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Coach Found To Be A “Volunteer” And Not Entitled To Overtime

Published by on April 4, 2011

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the Fairfax County School Board in an FLSA overtime lawsuit.  The plaintiff/employee was a coach who argued that he was an employee of the school and not a volunteer.  Both the district court and the court […]

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the Fairfax County School Board in an FLSA overtime lawsuit.  The plaintiff/employee was a coach who argued that he was an employee of the school and not a volunteer.  Both the district court and the court of appeals disagreed, finding that he was a “volunteer” under the FLSA.  More after the break.

Plaintiff was employed as a full-time safety and security assistant by the School Board for Fairfax County, Virginia.  In addition to his position as a security assistant, plaintiff served as a high school golf coach.  Plaintiff’s job as a security assistant was not conditioned on his coaching activities and he was free to relinquish his coaching responsibilities at any time.  The School Board permitted plaintiff to work on coaching activities during his regular work day as a security assistant.  Plaintiff was reimbursed for his coaching expenses and received a stipend for his services as a coach.  Plaintiff estimated that he spent 400 to 450 hours annually on coaching activities.  In 2005, the School Board decided to pay all non-exempt employees for overtime hours that they served as coaches.  Plaintiff was retroactively paid overtime wages for hours he spent on coaching duties for the 2003-2005 golf seasons.  The School Board further determined that, effective July 2006, it would no longer permit non-exempt employees, such as plaintiff, to coach extra-curricular activities due to the potential issues associated with documenting coaches’ hours.  However, before the School Board implemented its new policy, the Department of Labor issued a guidance opinion letter about school coaching and Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) compliance, which concluded that full-time non-exempt employees were properly deemed “volunteers” in connection with their coaching activities and thus not eligible for overtime compensation.  As a result, the School Board abandoned its policy of prohibiting non-exempt employees from coaching and informed its employees that it would not pay overtime wages to full-time employees who “volunteer” to coach.        

Plaintiff filed a proposed collective action lawsuit against the School Board, claiming that he and other similarly situated employees were wrongfully denied overtime wages for serving as coaches in violation of the FLSA.  The district court denied plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification of a collective action.  At summary judgment, the School Board argued that plaintiff was a “volunteer,” and not an “employee,” under the FLSA, and therefore, he was not entitled to overtime wages for the time that he spent as the golf coach.  The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the School Board, concluding that plaintiff was a volunteer because coaching was not the same type of work as required by his regular position and the stipend he received was a “nominal fee” authorized by law to be paid to volunteers.

The Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the School Board.  The Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff fell within the “volunteer” FLSA exemption applicable to public employment.  This exemption applies to any individual who performs services for a public agency if the individual receives no compensation or a nominal fee and the services are not the same type which the individual is employed to perform for such public agency.   The Court of Appeal rejected plaintiff’s argument that he never intended to be classified as a volunteer, as the evidence demonstrated that plaintiff was motivated to serve as the golf coach, in significant part, by humanitarian and charitable instincts.  The Court of Appeals further held that the School Board’s proactive decision to pay overtime to coaches or its change in policy regarding payment of overtime did not alter plaintiff’s status as a volunteer.   Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s contention that his coaching stipend was more than a “nominal fee” permitted by law, as it was set regardless of his time and effort, and therefore, the stipend did not compensate him for services rendered. 

To read the entire Fourth Circuit opinion, click here.

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