In another cable splicer misclassification case arising in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the Fifth Circuit affirmed a trial court decision that Louis Thibault was an independent contractor rather than an employee. Therefore, he was not entitled to overtime under the FLSA.

Thibault owned a business in his home state of Delaware selling picnic tables, storage tables and golf carts. He also owned several rental properties and realized a small income from racing automobiles.  When hurricane Katrina seriously damaged the telephone infrastructure of BellSouth’s grid, Thibault and his friend Bill Peek, drove their RV to Louisiana to perform splicing work on behalf of BellSouth to rebuild the grid.  Peek was an experienced cable splicer but Thibault had never worked as a splicer.  He did have prior experience as a naval aircraft mechanic and according to him easily learned mechanical tasks if shown how to do the task.  Peek taught Thibault the basics of splicing in one evening and Thibault was able to learn the remainder of what he needed to know on the job.

Once in New Orleans, Thibault and Peek worked 14 days shifts (13 days on with 1 day off) 84 hours per week; received a fixed hourly wage ($68 per hour) and were required to provide their own trucks and tools.  BellSouth decided what jobs would be done daily and assigned BellSouth contractors to distribute the assignments. Thibault received his daily assignments from the BellSouth contractor. 

Thibault had intended to work 6-7 months and then return to his home in Delaware. After only three months; however, he was laid off. He earned $51,628 during the three month period. After he was released he sued BellSouth and its contractors for unpaid overtime claiming he was an employee rather than an independent contractor. The trial court concluded that Thibault was an independent contractor and granted summary judgment for the defendants.

A panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court decision. Applying the economic realities test, the panel found Thibault was not an employee. Significant to its decision was the fact that:

  • Thibault owned his own business and therefore did not work exclusively for BellSouth and its contractors;
  • Thibault intended to work on 7-8 months and then return to Delaware;
  • Defendants considered him an independent contract and many other splicers also considered themselves contractors;
  • Splicing required little skill and initiative as evidenced by the fact Thibault learned it in one evening;
  • Thibault continued to oversee his primary business during the three months he performed splicing work.

In the panel’s opinion, there was insufficient evidence in the summary judgment record to create a genuine issue of material fact that Thibault was an employee.