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Bell v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

August 19, 2013

DAVID BELL, et al., Appellants

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) July 11, 2013


Bruce Bodner, Esq. Howard J. Kaufman, Esq. Kaufman, Coren & Ress Counsel for Appellants

Jo Bennett, Esq. Michael G. Tierce, Esq. Stevens & Lee and Zachary R. Davis, Esq. Hangley, Aronchick, Segal, Pudlin & Schiller One Logan Square Counsel for Appellee

Before: GREENAWAY, JR., SLOVITER and BARRY, Circuit Judges


BARRY, Circuit Judge

Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and former and current bus drivers and trolley operators (the "Operators") employed by defendant, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA"), brought this class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., to recover unpaid wages and overtime compensation for work performed during morning "pre-trip" inspections required before the start of each Operator's daily run. Relying on our decision in Vadino v. A. Valey Engineers, 903 F.2d 253 (3d Cir. 1990), the District Court granted SEPTA's motion to dismiss on the ground that the FLSA claim required the interpretation of provisions of three collective bargaining agreements (the "CBAs") between SEPTA and the unions representing the Operators and was therefore subject to those agreements' grievance and arbitration provisions. Because we conclude that the Operators' FLSA claim does not require the interpretation of the collective bargaining agreements, we will vacate the order of the District Court.


A. Pre-Run Obligations

This dispute involves two sets of responsibilities each Operator must fulfill at the start of the workday prior to leaving the bus or trolley depots. First, SEPTA's Bus Operations Rules and Regulations Manual has long required Operators to perform a series of clerical tasks each morning (the "Reporting Tasks"). These tasks include checking in with the dispatcher, collecting and punching passenger transfers, filling out forms and waybills, reading SEPTA "Bulletin Orders, " checking daily detours and operating conditions, copying their run schedules, and determining and walking to the location of their vehicles. Compl. at ¶ 18. The Reporting Tasks take approximately ten minutes to complete. Accordingly, SEPTA's Operating Manual requires that Operators "report for duty at the required time and at the required location, in accordance with schedules set up in the employees' particular departments and locations . . . not less than ten minutes" before the time the bus is scheduled to leave the depot. Id. at ¶ 16. The Operators allege that, even though they are compensated for performing the Reporting Tasks, this time is not included in the calculation of overtime.

Since daily pre-trip vehicle safety inspections became a federal and state requirement in 1992, SEPTA has also required that Operators perform daily pre-trip inspections (the "CDL Inspections"), which require them to inspect several items on each vehicle, including the braking system, lights, horns, doors, turn signals, wheelchair lifts, and PA system. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20. The CDL Inspections take approximately fifteen minutes to complete. The Operators contend that SEPTA fails to compensate them for these inspections, and that they must perform them "off the clock." According to the FLSA, Operators must be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a given week. Because many Operators work 40 hours a week exclusive of the time spent performing CDL inspections, the Operators contend that SEPTA's failure to compensate them for this time results in unpaid overtime wages, constituting a willful violation of the FLSA.

B. The Collective Bargaining Agreements

The Operators and SEPTA are bound by the terms of three separate collective bargaining agreements between (1) SEPTA and the City Transit Division Operators ("CTDO"); (2) SEPTA and the Transport Workers Union Local 234 ("TWU"); and (3) SEPTA and the United Transportation Union Local 1594 ("UTU"). Each of the CBAs includes a provision concerning compensation for time spent working prior to the morning scheduled start time. The CBA between the CTDO and SEPTA provides:

Where an employee is required to report in advance of the scheduled starting time of one's run or to turn in passenger receipts or to so report and turn in, and does so, one-quarter hour will be added to the scheduled run time and the employee will be paid for the one-quarter hour at the aforesaid rate. This one-quarter hour will be ...

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