Monday, June 11, 2007

Wrong Issue Addressed in Caretaker Agency Case

Today's decision by the USSC to uphold the Department of Labor's interpretation of a 1974 Fair Labor Standards Amendment lacks the right frame of reference. The Department's interpretation of the Fair Standards Amendment is that it exempted caretakers contracted in the home from minimum wage and maximum hour rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. What this essentially means is that this subset of caretakers are subject to the whims of the labor agency contracting them. Caretakers can be paid anything and can be required to work as many hours, without being paid overtime by the contracting agency.

A caretaker who was contracted to the home sued her employment agency for refusing to pay her for her overtime work. This raises, what should have been the appropriate frame for viewing the case: due process of law. Although this was not the question before the Court when they decided this case, the interpretation of the law comes into conflict with this basic right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The caretaker lost her compensation for the hours she worked overtime and thus was deprived of property that was rightfully hers. While the Court finds that the process of creating the law was within reason and that the Department of Labor could interpret the FLSA amendment in such a way as to exclude caretakers from the regulations imposed by the FLSA, the law itself should not be constitutionally sound. It is really that question which the USSC failed to answer in its opinion and should have been the framing of the issue in the case.

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