Judge lets North Dakota oil patch overtime claim proceed, gives conditional class-action label

Energy Associated Press

A lawsuit accusing oil-services company Schlumberger Ltd. of failing to pay overtime wages in North Dakota's oil patch can move forward, a federal judge says.

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Judge Ralph Erickson's ruling, released Monday, grants conditional class-action status to the suit filed by a former employee of Houston-based Schlumberger, which provides technology and other support services for the oil and gas industry. The suit alleges that employees worked more than eight hours a day and 40 hours a week, and that the company used a fluctuating workweek to avoid paying overtime.

"At this early phase, courts apply lenient standards to the evidence necessary to support conditional certification," Erickson wrote. "The plaintiffs' declarations are based on personal knowledge, and it is reasonable to infer that the employees understand their own company's pay practices at their own worksite."

Erickson said the class should be limited to employees working at the Williston site and workers at other locations do not qualify. It's not clear how many workers would be covered in the suit.

Don Doty, an attorney for the workers, said Tuesday the list of those who would be covered by a class-action is due to be completed in 10 days, and estimated it would number in the hundreds.

"Notice will be sent to the class members informing them of this lawsuit and giving them the opportunity to join the case to assert their rights," he said.

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Robert Lombardi, an attorney for Schlumberger, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The company has said in court documents that the plaintiffs did not work more than 40 hours in any given workweek and are not entitled to overtime pay under state or federal laws. Schlumberger said it made good-faith efforts to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act and any alleged violations of law "were not willful."

Chris Elliott, the original plaintiff, was responsible for operating and maintaining Schlumberger's oilfield equipment. He worked for the company from September 2011 to May 2013.