Food Does Not Constitute Wages Under the FLSA

The Northern District of Mississippi recently ruled in Newsom, et al., v. Carolina Logistics Services, Inc., No. 2:11-CV-00172, that food does not constitute wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) in granting partial summary judgment in plaintiffs’ favor.

Plaintiff Cedric Newson began work for defendants Carolina Logistics Services, Inc. (“CLS”), as a facility manager in 2008. Shortly after starting his work, Newsom made a special arrangement with his center manager, under which Newsom was permitted to clock out from work after his shift and clean CLS’s warehouse in exchange for a banana box of food. Following a transfer to a new and larger facility, Newsom recruited plaintiff Shanda Bramlett to assist him with the more arduous work.

In 2010, the center manager with whom Newsom had made his special arrangement was replaced. When the new manager learned of the arrangement, he fired Newsom for “stealing” banana boxes of food. Afterwards, Newsom and Bramlett, who remained on the job, initiated this lawsuit seeking, among other things, unpaid overtime due under the FLSA.

It was undisputed that Newsome and Bramlett worked for CLS “off the clock” in exchange for a banana box of food. Among the issues before the Court was whether plaintiffs were properly compensated with food.

Defendants argued that food fell within the definition of “wages” under the FLSA. The Court was not persuaded.

Under the FLSA, the term “wages” can include “board, lodging, and other facilities.” See 29 U.S.C. § 203(m).  However, the Court noted that the statute does not mentioned food, sustenance, or any other similar term. Moreover, in order for “board, lodging, and other facilities” to constitute wages under the FLSA, they must be “customarily furnished by such employer to employees.Id. (emphasis supplied). CLS failed to make any such argument with respect to the banana boxes.

Despite the undisputed fact that Newsom and Bramlett agreed to and accepted the special arrangement, the Court concluded that plaintiffs had not been paid for their after-hours work and granted summary judgment on plaintiffs’ FLSA claim in their favor.

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