A church outside Akron, Ohio, ran a cafeteria open to the public in which much of the labor was provided free by volunteer members of the congregation. The U.S. Department of Labor sued it on the grounds that it violates the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for an enterprise, church or otherwise, to use volunteer unpaid labor in a commercial setting. A trial court agreed, but now the Sixth Circuit has reversed and remanded, pointing out that “to be considered an employee within the meaning of the FLSA, a worker must first expect to receive compensation.”
Judge Raymond Kethledge, writing in concurrence, takes issue with the Department of Labor’s argument that the cafeteria volunteers count as employees because “their pastor spiritually ‘coerced’ them to work there. That argument’s premise — namely, that the Labor Act authorizes the Department to regulate the spiritual dialogue between pastor and congregation — assumes a power whose use would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.” Kethledge also points out that as “the record makes clear, the Buffet’s purpose was to allow the church’s members to proselytize among local residents who dined there,” and that along with its congregant volunteers the establishment “had 35 full-time paid employees — all of whom, incidentally, have lost their jobs as a result of this lawsuit.” [Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet et al. via Ted Frank on Twitter]
More: cross-posted, slightly expanded, at Cato.