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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Nov 19, 2012

Head Comment: With concurring opinion

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

William S. Rutchow and Wendy V. Miller, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Publix Super Markets, Inc.

Attorneys 2:

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Alex Rieger and Lindsey O. Appiah, Assistant Attorney Generals, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Labor Standards Division.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

This is an administrative appeal in which an employer challenges the decision of the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development finding the employer in violation of the Tennessee Child Labor Act for failing to furnish, within one hour of demand, personnel files of each of its minor employees. The trial court affirmed the decision of the Department and this appeal followed. Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-5-111(1) & (4) require employers to “make, keep and preserve a separate and independent file record for each minor employed, which shall be kept at the location of the minor’s employment” and to “furnish” the records relative to the minor employees. On appeal, the employer contends it maintained the records on site as required, thus it did not violate Subsection (1) of the statute. The employer also asserts that it has a Fourth Amendment right to object to a warrantless search by the Department and it may not be penalized for asserting its constitutional right. We have determined the Department’s decision to assess penalties for violating Subsection (1) of Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-5-111 is not supported by substantial and material evidence and the inference drawn by the Department that the records were not maintained on site based upon a mere inference drawn from the fact they were not produced within one hour of demand is insufficient. Therefore, the assessments for allegedly failing to maintain personnel records of minor employees on site is reversed. As for the requirement under Subsection (4) of Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-5-111 that employers of minor employees furnish and allow inspection of the separate and independent file records for each minor employed upon request by the Department, the Act expressly provides that if the Department is denied permission to make an inspection, Tennessee Code Annotated § 50-4-101 provides that the Department employee or official may obtain an administrative inspection warrant in accordance with the procedures outlined in the statute; the Department did not seek to obtain a warrant in this case. As for refusing the Department’s request to inspect the records without an administrative warrant, in order for a warrantless search or inspection to be constitutionally permissible under the Fourth Amendment, the Department must establish that the employer was part of a pervasively regulated industry or that the employer had weakened or reduced privacy expectations that are significantly overshadowed by the Department’s interests in regulating the employer’s industry. We have determined the Department failed to establish either; accordingly, the Department cannot assess a penalty against an employer for asserting its constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the penalty assessed for allegedly violating Subsection (4) of the statute is reversed. Pursuant to the foregoing, we remand with instructions for the trial court to order the Department to vacate the citations and penalties against the employer.