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University of Iowa News Release


April 9, 2007

Law Professor Argues For Minimum Wage, Overtime For Home Care Workers

A University of Iowa law professor has written a brief to the United States Supreme Court in a case that could require more than a million home care workers to be paid minimum wage and overtime under federal law.

Professor Peggie Smith, an expert in employment and labor law, wrote the brief for the case "Long Island Care at Home & Osborne v. Coke," which will be argued before the Supreme Court Monday, April 16.

In the case, Evelyn Coke, a home care worker employed by the New York home health care agency Long Island Care at Home, is suing her employer because it did not pay her overtime when she worked more than 40 hours a week. Coke won her case at the trial court and appeals court levels, and it is now going before the Supreme Court.

Long Island Care at Home argues that it is exempt from the federal law mandating minimum wage and overtime pay because Department of Labor regulations interpreting the law do not require home care workers to be paid minimum wage or overtime if they qualify as "companions" for the elderly and the infirm.

The brief written by Smith, however, disputes that argument. Authored on behalf of a group of historians and legal scholars, the brief argues that the law exempts companions from minimum wage and overtime pay only if they are employed directly by the person receiving care, or by that person's family or guardian. Home care workers employed as companions by third-party employers such as agencies are protected, and thus entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the law.

"The historical record demonstrates that Congress did not intend the exemption to apply to third-party employers," Smith writes in the brief. She said the case will have serious consequences for the future of home care. "Home care is one of the fastest growing occupations in the country and yet turnover in the industry is extremely high because the workers, who are mainly low-income women with young children, are so poorly paid."

Smith's academic research focuses on the legal implications caused by the separation between race and gender, home and work, and work and family. Her scholarship on the legal treatment of private paid household workers highlights the interlocking roles of race, gender, and class in the historical development of labor standards. Other articles have explored legal models that can help workers forge an acceptable balance between work responsibilities and family obligations.

She is a graduate of the Harvard University Law School.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010,