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Liftboat Crew Does Not Qualify for Seaman Exemption Under Fair Labor Standards Act

This case arose out of a collective action filed by a crane operator on behalf of himself and the crew of a liftboat that serviced oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. All Coast, the Defendant, argued that both the crane operators and the cooks onboard the vessel were exempt from overtime pay because they qualified as “seamen” under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).[1] Persuaded by this interpretation, the district court entered summary judgement in favor of All Coast on the basis that the employees’ work furthered the liftboat’s operation “as a means of transportation.”[2] Reviewing the case de novo, the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling.

In reaching its ruling, the Fifth Circuit applied the two prong test established in Coffin v. Blessey Marine Servs., Inc., under which an employee is a seaman under the FLSA 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.[3]

Applying this test, the court held that neither the cooks nor the crane operators qualified for the FLSA “seaman” exemption because the operation of loading and unloading the vessel with the crane was essentially an industrial task, and because the cooks were engaged in a substantial amount of different work based on their preparation of meals for passengers and guests onboard the vessel who were not otherwise engaged in work aiding the vessel as a means of transportation.

The full text of the opinion can be found here: https://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/19/19-30907-CV0.pdf.

[1] 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.

[2] 29 C.F.R. § 783.31.

[3] 771 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2014).