QCR Spring 2021: Adams v All Coast - when is a seaman not a seaman
In Adams v All Coast, No. 19-30907 (5th Cir., February 11, 2021), Plaintiff, William Adams, filed a collective action against All Coast. He along with others who worked on All Coast’s fleet of liftboats claims that because they were not seaman, All Coast owes them unpaid overtime wages under Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. All Coast operates a fleet of liftboats that service offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. All Coast classified these employees as seamen, and seamen are exempt from overtime pay under FLSA.
While All Coast hired Adams as an able-bodied seaman, Adams argued that this main duties had nothing to do with maritime work. Rather, he spent most of the time operating a hydraulic crane to move personnel and equipment between the liftboat and the dock, offshore worksite platforms, and other vessels, along with the liftboat itself. Similarly, the other employees, including cooks, claim that their jobs were not maritime work.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana entered Summary Judgment for All Coast. The District Court found that the liftboat crane operation was a “service which is rendered primarily as an aid in the operation of such vessel as a means of transportation.” 29 C.F.R. § 783.31 (Criteria for Seamen.) Plaintiffs appealed.
The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision, noting that the District Court’s reading of the FLSA “strays from the statutory and regulatory text and our jurisprudence.
The criteria that the Court used analyzing where an employee is a seaman if: “(1) the employee is subject to the authority, direction, and control of the master; and (2) the employee’s service is primarily offered to aid the vessel as a means of transportation, provided that the employee does not perform a substantial amount of different work.”
The Fifth Circuit stated that parties agreed on the first point. As to the second point, it was found that because the substantial amount of time the plaintiffs spent operating the cranes, and crane operation in this case was not seaman’s work, then Plaintiffs cannot qualify as seamen. The cooks were not seaman either. However, on remand, the district court will need to determine how much time the cooks spent preparing food for the crew when they were not performing seamen’s work, and how much time they spent preparing food for non-crew members. If that adds up to a “substantial” amount, then they, like the crane-operating crew members, were not doing seamen’s work. See 29 C.F.R. § 783.31
Members should be mindful of the test relied on by the Fifth Circuit in determining whether an employee is a seafarer for purposes of FLSA, particularly as it could result in overtime wages being owed to employees that were deemed seafarer.