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4th Circuit denies Baltimore County’s request for rehearing in FLSA inmate lawsuit

By meerna Jun12,2024

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit denied Baltimore County’s request for a full panel to review the court’s ruling that inmates working at a recycling plant can be considered employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In an order filed last week, the Fourth Circuit denied Baltimore County’s request for a new hearing in the bankaffirming a ruling by a three-judge panel of the court that said there is “no categorical rule” that the FLSA cannot cover incarcerated employees if they work outside a correctional facility and for someone other than the immediate inmate.

Although the panel said its ruling was limited and did not mean that every inmate working outside a correctional facility was within the scope of the FLSA, the decision was a first for the Fourth Circuit, which had never previously considered whether inmates working exclusively for government benefits outside prison walls may be covered by the FLSA.

Howard Hoffman, defense attorney for Michael Scott and more than 500 inmates who filed suit against Baltimore County, said he agreed with the 4th Circuit’s ruling denying a new hearing.

“We believe that the Fourth Circuit appropriately considered the county’s petition and look forward to further proceedings in the District Court that will result in appropriate compensation being awarded to these very hard-working and deserving employees,” Hoffman wrote in an email Tuesday.

The Baltimore County solicitor general did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Scott, who previously worked at a recycling plant in Baltimore County as an inmate at the Baltimore County Detention Center, has filed a class action lawsuit against the county to recover unpaid wages, overtime and damages.

Hoffman said inmates working at the recycling plant earned $20 a day for a 12-hour day, working several days in freezing temperatures or when temperatures exceeded 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Baltimore County, in its rehearing petition, argued that the Fourth Circuit’s decision “drastically expands the reach of the FLSA” and could create a new class of inmate “employees” with enormous consequences.

“As a result, this case severely limits the ability of governments to provide inmates with rehabilitation opportunities that help offset the significant taxpayer burden of incarceration,” the Baltimore County attorney wrote in the petition.

The county also argued that the ruling would significantly limit the jurisdiction’s ability to assign inmates to work outside prisons and recover some of their housing expenses, as well as increase FLSA litigation and burden the courts.

Hoffman said Baltimore County has indicated its intention to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The county has 90 days from the date of the 4th Circuit’s denial of the request for reconsideration to file a petition for a writ of certiorari.

A Baltimore County spokesman declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

By meerna

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