Category Archives: Preemption

S.D.N.Y.: NYLL Unpaid Gratuities and FLSA Overtime Claims Not Precluded By LMRA or CBA; No Interpretation of CBA Required To Determine Whether Defendant Violated Law

Alderman v. 21 Club Inc.

Plaintiffs, unionized waitstaff who worked Defendant’s private banquets filed suit seeking the recover of unpaid tips, pursuant to the New York Labor Law, and unpaid overtime, pursuant to the FLSA.  Plaintiffs specifically sought the portion of service charges charged by Defendant, but not paid to Plaintiffs as “tips” as required by New York law.  The Defendant moved to dismiss, asserting that Plaintiffs’ claims for unpaid tips were precluded by the LMRA (the CBA stated that banquet waitstaff would receive the equivalent of 18% of the gross price of any banquet they worked).  The Court denied Defendant’s Motion, because the claims were pendant not on the CBA, but on the NYLL.

The Court explained:

“As described earlier, plaintiffs’ first claim is under NYLL § 196-d for unpaid gratuities to plaintiffs who worked banquet events at the ’21′ Club. Defendants contend that this claim in reality is one under Section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185, which preempts the application of state labor law. Section 301 of the LMRA provides:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce … may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

The Supreme Court has interpreted Section 301 “as a congressional mandate to the federal courts to fashion a body of federal common law to be used to address disputes arising out of labor contracts.” Allis-Chalmers Group v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 209 (1985). When a state law claim alleges a violation of a labor contract or when the resolution of a state law claim depends on an interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, Section 301 preempts that claim. See Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 261 (1994). But if a state “prescribes rules or establishes rights and obligations that are independent of a labor contract, actions to enforce such independent rights or rules would not be preempted by section 301.” Vera v. Saks & Co., 335 F.3d 109, 115 (2d Cir.2003). Indeed, the “bare fact that a collective-bargaining agreement will be consulted in the course of state-law litigation plainly does not require the claim to be extinguished.” Livadas v.. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 124 (1994). In order to determine whether a state law claim is preempted because it requires interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, the court must analyze whether the “legal character” of the state law claim is truly independent of the rights conferred under the collective bargaining agreement. Salamea v. Macy’s East, Inc., 426 F.Supp.2d 149, 153-54 (S.D.N .Y.2006).

In the present case, plaintiffs bring their gratuities claim under NYLL § 196-d and not under the CBA. Both § 196-d and the CBA give employees rights in respect to gratuities, although they are worded differently in ways that have significance in this case. Specifically, the CBA guarantees gratuities in the amount of 18% of the total bill for the function. Section 196-d guarantees to the employees whatever has been charged to provide gratuities, without reference to a specific percentage. It is necessary, therefore, for the court to define exactly what plaintiffs’ claim is and then to determine whether it fits under § 196-d or under the CBA or both.

The relevant portions of the complaint are paragraphs 21 and 22 in the factual allegations and paragraphs 33 and 34 stating the claim:

21. For private events, Defendants charged gratuities to the hosts of the events equal to a percentage of the cost of the events.

22. While Defendants distributed a potion of these gratuities to the service staff that worked these parties, Defendants did not distribute all of the gratuities. Thus, Defendants illegally retained substantial portions of the gratuities paid by private event hosts, instead of distributing them in their entirety to service staff.

33. Defendants received gratuities from customers for all private banquets.

34. Defendants retained portions of Plaintiffs’ tips and Class members’ tips.

On their face, the allegations of the complaint do not refer to 18%. However, they are not precise in excluding the possibility that in fact plaintiffs are seeking the 18% referred to in the CBA. But the court believes that the December 29, 2008 letter of union president Bill Granfield is relevant in construing the nature of the gratuities claim. This letter makes a demand that the ’21′ Club pay to employees “the difference between your service charge rate and the 18% gratuity rate contained in the contract.” The reference to “the contract” presumably means the CBA. Thus, in late 2008, the Union was claiming that the service charges were greater than the 18% referred to in the CBA and was demanding that the entire amount be paid to the employees.

The court concludes that the complaint should be taken on its own terms and cannot properly be construed as actually referring only to the 18%.

The complaint asserts that it is made under NYLL § 196-d. That statute provides:

No employer or his agent or an officer or agent of any corporation, or any other person shall demand or accept, directly or indirectly, any part of the gratuities, received by an employee, or retain any part of a gratuity or of any charge purported to be a gratuity for an employee. This provision shall not apply to the checking of hats, coats or other apparel. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed as affecting the allowances from the minimum wage for gratuities in the amount determined in accordance with the provisions of article nineteen of this chapter nor as affecting practices in connection with banquets and other special functions where a fixed percentage of the patron’s bill is added for gratuities which are distributed to employees, nor to the sharing of tips by a waiter with a busboy or similar employee.

The first sentence of the statute prevents an employer from taking the gratuities received by an employee. The relevant part of the last sentence states that nothing in the statute affects the practice in connection with functions where a fixed percentage is added to the patron’s bill for gratuities which are distributed to employees. The statute is somewhat confusing because the assurance of the employee’s rights in the first sentence is followed by the latter portion of the last sentence which states that the statute is not applicable to functions where an amount is added to the patron’s bill for gratuities.

Plaintiffs cite authorities that they contend give them rights under the statute. It is not the province of the court on the present motion to resolve questions which may arise as to the exact construction of the statute. It is sufficient to say that, as far as state law is concerned, plaintiffs would surely be entitled to attempt to recover under the statute. What defenses there may be under state law, and how the issues are resolved, remains to be seen. One thing is clear under § 196-d, and that is that there is no reference to 18% or any limit of 18%.

