Third Circuit Uses “Predominant Benefit” Test to Dismiss Claims That Meal Periods Were Compensable
The Third Circuit recently adopted the predominant benefit test to determine whether employees’ meal periods are compensable under the FLSA. In Babcock v. Butler County, Case No.: 14-1467 (3d. Cir. Nov. 24, 2015), the plaintiff, a corrections officer at the Butler County Prison, alleged that Butler County failed to properly compensate her and those similarly situated for overtime. In this case, a collective bargaining agreement between the officers and the county provided that “corrections officers work eight and one-quarter hour shifts that include a one hour meal period, of which forty-five minutes are paid and fifteen minutes are unpaid.” Op. at 4. Plaintiff alleges that the officers should be compensated for the entire meal period. Id. at 5. In support of her allegations, Plaintiff argued that the prison is the primary beneficiary of the meal period – not the employees. Specifically, she alleged that “[d]uring the meal period, the corrections officers may not leave the prison without permission from the warden or deputy warden, and they must remain in uniform in close proximity to emergency response equipment, and on call to respond to emergencies.” The plaintiff further claims that because of this policy, the officers cannot engage in personal activities such as errands, sleep, exercise, or smoking during their meal periods.
Butler County did not dispute the facts, but moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that “the corrections officers’ meal periods were not compensable work because the officers received the predominant benefit of the meal period.” Id. at 5. The district court dismissed the complaint under the “predominant benefit” test, finding that the meal period was not compensable because the officers were not primarily engaged in work-related duties during said time. The Third Circuit agreed and found that “although Plaintiffs face a number of restrictions during their meal period, the District Court correctly found that, on balance, these restrictions did not predominantly benefit the employer.” Id. at 8-9. The Court distinguished this case from the many cases finding meal periods compensable by pointing out that in this case the officers “could request authorization to leave the prison for their meal period and could eat lunch away from their desks.” Id. The Court also noted that the parties had entered into a collective bargaining agreement providing the officers a “partially-compensated mealtime and mandatory overtime pay if the mealtime is interrupted by work.” Id. at 9. Based on these facts and taking all the plaintiffs’ allegations as true, the Court found that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.