Arlington v. Miller’s Trucking, Inc.

Arlington v. Miller’s Trucking, Inc., 2015 MT 68 (March 3, 2015) (Shea, J.) (5-0, aff’d & rev’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the hearing officer properly found that Arlington and Miller’s did not have an oral employment agreement guaranteeing over $60,000 a year in wages; (2) whether Miller’s failure to keep proper records of Arlington’s hours can be attributed to Arlington; (3) whether Arlington met his burden of production by introducing evidence of hours he worked; (4) whether the hearing officer properly denied Arlington’s overtime wage claim because Arlington’s records lacked credibility; and (5) whether the hearing officer abused his discretion in excluding documents showing Miller’s failed to comply with hours-of-service requirements.

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) no; (3) yes; (4) no; and (5) no.

Affirmed in part (1, 5), reversed in part (2, 3, 4) & remanded

Facts: Arlington worked as log truck driver for Miller’s Trucking from Sept. 2008 – August 2009. Arlington claims he is owed wages under an oral employment agreement guaranteeing him $60,000-$70,000 a year, as well as overtime wages.

A contested hearing was held on Arlington’s claim in March 2011. The hearing officer dismissed Arlington’s claims, finding there was no agreement guaranteeing wages of $60,000 or more, and holding Arlongton was exempt from the FLSA and not entitled to overtime pay. The district court affirmed, Arlington appealed, and this Court reversed and remanded, holding Arlington should have been permitted to introduce evidence of job advertisements, and that he was not an exempt employee under FLSA. Arlington I, 2012 MT 89. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: On remand, the hearing officer again found no agreement for wages in excess of $60,000 a year. The hearing officer found that Arlington’s own time records were not credible, and denied the overtime claim. The district court affirmed, and Arlington appeals. The Supreme Court affirms the guaranteed-wage claim, and reverses and remands the overtime claim.

Reasoning: (1) Substantial credible evidence supports the finding that there was no oral employment agreement guaranteeing Arlington $60,000 or more a year.

(2) Both state and federal law require employers to pay overtime wages unless an exemption applies. To accomplish this, employers are required to keep track of employees’ hours. If the employer fails to do this, the employee’s records may be used to determine the amount of time worked. The finding that Miller’s failure to keep proper time records was Arlington’s fault is contrary to law. The employee’s failure to keep track of his hours for purposes of DOT regulations does not absolve the employer of its duty.

(3) The evidence Arlington submitted met his burden of production. When an employer fails to maintain adequate records of an employee’s hours, “it is expected that the employee will not be able to offer convincing substitutes for the employer’s records.” ¶ 21. Arlington’s production shifted the burden to Miller to negate the reasonableness of the inference to be drawn from the employee’s evidence.

(4) The hearing officer’s finding that Arlington never worked more than 40 hours a week is clearly erroneous in light of the other truckers’ testimony about how much time various tasks took. The appropriate remedy when an employee’s claimed hours lack credibility is to reduce them by the extent they lack credibility, not dismiss the employee’s claim. The hearing officer may reduce Arlington’s claimed hours but not below the amount the defendant’s own evidence establishes Arlington must necessarily have worked.

(5) The hearing officer did not abuse his discretion by refusing to admit documents showing Miller’s failed to comply with hours-of-service requirements.