Image: Evelyn Coke
Seth Wenig  /  AP
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that home care workers are not entitled to overtime pay under federal law. The case was brought by lawyers for Evelyn Coke, a 73-year-old retiree who spent more than two decades in the home care industry helping the ill and the elderly.
updated 6/11/2007 2:39:27 PM ET 2007-06-11T18:39:27

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that home care workers are not entitled to overtime pay under federal law.

The unanimous decision upheld a 1975 Labor Department regulation exempting the nation’s 1 million home care workers from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the agency did not exceed its authority when it left home care workers without overtime protection and that “courts should defer to the department’s rule.”

The decision “is another blow to struggling, low-wage women,” said Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.

Two weeks ago, the court limited workers’ ability to sue for pay discrimination, ruling against a Goodyear employee who earned thousands of dollars less than her male counterparts but waited too long to complain.

The overtime case was brought by lawyers for Evelyn Coke, a 73-year-old retiree who spent more than two decades in the home care industry helping the ill and the elderly.

Now in failing health, Coke said her employer never paid her time and a half for all her extra hours on the job.

Lawyers for Coke challenged the Labor Department regulation, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled in the workers’ favor.

The appeals court said it was “implausible” that Congress would have wanted the Labor Department to wipe out protection for an entire category of workers.

The Supreme Court was “wrong about what Congress intended,” said Harold Craig Becker, the lead attorney for Coke. He said there is hope that a new administration in Washington would see the issue differently, or that Congress will act.

The Labor Department wrote the restrictive regulation after Congress expanded the law’s coverage.

Paying overtime would cost billions, the home care industry says.

In New York City, the annual cost of the Medicaid-funded Personal Care Services Program would rise by at least a quarter of a billion dollars if the appeals court decision is allowed to stand, the city says. The Personal Care Services program pays 90 private companies to send 60,000 home attendants to the homes of low-income elderly and disabled.

Coke’s former employer, Long Island Care at Home Ltd., says it would experience “tremendous and unsustainable losses” if it had to comply with federal overtime requirements.

The Bush administration and the company that employed Coke opposed her lawsuit.

If Congress had wanted to apply the law’s wage and overtime provisions to such workers, “it easily could have done so,” the Bush administration said in papers filed in the case. Instead, Congress assigned the secretary of labor the task of deciding the issue, the administration said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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