BRIAN SARRAZIN v. COASTAL INCORPORATED, SC 18877

Judicial District of New Haven

 

Labor; Wages; Whether Connecticut Law Regarding Wages for Travel Time is Preempted by Federal Law; Whether Plaintiff is Entitled to Compensation for Commute Time in Employer's Vehicle; Whether Plaintiff Entitled to Attorney's Fees under General Statutes 31-72. The plaintiff brought this action against his former employer pursuant to General Statutes 31-72 claiming he was owed wages for unpaid overtime. He claimed that, in addition to his regular forty hour workweek as a plumbing foreman, he worked two hours of overtime each day driving the company truck to and from his home. The plaintiff maintained that he was required to transport tools and materials in the truck to job sites so that work could begin at 7 a.m. each morning and that he was also required to transport the equipment back to his home at the end of the workday. The trial court found that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq. (FLSA) applied to the defendant, but noted that the FLSA contains an exception that expressly allows states to provide workers with more beneficial minimum wages and maximum work weeks than those mandated by the FLSA. The plaintiff argued that the FLSA did not preempt Connecticut law here because Connecticut law is "more beneficial" in requiring that employees be paid for travel time if the employee is required to travel "for purposes which inure to the benefit of the employer." The court declined to apply Connecticut law, suggesting that the travel time issue was not one implicating more beneficial wages or workweeks as to bring it within the exception to the FLSA, and instead applied the FLSA's Portal-to-Portal Act to the plaintiff's claim. Applying the Portal-to-Portal Act, the court found that the plaintiff was not entitled to be paid for his travel time because the fact that some tools were in the truck and were then used on the job was merely incidental to the use of the vehicle for commuting, because the use of the truck for travel was within the normal commuting area for the defendant's business, and because there was an agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant concerning the use of the truck. The court ruled, however, that the plaintiff was entitled to overtime pay for the times he was required to go to the defendant's warehouse outside his normal workday hours to pick up tools. The court subsequently denied the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 31-72, finding that no such award was warranted absent evidence that the defendant had acted arbitrarily, unreasonably or in bad faith. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the court wrongly determined that his claim was governed by federal law and that, under both federal and state law, he is entitled to be paid for transporting materials and tools to and from job sites. He also claims that he is entitled to attorney's fees under 31-72 because the defendant's refusal to pay him wages was wilful.