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Seafarers' Overtime Wages are Payable as Unearned Wages

In Padilla v. Maersk Line, Ltd., Padilla filed suit against Maersk Line Ltd. on behalf of himself and a proposed class of similarly situated seafarers who were discharged because of injuries or illnesses before completing their contracts and/or final voyages. The class sought overtime pay they would have received "but for" their injuries and subsequent discharges.

The District Court addressed the merits of Padilla's individual claim before considering class certification. Padilla was hired as Chief Cook aboard defendant's vessel, the Maersk Arkansas. Maersk and Padilla's union are parties to a collective bargaining agreement which sets forth the wages paid and hours worked. Padilla earned extra earnings, per hour, for overtime - any work in excess of eight hours a day. Padilla would perform three hours of overtime every weekday and eleven hours every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday. Padilla sustained an abdominal injury, was deemed "unfit for duty," and discharged. Upon his discharge, Maersk paid him unearned wages, along with maintenance and cure; however, failed to pay overtime wages he would have earned in service abroad the vessel for the duration of his contract/until the end of his expected voyage.

Padilla expected to earn overtime pay on a regular basis and would have earned it "but for" his injury. In May 2007, the court awarded Padilla overtime wages. Additionally, in October 2010, the class was certified.

It is apparent custom, practice, and expectation of all seamen to work a substantial amount of overtime. Thus, overtime wage assessments can be made without speculation. Additionally, the collective bargaining agreement is silent as to a seaman's unearned wage rate. Applying general maritime law rights to unearned wages is therefore considered appropriate.

Under general maritime law, seafarers are entitled to recover reasonably expected overtime as part of their unearned wages - placing them in the same position had they not been injured and discharged. Shipping articles are only statutorily required and were not shown to alter the remedies provided for under general maritime law nor shown to constitute a union-negotiated package of benefits. Maritime law is the guiding standard here.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the seafarers and denied Maersk's motion to amend the judgment - seafarers would have received the overtime wages "but for" their injuries. The 2nd Circuit affirmed.

I am not involved in this case but have represented other plaintiffs who have not been paid for working overtime or have been forced to work "off the clock" to avoid overtime. Please contact me if you wish to discuss your potential wage case.

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