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Flint v. Department of Labor

Supreme Court of Vermont

October 6, 2017

Paul Flint
v.
Department of Labor

         On Appeal from Superior Court, Washington Unit, Civil Division

          Timothy B. Tomasi, J. Matthew M. Shagam and Richard T. Cassidy of Hoff Curtis, Burlington, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, and Todd W. Daloz, Assistant Attorney General, Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellee.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Eaton, JJ.

          REIBER, C.J.

         ¶ 1. A former employee of the Vermont Department of Labor (Department) appeals from a judgment on the pleadings denying his suit against the Department seeking unpaid overtime pay. Employee first argues that he is entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week because-through a 1994 revision to 21 V.S.A. § 384(b)(7) that refers to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)-the Legislature intended to provide state employees not only with minimum wage-and-hour rights, but also with a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights. Employee next argues that state employees also have a private right of action to enforce those claimed rights through Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4. We affirm.

         ¶ 2. Employee worked at the Department from 2010 to 2014, and he claims to have worked 704 hours of overtime during this period. After his termination, employee sued the Department on the basis that he had not been paid at the overtime rate of time-and-a-half for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. Employee initially brought two claims-one under 21 V.S.A. § 384(b)(7) and another under FLSA-but withdrew the FLSA claim after the State filed a motion to dismiss in which it argued that sovereign immunity prevented the claim. The State later filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. See V.R.C.P. 12(c) ("After the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings."). The court granted the motion on the basis that 21 V.S.A. § 384(b)(7) "does not extend a statutory right to the overtime rate that [employee] seeks, " but rather "plainly exempts State employees." The court also concluded that Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution did not give state employees a private right of action to seek damages compensating them for unpaid overtime. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4.

         ¶ 3. Employee now appeals the court's judgment on the pleadings. In reviewing the judgment, "we accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those allegations." Sorge v. State, 171 Vt. 171, 174, 762 A.2d 816, 818 (2000). This is because when the court assesses a motion for judgment on the pleadings, "all well pleaded factual allegations in the nonmovant's pleadings and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are assumed to be true and all contravening assertions in the movant's pleadings are taken to be false." Bressler v. Keller, 139 Vt. 401, 403, 429 A.2d 1306, 1307 (1981). We therefore focus our analysis on the court's conclusions of law, which we review de novo. Anderson v. State, 2013 VT 73, ¶ 7, 194 Vt. 437, 82 A.3d 577 ("[W]e review the trial court's conclusions of law de novo."). Regarding these conclusions of law, employee argues that the court erred because (1) 21 V.S.A. § 384(b)(7) does provide state employees with both minimum wage-and-hour rights and a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights, and (2) state employees do have a private right of action to enforce those claimed rights through Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4.

         I.

         ¶ 4. We first address employee's argument that he is entitled to overtime pay because 21 V.S.A. § 384(b)(7) provides state employees with both minimum wage-and-hour rights and a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights. In relevant part, § 384(b)(7) reads:

(b) . . . an employer shall not pay an employee less than one and one-half times the regular wage rate for any work done by the employee in excess of 40 hours during a workweek. However, this subsection shall not apply to:
. . .
(7) State employees who are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

         ¶ 5. In interpreting a statute, our primary aim is always to determine the intent of the Legislature and implement that intent. See Miller v. Miller, 2005 VT 89, ¶ 14, 178 Vt. 273, 882 A.2d 1196 ("In construing a statute, our paramount goal is to discern and implement the intent of the Legislature."). In determining that intent, we begin by looking to the plain language of the statute. Tarrant v. Dep't of Taxes, 169 Vt. 189, 197, 733 A.2d 733, 739 (1999) ("[I]n our attempts to ascertain legislative intent we look for guidance in the plain meaning of the words used."). If the intent of the Legislature is apparent on the face of the statute because the plain language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, we implement the statute according to that plain language. See Harris v. Sherman, 167 Vt. 613, 614, 708 A.2d 1348, 1349 (1998) ("[W]here legislative intent can be ascertained on its face, the statute must be enforced according to its ...


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