Yesterday, in a decision that may have repercussions throughout the teen tour and travel industry, Judge Edward M. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that the trip leaders of a teen tour and travel company were not exempt from the minimum wage and overtime protections of federal and California law. The case is Wright, et al. v. Adventures Rolling Cross Country, et al., 12-cv-982-EMC (N.D. Cal.), and the decision is available here. Bryan Schwartz Law represents the Plaintiffs.
The Defendants, Adventures Rolling Cross Country (“ARCC”) and its principal owner and President, Scott Von Eschen, sell trips for teenagers to destinations around the world, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year. The trips fall into categories such as “language immersion,” “multisport adventure,” and “gap semester” trips. ARCC claimed that it was exempt from the labor laws as an “organized camp,” despite the fact that ARCC does not operate any camping or other recreational facilities.
The case was brought as a class and collective action by two former ARCC trip leaders. They led groups of teenagers on several-week tours to Latin America and Europe and worked for ARCC for approximately two additional weeks in California doing mandatory preparatory, administrative, training and debriefing work before and after the trips. While ARCC charges a trip participant's parents upwards of $5,000 dollars for many of its trips, ARCC paid plaintiffs – who were responsible for chaperoning the teens – approximately $3 per hour.
After the Plaintiffs commenced the case, ARCC attempted to shoehorn itself into the “organized camp” exemption, applying for membership to the American Camp Association and referring to its trip leaders in its briefs as “camp counselors.” The exemption was enacted in order to apply to traditional summer camps that run facilities designed for outdoor group living, such as Boy Scout camps and non-profit religious camps staffed by high school students.
Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, claiming that ARCC does not fall within the “organized camp” exemption, and Judge Chen agreed. Noting that exemptions from the labor laws are “narrowly construed,” the Court held that the language of the federal and state laws and regulations compelled a finding that because ARCC does not operate any “distinct physical location” or “facility” for the purpose of camping or recreation, “the exemption is not applicable to ARCC as a matter of law.”
Significantly, although many of ARCC’s tours are to other countries, where California and U.S. wage laws typically do not apply, Judge Chen also ruled that ARCC was required to comply with the California and federal labor laws for the entirety of any workweek during which a given employee worked at least part of the week in California or the United States, respectively.
Adventure travel and tour companies operating like ARCC may rely on a workforce of adult outdoor professionals to operate profitable tour and travel businesses that are not tied to any camping or recreational facility operated by the company. Yesterday's decision confirms that such trip leaders should generally be entitled to minimum wages and overtime.
For more information about the case or the decision, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law.
Disclaimer: Nothing in the foregoing commentary is intended to provide legal advice in any particular case. Bryan Schwartz Law cannot represent you unless you have a signed representation agreement with the firm.