Where There's a Will, Is It Willful?
Until 1988, the employer could not profess to have acted in a non-willful manner if it knew the statute was "in the picture." This rule, established in the 1972 decision in Coleman v. Jiffy June Farms, was changed by the Supreme Court's opinion in McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe, which held that willfullness requires either that the employer knew its conduct violated the Act or that it acted in reckless disregard of its statutory compliance obligations.
A recent opinion from the same court which decided Jiffy June Farms nearly 40 years ago rejected a district court ruling that an employer's misclassification of several different groups of employees and trainees had been willful. The plaintiff had to prove willfulness and failed to do so, the appeals court concluded; "the district court conflated the willfullness analysis with the 'lack of good faith" analysis". The "substantial burden" the employer shows in proving its good faith in order to avoid liquidated damages is not the same as the onus upon the plaintiff to prove willfullness, and the two rules, although similar in concept, are totally unrelated. Stokes v. BWXT Pantex LLC, 17 WH Cas. (BNA) 1035 (5th Cir., May 4, 2011)(unpublished). Consequently, the conventional wisdom is neither conventional nor wise.
And if that's clear, perhaps we'll talk soon about the circumstances in which an "independent" contractor isn't independent; the willfullness issue is a breeze by comparison.