Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 98-1167. Argued February 23, 2000—Decided May 1, 2000

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U. S. C. 201(o), permits

States and their political subdivisions to compensate their employees for overtime work by granting them compensatory time in lieu of cash payment. If the employees do not use their accumulated compensatory time, the employer must pay cash compensation under certain circumstances. 207(o)(3)-(4). Fearing the consequences of having to pay for accrued compensatory time, Harris County adopted a policy requiring its employees to schedule time off in order to reduce the amount of accrued time. Petitioners, county deputy sheriffs, sued, claiming that the FLSA does not permit an employer to compel an employee to use compensatory time in the absence of an agreement permitting the employer to do so. The District Court granted petitioners summary judgment and entered a declaratory judgment that the policy violated the FLSA. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the FLSA did not speak to the issue and thus did not prohibit the county from implementing its policy.

Held: Nothing in the FLSA or its implementing regulations prohibits a public employer from compelling the use of compensatory time. Petitioners' claim that 207(o)(5) implicitly prohibits compelled use of compensatory time in the absence of an agreement is unpersuasive. The proposition that when a statute limits a thing to be done in a particular mode, it includes a negative of any other mode, Raleigh & Gaston R. Co. v. Reid, 13 Wall. 269, 270, does not resolve this case in petitioners' favor. Section 207(o)(5) provides that an employee who requests to use compensatory time must be permitted to do so unless the employer's operations would be unduly disrupted. The negative inference to be drawn is only that an employer may not deny a request for a reason other than that provided in 207(o)(5). Section 207(o)(5) simply ensures that an employee receive some timely benefit for overtime work. The FLSA's nearby provisions reflect a similar concern. At bottom, the best reading of the FLSA is that it ensures liquidation of compensatory time; it says nothing about restricting an employer's efforts to require employees to use the time. Because the statute is silent on this issue and because the county's policy is entirely compatible with 207(o)(5), petitioners cannot, as 216(b) requires, prove that the county

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