Christensen v. Harris County

529 U.S. 576 (2000)


Petitioners are 127 deputy sheriffs employed by Harris County. It is undisputed that each of the petitioners agreed to accept compensatory time in lieu of cash as compensation for overtime. The Federal Labor Standards Act provides that hourly employees who work in excess of 40 hours per week must be compensated for their excess hours at 1.5 times their regular hourly wage. Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Amendments to permit States and their political subdivisions to compensate employees for overtime by granting them compensatory time at 1.5 hours for every hour worked. There must be a written agreement to this effect. After an employee reaches the statutory maximum, the employer must pay cash for any more hours worked. The employer may also cash out the compensatory hours, and the employee can cash out any accrued compensatory time remaining upon termination. As Petitioners accumulated time, Harris County became concerned about its resources to pay. Harris wrote to the U.S. Department of Labor and asked if the Sheriff may schedule nonexempt employees to use or take compensatory time. Labor replied that it was fine with them if the prior agreement specifically made such provisions. Absent this agreement, neither the statute nor the regulations would permit such a practice. Harris adopted a policy of forcing the use of accumulated compensatory time. Petitioners (P) sued on the grounds that there was no prior agreement under the Department of Labor’s interpretation. The court of appeals determined that there was nothing in the statute or regulation which prohibited an employer from compelling the use of compensatory time.