A federal suit against the Lifetime Fitness chain of health clubs recently lost some muscle, when a judge ruled the company may owe fired personal trainers back wages for regular and overtime hours, but it does not owe them pay for unused vacation time.
The case began July 7, 2014, when Jared Steger and David Ramsey filed a class-action suit in Cook County Circuit Court against LTF Club Operations Co. They removed the case the following month to federal court in Chicago, with two other people joining as plaintiffs. LTF runs Lifetime Fitness clubs throughout the U.S.
Steger and Ramsey made a number of claims against LTF, in connection with their time as personal trainers at a Lifetime Fitness facility in Warrenville. They maintained they were fired in 2013, for refusing to go along with management’s alleged practice of double-billing and continuing to charge clients after clients’ memberships ended.
Steger and Ramsey also claimed LTF owed them more than $80,000 in overtime and regular wages in violation of the Illinois Wage Payment Collection Act, which allows for lawsuits based on compensation wrongfully withheld pursuant to an employment agreement.
Specifically, they claimed LTF’s policy required trainers to perform unpaid work before and after supervising workouts with clients, including such work as cleaning equipment, attending mandatory meetings and completing paperwork.
Steger and Ramsey also claimed their manager altered time records to make sure their paid hours never exceeded 40 hours per week. In addition, they contended LTF violated the Wage Act by mandating employees use vacation time by Dec. 31 each year or lose the paid time off.
LTF filed a motion to dismiss Steger and Ramsey’s claim under the Wage Act, saying the trainers failed to state a claim. In support of its motion, LTF derided the idea it would have agreed to pay employees for work never reported.
“The notion that any employer could make a promise or agreement to pay for time that employees never report as having been worked defies logic,” LTF asserted.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman addressed the motion, calling LTF’s version of the facts a “spin.” Coleman pointed out the language of LTF’s Incentive Compensation Program was obvious, promising wages for “every hour worked.” Coleman noted this language was not disputed by LTF.
Coleman waved away the precedent cases LTF cited in support of its position as not “comparable” to the issue at hand. LTF’s Incentive Compensation Program cemented the company’s obligation to pay, in Coleman’s view, as the program “promised something beyond what they (LTF) were already required to do under the law.”
Regarding plaintiffs’ argument they were cheated out of vacation pay, Coleman sided with LTF. Coleman ruled LTF’s paid time off policy never suggested employees would be paid for vacation time carried over into the next year. LTF’s policy does guarantee employees will be paid for any unused vacation time when they leave the company. Coleman noted that at any rate, plaintiffs are not alleging that when they were fired they were denied any vacation pay due them.
In the end, it was good news and bad news for plaintiffs: their suit survived to the extent they seek unpaid wages, but failed when it came to their quest for unused vacation time pay.
A status hearing is set for Nov. 5.
Steger and Ramsey are represented by the California firms of Branigan Robertson Inc. and Bisnar Chase LLP, as well as by Skokie lawyer Michael L. Fradin.
Lifetime Fitness is defended by New York-based Jackson Lewis P.C.