No Overtime Owed Where Employee Took Unauthorized Rest Breaks

A light rail operator is not entitled to overtime for post-shift time spent returning a train to the storage yard.  In an unpublished opinion, Sheehy v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment to an employer because the extra time the employee spent pulling the train into the storage yard after his shift each day was offset by the unauthorized bathroom breaks he was taking while on shift.
The plaintiff, Harold Sheehy, worked as a light rail operator for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for twenty years.  One of his duties was to return the train he operated to the storage yard at the end of every shift.  Beginning in July of 2010, the employer adjusted the pull-in schedule for plaintiff’s train, which shortened his allotted pull-in schedule by five minutes.  Over the subsequent three years, he consistently pulled-in fifteen minutes behind schedule and submitted overtime pay requests for the extra time.  While the employer initially paid the overtime, it decided to stop payment when investigation showed he was regularly taking an unscheduled restroom break before pulling-in.  Sheehy disagreed with this decision, and ultimately filed suit in federal district court alleging that the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to pay the overtime he had accrued pulling his train in after his shift.  The employer filed a motion for summary judgment, which the lower court granted, and Sheehy appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit.
In affirming the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in the employer’s favor, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that “[t]he FLSA does not obligate an employer to compensate an employee for unauthorized rest breaks.”  Because the plaintiff did not submit evidence creating genuine issues of material fact regarding whether his breaks were authorized, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling dismissing Sheehy’s case.  Sheehy v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.