New Jersey Supreme Court Explores Goof Faith Defense For Employer’s Failure to Pay Overtime Under New Jersey Wage and Hour Law
The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law regulates minimum wage and overtime requirements. It is New Jersey’s counterpart to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The Wage and Hour Law and Fair Labor Standards Act are bedrock elements of New Jersey employment law. Under the Wage and Hour Law, New Jersey employers must pay overtime at a rate of one and half times an employee’s regular pay if she works more than forty hours a week. However, if the employer is in the trucking industry, the employer is only legally required to pay overtime at the rate of one and half times minimum wage. However, if the employer should have paid the higher rate but paid the lower rate, it can raise the defense that it did so in “good faith” reliance on government orders or regulations.
In the case of Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy, Elmer Branch filed a class action lawsuit in the New Jersey Superior Court against his employer, Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employees, for non-payment of overtime in violation of the Wage and Hour Law. Cream-O-Land argued that it was not required to pay the higher rate for two reasons. First, it argued that it was a “trucking industry employer,” and that all the employees were paid at least the lower overtime rate. Second, it argued that it met the “good faith” defense. The trial agreed that Cream-O-Land satisfied the good faith defense and dismissed the case on that ground. Branch appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court which reversed, finding that the matters on which Cream-O-Land relied did not satisfy the statutory requirements of the Wage and Hour Law.
Cream-O-Land then appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Because the trial judge did not address the exemption for trucking industry employers the Supreme Court, like the Appellate Division, examined only whether Cream-O-Land satisfied the good faith defense. It ruled that it did not.