Skidmore v. Swift
323 U.S. 134 (1944)

  • Skidmore et. al. worked for Swift. They worked a normal 40-hour work week during the day, but sometimes stayed overnight to respond to fire alarms.
    • They were given sleeping quarters and a lounge, and they had no other duties besides responding to alarms, which was infrequent.
    • Skidmore et. al. were paid a set amount per alarm they responded to, in addition to their weekly salaries.
  • Skidmore et. al. sued Swift for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S. C. §207).
    • Skidmore argued that they were entitled to time-and-a-half overtime pay for the extra hours worked, as opposed to the per-response rate they’d agreed to.
  • The Trial Court found for Swift. Skidmore appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that as a conclusion of law, waiting time can never count as ‘work’.
    • “The time plaintiffs spent in the fire hall subject to call to answer fire alarms does not constitute hours worked, for which overtime compensation is due them under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as interpreted by the Administrator and the Courts.”
      • “Of course we know pursuing such pleasurable occupations or performing such personal chores does not constitute work.”
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Skidmore appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that “no principle of law found either in the Statute or in Court decisions precludes waiting time from also being working time.”
      • Whether the time counted as work was a question of fact, not a question of law.
    • The Court looked to an Amicus Brief filed by the Administrator from the Department of Labor, which said that the determination of whether waiting time counted at work should be based on a case-by-case basis, and it was not a question of law, but instead a question of fact.
      • The Dept of Labor had never issued any regulations on this topic.
    • The Court found that the Administrator was much more knowledgeable of labor law and the Fair Labor Standards Act than the Court was, and therefore the Court should take his comments seriously.
    • The case was remanded and the Trial Court was ordered to decide if Skidmore’s time counted as work as a question of fact.
  • Basically, this case said that although the rulings, interpretations, and opinions of the Administrator under the Fair Labor Standards Act do not control judicial decision, they do constitute a body of experience and informed judgment to which courts and litigants may properly resort for guidance.
  • This case was later overruled by Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)), which basically said that the Agency’s opinion should be controlling unless it is unreasonable.
    • Although, the Courts have recently come back to Skidmore, and found that not every decision should get complete (Chevron) deference. Some decisions are only given partial (Skidmore) deference.