Should Mrs. Doubtfire have been paid overtime?


It’s not like I woke up in a cold sweat, fixated on this obscure bit of Fair Labor Standards Act minutiae.

But I did read this Eleventh Circuit decision last night, which did posit whether “Julie Andrews’s Mary Poppins, Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma, Fran Drescher’s Nanny Fine, Robin Williams’s Mrs. Doubtfire, or Vin Diesel’s Shane Wolfe…would have been entitled to overtime pay in the real world.”

So, let’s find out.

“In the real world,” wrote a three-judge panel for the Eleventh Circuit, “whether a nanny is entitled to overtime pay presents an important question,” and “the [FLSA] governs the answer to this question.”

You and I know that, under the FLSA, a nonexempt worker who works more than forty hours in a workweek is entitled to overtime compensation at time-and-a-half pay for those extra hours worked.

But did you know that there is an exception for certain domestic workers? Specifically, the FLSA exempts “any employee who is employed in domestic service in a household and who resides in such household.”

The case I read required the court to construe what it means for a nanny to “reside” at the house where she works.

The plaintiff worked as a nanny for about three years, housekeeping and caring for the defendants’ four children for 79 hours each week, beginning with one 23-hour shift and then four 14-hour overnight shifts. Critically, however, at the end of each shift, the plaintiff left the defendants’ home, went to stay with her aunt, and returned when her next shift began.

The defendants paid the plaintiff straight time — a little over $10 per hour– for the 79 hours she worked each week. However, the plaintiff believed the defendants should have paid her 40 hours of straight time and 39 hours of overtime.

As noted above, the resolution of this lawsuit came down to whether it was proper to categorize the plaintiff as a live-in domestic service employee.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that it wasn’t:

Based on the ordinary meaning of the term “resides,” we conclude that [the plaintiff] did not “reside” in the [defendants’] house. [She] was a nightshift worker who treated the [defendants’] house as her place of employment. She maintained a separate abode, she was on duty for the entirety of her 79 hours each week, and two or three other nannies worked the hours when [the plaintiff] didn’t…[Her] actions and duties show that the [defendants’] house was not her residence.

Put simply, the plaintiff didn’t live where she worked. Instead, she was at the defendants’ house for less than half the week and went to live with her aunt (where she paid rent) for the rest. Thus, the defendants misclassified the plaintiff and owed her lots of overtime pay.

The more you know, but probably not worthy of a fourth installment of Big Momma’s House.

Unless you think I should work on a script. Does anyone have Martin Lawrence’s digits?

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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