In a recent minimum wage and overtime case, a federal court judge ruled against an employee of the City of East Cleveland, Ohio who filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for unpaid wages. The employee, William Ellington, worked as the Deputy Clerk for the East Cleveland City Council. Apparently for political reasons, the City stopped issuing paychecks to Mr. Ellington, and at one point, he worked for several months for "free." Eventually, he filed a lawsuit, alleging that the East Cleveland City Council had failed to pay him minimum wage and overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") requires employers to pay most employees at least the minimum wage, and time-and-a-half for all overtime hours worked (all hours over 40 in a work week). However, as the court noted, the FLSA does not consider all working individuals "employees" entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. (See other articles on this blog about exempt employees).
The FLSA defines an "employee" as "any individual employed by an employer," and specifically defines "an individual employed by a public agency" to include "any individual employed by a State, political subdivision of a State, or an interstate governmental agency." However, not all individuals "employed by a public agency" fall under the scope of the FLSA. The following types of government employees are not covered by the FLSA (and thus do not benefit from the FLSA's minimum wage and overtime provisions): (1) an individual who is not subject to the civil service laws of the State, political subdivision, or agency which employs him; and (2) either (a) holds a public elective office of that State, political subdivision, or agency, (b) is selected by the holder of such an office to be a member of his personal staff, (c) is appointed by such an officeholder to serve on a policymaking level, (d) is an immediate adviser to such an officeholder with respect to the constitutional or legal powers of his office, or (e) is an employee in the legislative branch or legislative body of that State, political subdivision, or agency and is not employed by the legislative library of such State, political subdivision, or agency. In other words, employees who are elected officials, policymakers for or advisors to elected officials, or directly employed by a legislative body (as long as they are not employed in the legislative library and are not governed by state civil service laws) are not covered by the FLSA.
The court found that Mr. Ellington was employed by a legislative body (East Cleveland's City Council) and was not subject to the Ohio's civil service laws. Therefore, Mr. Ellington was not covered by the FLSA, and his suit alleging a violation of the FLSA was dismissed.
The court also noted that whether an employer-employee relationship exists depends on the economic reality of the working relationship rather than labels used to describe the relationship. Therefore, it is possible that even workers who are not called "employees" (for example, independent contractors) and not receiving minimum wage and overtime pay are entitled to such compensation.
If you are a government employee, and your rights to minimum wage or/or overtime pay are being violated, or if you want to better understand your rights, you should contact a St. Louis overtime lawyer.