Two cable installers who had worked for Cable Communications, Inc. (CCI) brought claims for overtime wages for hours in excess of forty hours in a week. One of the workers had refused to work on Saturdays if he wasn’t paid overtime for this work and was fired as a result. CCI had a complicated bonus plan that reduced the installers’ bonus when they worked more than forty hours in a week so that installers received little or no extra pay for overtime hours. The workers claimed that the bonus plan violated federal overtime law, and that CCI’s firing of the worker in response to his objections to the plan violated Oregon’s whistle-blower statute.
The federal district court dismissed these claims, holding that the bonus scheme was not covered by federal overtime law, and that, to be protected as a whistle-blower, a worker would have had to complain to someone outside the company, not just to supervisors, as happened here.
NWJP worked with the workers’ private attorneys to bring an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate court recently published its opinion in favor of the workers on both points. It held that CCI’s bonus plan violated the federal overtime law, since it frustrated to purposes of the law to make long work weeks more expensive and to reward workers for extra-long work weeks. Further, analyzing the legislative history of Oregon’s whistle-blower statute (which NWJP had advocated with the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association), the court concluded that the legislature had intended also to protect workers whose only complaint was internal to their employer’s company.
Interestingly, some of the testimony upon which the court relied was given by our own paralegal, Patricia Laguna, when she had been an NWJP client, talking about her own work situation. Thanks, Pati.