Updated 1:10 pm
A federal judge has ruled that Farm Neck Golf Club is under no obligation to pay its employees the overtime rate of time-and-a-half if employees work more than 40 hours in a week.
The summary judgment, issued in a four-page ruling Monday by Judge George A. O’Toole Jr., concludes that Farm Neck, an Oak Bluffs course that’s a favorite of former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, meets the exemption of being a seasonal amusement or recreational establishment, and doesn’t need to pay overtime to its employees.
“Very happy with the results,” Austin Joyce, an attorney with Reardon, Joyce and Ackerson, said Tuesday. Joyce represented Farm Neck, as well as the club’s general manager, Timothy Sweet, and the golf club restaurant manager, Pascal Bitoun, who were named in the suit. “Obviously, it was the right decision by the judge that he saw it our way.”
Jack Collins, another attorney on the case, said the outcome was expected. “It was no surprise,” he said. “The sad part is they had to go along with this case for a long time. We knew from the beginning there was no violation, and they went ahead anyway. They were hoping that the people at Farm Neck would cave in. It took a lot of time and effort on their part.”
The suit was brought earlier this year on behalf of Anna Shkuratova, a former line cook in the club’s restaurant, who alleged that the restaurant “failed to pay [her] overtime for hours she worked in excess of 40 per week.” In a footnote, the judge writes that Shkuratova also alleged that defendants failed to pay minimum wage to some employees, who were instructed to work “off the clock.” But since no relief was sought in those instances, the judge did not rule on those.
According to the judge’s ruling, Shkuratova started work at the club on May 9, 2016, at $15 per hour, and her pay was raised to $16 per hour on June 27 of the same year — or the price of a Farm Neck Burger, based on the restaurant’s online menu. On several occasions, she worked over 40 hours in one week, and was not compensated at a rate higher than her hourly rate.
The Federal Labor Standards Act requires hourly employees to be paid time-and-a-half for hours beyond 40, although there are exemptions.
According to the judge’s ruling, there are two possible ways Farm Neck could avoid paying overtime — the seasonal exemption or a so-called receipts exemption.
The club earned total receipts from April to September of nearly $6 million, with a monthly average of $996,513, according to the judge’s ruling. For the six lowest months — January, February, March, October, November, and December — the club earned $456,753, or a monthly average of $76,125. Because revenue from those six months was only 7.6 percent of revenue from the restaurant’s highest six months, they fell well below the one-third threshold in the law, according to the ruling.
The judge wrote that even if only the restaurant’s receipts were considered, the club would still qualify for the exemption. The restaurant earned on average $192,793 during its best six months, as opposed to an average of $12,278 during the fall and winter months, the judge’s ruling states.
Just because the club has nearly $6 million in revenue doesn’t mean it should have to pay its employees overtime, Collins said. “The same rule applies to everyone, whether you’re making a lot of money or a little money,” he said. “Let’s be fair about this.”
Sweet said Farm Neck works hard to make sure all 100 of its employees are treated fairly.
“Honestly, we feel good that we’ve been vindicated,” Sweet said. “We take enormous pride in treating our employees well.”
Shkuratova had also alleged that Farm Neck asked employees to “work off the clock,” but Sweet said that was not true, and that no employee is ever forced to work overtime.
“They threw a bunch of things to see what would stick,” Sweet said. “They dropped that and other allegations because they knew it had no merit.”
The club is owned by the Links at Martha’s Vineyard Inc.
The judge dismissed other claims in the suit, including breach of contract, without prejudice, stating that those are a matter of state law.
Updated to include comments from Collins and Sweet. -Ed.