In early October 2011, a hostess formerly employed by the Indianapolis Colts filed a lawsuit against the NFL team in federal court in Indiana. The suit alleges that the Colts failed to pay its hostesses at least the federal minimum wage for the hours they worked.
A federal law called the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires that most employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours of work they perform (or the state minimum wage, if it is higher). Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.30 per hour (which is the same as Indiana and Missouri’s minimum wage rate; Illinois’s minimum wage rate is $8.25 per hour). The FLSA also contains provisions requiring overtime pay.
Colleen Fenstermaker, the former employee suing the Colts, claims she worked for the Colts as a hostess since 1998. Hostesses were required to serve food and drinks to the coaches, announcers, and others in the stadium’s press box. Ms. Fenstermaker and about eleven other hostesses worked around ten games per year. Their shifts during each game lasted approximately eight hours. For their work, they were each paid a total of $40 per game; though, when Ms. Fenstermaker began in 1998, she claims they were only paid $30 per game. If accurate, even the higher figure would likely constitute a violation of the FLSA since $40 per eight hours is equal to a wage rate of $5 per hour, over 30+% less than the $7.25 per hour federal/Indiana minimum wage rate.
The Colts might claim that they are exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions, and therefore did not violate the law by paying these hostesses less than minimum wage. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has produced a factsheet stating that some “Seasonal Amusement or Recreation Establishments” may be exempt from the FLSA coverage. According to the factsheet, employers can qualify under the Seasonal Amusement or Recreation Establishment exemption if (a) they do not operate for more than seven months per year or (b) do not earn more than one-third as much money in their slowest six months as they do in their busiest six months. Ms. Fenstermaker’s complaint asserts that the Colts are not exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage provisions.
Of course, the Colts may also claim that they paid the hostesses at or above the minimum wage rate. But the complaint claims that “each [hostess] will likely serve as a witness in the others’ minimum wage lawsuits.”
Ms. Fenstermaker is asking the court to allow her claim to proceed as a collective action. If the court allows this, the other hostesses will be notified of Ms. Fenstermaker’s suit and be allowed to join it to make their own claim for unpaid wages. Generally, the more employees join a suit, the more likely it is that the employer will settle the case, providing monetary compensation to the employees more quickly than would otherwise be the case, and without the need for a jury trial.
If you have not been paid properly, or if you want to know more about your rights to fair pay, you should contact a St. Louis overtime attorney.