A recent federal court decision in the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed an employee’s overtime claim at summary judgment because the employer proved that it relied upon the employee’s own unaltered timesheets in paying the employee. In the case of Hughes-Smith v. Crown Linen Services, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-1048 (E.D. Va. Mar. 5, 2014), an employee sued her employer alleging that she consistently worked through her ½ hour lunch period but was not paid for it, and that the employer systematically altered the plaintiff’s timesheets to reduce the recorded hours worked. Crown Linen responded that it did not alter the plaintiff’s timesheets, but rather, paid her according to her timesheets, thus barring her claim.
Crown Linen moved for summary judgment. As the Court pointed out in its memorandum opinion, to sustain a claim for unpaid overtime compensation, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) she worked overtime hours without compensation; and (2) the employer knew or should have known that she worked overtime and but failed to compensate her for it.
In granting the company’s motion, the Court ruled that the plaintiff did not establish these requisite elements. Hughes-Smith failed to make a necessary showing that she worked overtime hours without compensation; as the court pointed out, she was paid for the exact amount she reported on her own timesheets. Hughes-Smith also failed to make a clear showing that Crown Linen should have known about the overtime because the timesheets she submitted did not include the overtime hours. Because Hughes-Smith could not offer more than unsupported speculation showing Crown Linen manipulated the time sheets, she could not withstand a motion for summary judgment.
This ruling shows that, while the employer bears the burden of keeping adequate time records, an employer can usually rely on time records maintained by the employee. When the employee cannot effectively call them into question (such as by showing employer alteration or instructions not to fully record time), the court can dismiss the employee’s claim based on her own records.