Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 13 (2000)

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588

CHRISTENSEN v. HARRIS COUNTY

Opinion of the Court

out of compensatory time so long as these provisions are consistent with [ 207(o)]." 29 CFR 553.23(a)(2) (1999) (emphasis added). Nothing in the regulation even arguably requires that an employer's compelled use policy must be included in an agreement. The text of the regulation itself indicates that its command is permissive, not mandatory.

Seeking to overcome the regulation's obvious meaning, the United States asserts that the agency's opinion letter interpreting the regulation should be given deference under our decision in Auer v. Robbins, 519 U. S. 452 (1997). In Auer, we held that an agency's interpretation of its own regulation is entitled to deference. Id., at 461. See also Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U. S. 410 (1945). But Auer deference is warranted only when the language of the regulation is ambiguous. The regulation in this case, however, is not ambiguous—it is plainly permissive. To defer to the agency's position would be to permit the agency, under the guise of interpreting a regulation, to create de facto a new regulation. Because the regulation is not ambiguous on the issue of compelled compensatory time, Auer deference is unwarranted.

* * *

As we have noted, no relevant statutory provision expressly or implicitly prohibits Harris County from pursuing its policy of forcing employees to utilize their compensatory time. In its opinion letter siding with the petitioners, the Department of Labor opined that "it is our position that neither the statute nor the regulations permit an employer to require an employee to use accrued compensatory time." Opinion Letter (emphasis added). But this view is exactly backwards. Unless the FLSA prohibits respondents from adopting its policy, petitioners cannot show that Harris County has violated the FLSA. And the FLSA contains no such prohibition. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

It is so ordered.

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