A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a $35.6 million judgment against Family Dollar Stores Inc. originally handed down by a Tuscaloosa, Ala., federal jury in 2006. The jury said the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by wrongly classifying employees as store managers in order to deny them overtime pay.

The 1,424 employees were regularly required to work more than 60 hours a week, and to perform duties not usually associated with store management such as mopping floors, unloading trucks, stocking shelves and running cash registers. The jury awarded $17.8 million in back overtime pay and an equal amount in damages.

Family Dollar, based in Matthews, N.C., appealed the verdict, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined on Tuesday that the judge and jury were correct in their original assessment of the case and upheld the 2006 verdict.

According to the opinion written by Judge Frank M. Hull and joined by Judges Joel F. Dubina and Peter T. Fay, the jury “reasonably determined that Family Dollar failed to meet its burden of proving that Plaintiff store managers’ primary duty was management.”

According to Beasley Allen attorney Roman Shaul, who is evaluating similar FLSA cases, in this case there was never any dispute that the store managers worked these exorbitant hours each week. The only question was should the store managers be paid for the time they worked, or was everything worked beyond 40 hours each week truly “free labor.” He says that although the opinion was in favor of employees, it is widely seen as a conservative opinion that closely followed the Congressional intent and remedial purpose behind the FLSA.

“The crux of the case was that the store managers believed they were ‘managers’ in name only, and that their district manager really made most of the important decisions,” Shaul says. “Under the Family Dollar scheme, store managers performed essentially the same duties as the hourly employees, but received no overtime compensation. This case was an important victory for these hard working store managers.”

Shaul says the Family Dollar opinion is very useful and provides clear guidelines on how to evaluate the Department of Labor regulations interpreting the “Bona Fide Executive Exemption.” The new opinion clarifies the concerns and questions many people in the retail and service industry have had for years regarding how to comply with Department of Labor rules in an ever-changing business environment.

“At the end of the day, the Appeals Court would not accept Family Dollar’s scheme of simply labeling everyone a ‘manager,’ regardless of what duties they actually perform,” Shaul said.

Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO) operates 6,600 stores in 44 states, including Alabama. The discount chain offers low-cost products primarily to rural and small-town customers.

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