Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 11 (2000)

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586

CHRISTENSEN v. HARRIS COUNTY

Opinion of the Court

merely involves doing both of these steps at once. It would make little sense to interpret 207(o)(5) to make the combination of the two steps unlawful when each independently is lawful.5

III

In an attempt to avoid the conclusion that the FLSA does not prohibit compelled use of compensatory time, petitioners and the United States contend that we should defer to the Department of Labor's opinion letter, which takes the position that an employer may compel the use of compensatory time only if the employee has agreed in advance to such a practice. Specifically, they argue that the agency opinion letter is entitled to deference under our decision in Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837 (1984). In Chevron, we held that a court must give

5 Justice Stevens does not dispute this argument. In fact, he expressly endorses half of it. See post, at 594, 595 (employer free to cash out compensatory time). Instead, Justice Stevens claims that we "stumbl[e]" by failing to identify "the relevant general rule" that employees have "a statutory right to compensation for overtime work payable in cash." Post, at 592. We fail to do so only because the general rule is not relevant to this case. Both parties to this case agreed that compensatory time would be provided in lieu of cash and thus 207(a)'s general requirement of cash compensation is supplanted. Petitioners and the United States do assert that the requirement of cash compensation is relevant by analogy. They claim that an employer cannot compel compensatory time use because compensatory time should be treated like employee cash in the bank—that is, under the exclusive control of the employee. But this analogy is wholly inapt under the very terms of the FLSA. The FLSA grants significant control to the employer over accrued compensatory time. For example, the employer is free to buy out compensatory time at any time by providing cash compensation. 207(o)(3)(B); 29 CFR 553.27(a) (1999). Additionally, an employer is free to deny any request to use compensatory time when such use would unduly disrupt the employer's operations. 207(o)(5)(B); 29 CFR 553.25(d) (1999). The cash analogy is therefore directly undermined by unambiguous provisions of the statute.

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