California Federal Court Holds that Teen Adventure Tour and Travel Company Is Not Exempt from Overtime and Minimum Wage Laws
April 25, 2013 Oakland – Yesterday, in a decision that could 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 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, and training and debriefing work before and after the trips. While ARCC charges trip participants' parents an average of more than $5,000 per trip, ARCC paid plaintiffs – 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 with establishments 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, though many of ARCC's tours are to other countries, where California and federal 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.
"Yesterday's ruling confirms that such trip leaders should generally be entitled minimum wages and overtime," said Bryan Schwartz, whose firm, Bryan Schwartz Law, represents the plaintiffs. "Adventure travel and tour companies operating like ARCC may rely on a workforce of adult outdoor professionals to operate profitable tour and travel businesses not tied to any camping or recreational facility operated by the company, and in such cases, the organized camp exemption is inapplicable," Schwartz said.
The case is Wright et al. v. Adventures Rolling Cross Country et al., 12-cv-982-EMC (N.D. Cal.). For more information, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law at Bryan@BryanSchwartzLaw.com.