving for partial summary judgment in accordance with their “contract theory” of liability, claiming that Hy's policy regarding meal breaks was an enforceable contract that the employers had breached.
On April 13, 2021, the court, Moukawsher, J., granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, concluding that the chauffeurs' meal breaks were not considered to be compensable time. Following this decision was an appeal from the plaintiffs to the appellate court, claiming through three arguments that the court improperly granted Hy's motion for summary judgment.
First, the plaintiffs claimed that Hy's meal break policy created an enforceable contract that required the defendants to abide by 29 C.F.R. § 785.19, which they claim invokes a “completely relieved from duty” test. Second, the plaintiffs claim that they were “working” during their meal breaks according to the language of General Statutes § 31-76b (2)(A) and that the court erred by employing the predominant benefit test in its analysis under the statute. Third, the plaintiffs argue that even if the predominant benefit test could be properly applied, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the meal breaks were for the predominant benefit of Hy's, therefore meaning that the defendants would have not have fulfilled their burden of proof to justify summary judgment.
In its judgment, the Appellate Court agreed with the assertion by the trial court that the meal break policy did not imply an enforceable contract between the chauffeurs and their employers, and even if it, did, the contract would be governed by the predominant benefit test, the test used in most jurisdictions.
With respect to “hours worked,” the chauffeurs claimed that being within two miles of their next pickup meant that they would be at their “prescribed workplace.” However, analogous cases have concluded that meal breaks are not compensable simply because the employee had to remain on premises. The employees would also have to be engaged in “work” while at said workplace, which would again point back to the predominant benefit test to clarify whether or not they were working.
The chauffeurs claimed that their “guarding limousines” would be enough to satisfy the predominant benefit test. However, during breaks, little evidence was shown that chauffeurs had been guarding their limousines. In fact, they had been able to visit malls, convenience stores, and restaurants, and even converse with other chauffeurs on their phones and in each other's vehicles. While the employer did receive benefits from the chauffeurs during lunch breaks, such as limousine cleaning and time to get gas, the Appellate Court ruled that said benefits were too minimal to conclude that the employer predominantly benefitted from lunch breaks.
This ruling asserts the viability of the predominant benefit test in interpreting Connecticut's Wage and Hour Statutes and serves as an indication of future treatment of the law in similar matters. This increased use of the predominant benefit test indicates a trend to make Connecticut wage law correspond to federal overtime law. Additionally, we are reminded that “work” is not necessarily constituted by location at the workplace, but also by productivity and the value of benefit to employers.
The attorneys at Rose Kallor are available to assist employers with workplace policies, including those governed by Connecticut's Wage and Hour laws. We can be reached at (860) 361-7999