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4th Circuit revives suit alleging Maryland Live didn’t pay job trainees

This 2014 photo is from an Anne Arundel Community College class to train Maryland Live! casino employees. Applicants for table-game dealer jobs at the casino can move forward with a lawsuit alleging their participation in the “dealer school” amounted to employee training for which they should have been compensated, a federal appellate court has ruled.

This 2014 photo is from an Anne Arundel Community College class to train Maryland Live! casino employees. Applicants for table-game dealer jobs at the casino can move forward with a lawsuit alleging their participation in the “dealer school” amounted to employee training for which they should have been compensated, a federal appellate court has ruled. (File)

Applicants for table-game dealer jobs at Maryland Live casino can move forward with a lawsuit alleging their participation in a “dealer school” run by the casino amounted to employee training for which they should have been compensated, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The question of whether the trainees qualified as “employees” eligible for relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act rests on whether the trainees or the casino were the primary beneficiaries of the 12-week — a judgment that cannot be made by examining the complaint alone, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in reversing a district court judge’s dismissal of the case.

“Although we express no opinion as to whether attending the ‘dealer school’ did constitute ‘work’ and whether the Trainees did constitute ‘employees’ for FSLA purposes, the Trainees have alleged sufficient facts to survive the Casino’s motion to dismiss,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the appellate court in an opinion filed Monday.

Steven M. Lubar, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said Thursday he was pleased with the appellate ruling.

“We feel that they’re entitled to minimum wage for all hours worked and that the training course was not a school,” said Lubar, of The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl in Baltimore.

A Maryland Live spokeswoman did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment on the appellate court ruling on Thursday.

Maryland Live had argued that it was “literally impossible” for the trainees to show they provided the casino with any work or that the casino benefitted from their time at the dealer school because the casino did not have table games while the school was operating, according to the opinion.

However, the appellate court found that the trainees were in a comparable position to those training for jobs in other fields where they are not yet able to perform their duties for a number of possible reasons, including because the service is not yet legal, the trainee is not yet licensed or the employer is not yet operating.

“Inexperienced persons required to train to be waiters in a huge, about-to-be-licensed, but not yet open restaurant, or to train and seek licensure to be hairdressers in an enormous about-to-be-opened, but not yet operating, hair salon franchise would be in precisely the same position as the Trainees here,” Motz wrote.

‘Unique to the casino’

The plaintiffs argued the training they received at the school was “unique to the Casino’s specifications and not transferrable to work in other casinos,” according to the opinion. They also alleged the casino received a “very large and immediate benefit” of more than 800 dealers trained to operate table games to their specifications at the moment the games became legal, while the trainees received “very little” from the 12 weeks of training that did not primarily benefit the casino.

“The allegation is that they were taught the Maryland Live way of dealing cards,” Lubar said. “They gave proficiency exams, and even those people who failed the proficiency exams were transitioned to the [casino] floor because they needed warm bodies.”

The casino operated the dealer school for 12 weeks ending in April 2013, 10 days before the start of legalized table games in Maryland, according to the underlying lawsuit, filed in 2014. The school was advertised as having been developed in conjunction with Anne Arundel Community College, even though it was “run completely” by the casino, the suit alleged.

The approximately 830 applicants who were chosen to attend the school — the precise number the casino needed to hire to fill table game dealer positions, according to the lawsuit — also completed employment forms, including an income tax withholding form and direct deposit authorization form, for the casino, according to the opinion.

Those who attended the school were only compensated for the last two days of the 12-week program, for which they were paid minimum wage, according to the opinion.

The appellate opinion is Claudia Harbourt, et al. v. PPE Casino Resorts Maryland LLC, No. 15-1546.


About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.