Overtime and Minimum Wages Under Ohio Law

In a case involving unpaid overtime, the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals on September 17, 2015 issued a highly favorable opinion for employees seeking overtime and minimum wage payments. In Porter v. AJ Automotive Group, Inc., 2015-Ohio-3769 (8th Dist., Sept. 17, 2015), plaintiffs claimed nonpayment of minimum wages and overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act (“OMFWSA”). The trial court decided that defendants were not “employers” as defined under the FLSA and the OMFWSA because plaintiffs did not establish that they met the $150,000 revenue threshold, but invoked its “equitable powers” and awarded plaintiffs the difference between what defendants had paid them and what they should have paid them. The trial court, however, did not not award liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and costs which were otherwise available under the FLSA and the OMFWSA. Plaintiffs appealed that portion of the decision.

The court of appeals reversed, explaining:

{¶8} According to the trial court’s decision, it reasoned that the OMFWSA did not apply because plaintiffs failed to establish that AJ Automotive and Andrew Jackson met the definition of “employer” as contained in R.C. 4111.03(D)(2), which provides in relevant part:

(2) “Employer” means * * * any individual, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons, acting in the interest of any employer in relation to an employee, but does not include an employer whose annual gross volume of sales made for business done is less than one hundred fifty thousand dollars * * *.

{¶9} The trial court’s reliance on this section to deny plaintiffs protection under the OMFWSA was flawed for two reasons. First, this section applies to “overtime” and does not relate to a claim for failure to pay minimum wage, which is the bulk of Porter and White’s claims. R.C. 4111.02, which governs an employer’s duty to pay minimum wage, expressly states that “[e]very employer, as defined in Section 34a, Article II, Ohio Constitution, shall pay each of the employer’s employees at a wage rate of not less than the wage rate specified in Section 34a of Article II, Ohio Constitution.” The statute does not contain a sales threshold within the definition of an employer.

{¶10} Article II, Section 34a, Ohio Constitution sets forth that “`employer’ and `employee’ shall have the same meanings as under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or its successor law * * *.” Under the federal FLSA, AJ Automotive and Andrew Jackson satisfy the broad definition of “employer,” which is defined as “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee * * *.” 29 U.S.C. 203(d).

The court further stated that employers have the burden of proving their business’ gross volume is less than $150,000 (citing Graham v. Harbour, 20 Ohio App.3d 293, 297, 486 N.E.2d 184 (10th Dist.1984).

The lesson here is that Ohio plaintiff’s employment lawyers should plead overtime and minimum wage claims under the OMFWSA as well as under the FLSA. Moreover, according to Judge Robert McClelland of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, trial courts have equitable authority to award minimum wages and overtime, even if the FLSA and OMFWSA do not apply. Clearly a victory for plaintiffs. Kudos to plaintiffs’ lawyer, Alan Goodman, for his work on this case.

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