Casino May Be Forced to Ante Up for Employee Training

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Casino dealers can sue their employer for unpaid, mandatory dealer training, the Fourth Circuit ruled on Monday. The ruling revives a class action against PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, the owner of Maryland Live!, a $500 million casino complex in Hanover, Maryland.

Maryland Live! opened for business in 2012, after the state legalized gambling. A year later, when Maryland began to allow table games like blackjack and poker, the casino started a major expansion. To staff its table games, it sought to hire 830 new dealers, and those dealers would have to undergo several weeks of mandatory dealer training, almost all of it unpaid. But if not paying for training was a gamble, it's one that doesn't seem to have paid off.

Going All in for Table Games -- but Not for Pay

Maryland Live! received over 10,000 applications for its 830 dealer spots, according to the Fourth Circuit. After interviews whittled down the pool, applicants were asked to attend a dealer training course put on by Maryland Live! That "dealer school" consisted of four hours of daily training over almost four months.

The training was "specific to the manner" that Casino dealers would be expected to perform at Maryland Live! And aside from the dealing education, the school included sessions where attendees competed employment forms, filled out tax withholding paperwork and direct deposit forms.

Several attendees sued, filing a putative class action that alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Maryland's wage and hour laws.

District court dismissed the suit, finding that the trainees "failed to show that the primary beneficiary of their attendance at the training was the Casino rather than themselves."

Who Benefits From Dealer Training?

As the Fourth Circuit notes, the FLSA requires employees to be paid minimum wage for "all hours worked." And trainees can certainly be considered employees under the FLSA. But, the court noted, the caselaw on when a trainee counts as an employee is sparse. In the only Fourth Circuit precedent, the court found that trainee deliverymen counted as employees when they took part in a five-day training program on loading trucks. The key was that the company, not the trainees, was the primary beneficiary of the program.

So too with Maryland Live! Taking the facts as alleged in the trainees' complaint, a court could very well find that the casino, not the trainees, benefited from the training school. After all, they were trained in dealing that was unique to the casino's needs and not transferable to other casinos.

In so finding, the Fourth Circuit rejected the casino's argument that it was "literally impossible" for the casino to have benefited, as table games were not in operation at the time. But the fact that they dealers weren't working the tables doesn't mean that they weren't working at all, the court explained. The lack of customer interaction isn't a legal bar to an FLSA suit.

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