Holland Phillips Oct. 24, 2013, 5:27pm

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled in favor of a woman seeking time and a half pay for overtime work.

The plaintiff, Betty Black, on behalf of herself and other paralegals in similar situations, filed suit against her employer, SettlePou PC. The plaintiff claims that her employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by refusing to pay her for hours worked overtime and for retaliating by firing her.

A jury found in favor of the plaintiff’s collective action lawsuit, rendering a judgment that SettlePou had violated the FLSA by incorrectly classifying her as an employee exempt from overtime pay. The jury also found that SettlePou did not unlawfully retaliate against Black.

The district court awarded damages using the plaintiff's the flexible workweek (FWW) method of calculation or half her hourly pay rate for the 274 hours of overtime she claimed and awarded liquidated damages in the same amount. Thecourt denied Black’s motion for a recalculation. She appealed the decision and the attorney’s fees award, which the district court reduced to $45,000.

The appeals court ruled that Black was entitled to the one and a half times regular pay for overtime according to the FLSA because she and her employer had agreed on a fixed salary for her full-time position of 37.5 hours per week. She repeatedly protested when she worked over her scheduled hours and was not paid overtime. For these reasons, the district court’s application of the fixed workweek method of calculating overtime payment at half her regular rate was incorrect.

Since SettlePou could not show that it acted in good faith, the district court also awarded liquidated damages. The appeals court vacated and remanded this award for recalculation in the district court.

In the matter of attorney’s fees, the appeals court ruled that the district court’s findings were reasonable, but that “while the district court must take the degree of success obtained into account, it would be an abuse of discretion for the district court to reduce Black’s attorney’s fee award solely on the basis of the amount of damages obtained.” For this reason, the appeals court vacated and remanded the payment of attorney’s fees for reconsideration in the district court.

The case was heard by Circuit Court Judges Thomas M. Reavley, Jennifer Walker Elrod and James E. Graves Jr.

Case no. 2012-010972.

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