On the question of whether plaintiffs’ gratuities claim should be construed as in reality coming under the CBA so that federal law applies, the language of the CBA was quoted earlier in this opinion. The CBA only guarantees 18%. Consequently, a claim for more than 18% is not properly one under the CBA. It is properly made under § 196-d.

The result is, and the court so holds, that the gratuities claim is not preempted by federal law.

The court notes the contention that the history of the Union submissions by way of grievances constitutes an admission that the gratuities claim in the present case properly falls within the ambit of the CBA. The court rejects this argument. The employees did not give up their right to assert a gratuities claim under § 196-d in the present action.”

The Court also ruled that Plaintiffs were not required to submit their claims to arbitration, based on the language in the CBA.

To read the entire opinion, click here.

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7th Cir.: 203(o) Does Not Preempt State Law; Notwithstanding The Fact That Time Spent Donning/Doffing Of PPE Constitutes Changing “Clothes” Under the FLSA, Such Time Is Compensable Under WI State Law And Not Waivable By CBA

Spoerle v. Kraft Food Global, Inc.

In this case, the Plaintiff-employees brought a collective action against employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state law, contending that hourly employees at employer’s plant should be paid for time spent donning and doffing safety and sanitation articles and walking to and from their work stations at the beginning and end of their shifts.  The trial court granted employees’ motion for summary judgment, and employer appealed.  The Seventh Circuit held that the employees’ claims were not preempted by FLSA and affirmed.

The Court framed the issue as “whether § 203(o ) preempts state law that lacks an equivalent exception[?]”  Answering in the negative, the Court reasoned:

“The Fair Labor Standards Act has a saving clause:

No provision of this chapter … shall excuse noncompliance with any Federal or State law or municipal ordinance establishing a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage established under this chapter or a maximum work week lower than the maximum workweek established under this chapter…. No provision of this chapter shall justify any employer in reducing a wage paid by him which is in excess of the applicable minimum wage under this chapter, or justify any employer in increasing hours of employment maintained by him which are shorter than the maximum hours applicable under this chapter.

29 U.S.C. § 218(a). This means, the district court concluded, that donning and doffing time counts toward the workweek (and overtime rates) if state law so provides. Kraft Foods concedes that Wisconsin requires time spent donning and doffing safety gear to be compensated at the minimum wage or higher, and that this time counts toward the limit after which the overtime rate kicks in. See Wis. Stat. §§ 109.03, 103.02; Wis. Admin. Code § DWD 272.12(2)(e). (This makes it unnecessary to decide whether federal law would require payment for this time, in the absence of a § 203(o ) agreement. See Pirant v. United States Postal Service, 542 F.3d 202, 208-09 (7th Cir.2008) (discussing which kinds of required safety gear are “integral and indispensable” for purposes of the analysis in IBP ).) Kraft Foods contends, however, that § 203(o ) preempts Wisconsin’s law. The district judge rejected that argument and entered judgment in plaintiffs’ favor as a matter of Wisconsin rather than federal law, see 626 F.Supp.2d 913 (W.D.Wis.2009), a step supported by the supplemental jurisdiction of 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Kraft Foods contends that § 203(o ) embodies a federal decision to permit a collectively bargained resolution to supersede the rules otherwise applicable to determining the number of hours worked. That’s an accurate statement, as far as it goes. But “as far as it goes” means “as far as § 203(o ) itself goes.” And the statute tells us exactly how far it goes. The first words of § 203(o ) are: “In determining for the purposes of sections 206 and 207 of this title the hours for which an employee is employed …”. Section 206 sets the federal minimum wage per hour worked. Section 207 specifies how many hours a person may work in a given period before overtime pay commences. These are rules of federal law. States are free to set higher hourly wages or shorter periods before overtime pay comes due. That’s what § 218(a) says. Nothing in § 203(o ) limits the operation of § 218(a).

As far as we can tell, this is the first time an employer’s argument that § 203(o ) preempts state law has reached a court of appeals. All three district judges who have considered this argument have rejected it. In addition to the decision under review, see In re Cargill Meat Solutions Wage & Hour Litigation, 632 F.Supp.2d 368, 392-94 (M.D.Pa.2008); Chavez v. IBP, Inc., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29714 at *112-22 (E.D.Wash. May 16, 2005). If Wisconsin had provided for a minimum hourly wage exceeding the rate in the collective bargaining agreement between Kraft Foods and Local 538, the state law would trump the CBA. And if this is so for the hourly rate, it must be equally so for the number of hours, because how much pay a worker receives depends on the number of hours multiplied by the hourly rate. It would be senseless to say that a state may control the multiplicand but not the multiplier, or the reverse, because control of either one permits the state to determine the bottom line (provided that the state’s number exceeds the federal minimum; § 218(a) does not allow a state to authorize employers to pay less than the federal floor).

As Kraft Foods sees things, Wisconsin is meddling with collective bargaining, so that federal labor law preempts state law if § 203(o ) does not do the trick. Yet nothing in the Wisconsin statutes gives a state court, or other state official, any role in interpreting or enforcing a collective bargaining agreement. What Wisconsin requires is that the collective bargaining agreement be ignored, to the extent that it sets lower wages or hours than state law specifies. Cf. Lingle v. Norge Division of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988) (state rules that disregard, rather than interpret, collective bargaining agreements are not preempted by federal labor policy). Suppose the CBA set a wage of $8 per hour, higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, while Wisconsin law set a minimum wage of $8.25. (Wisconsin’s actual minimum wage is $7.25, but some states, including Illinois, use $8.25.) No one would contend that the employer could pay the workers $7.25 an hour, even though that is allowed by federal law if labor and management agree (this is the same sense that excluding donning and doffing time is allowed by § 203(o )). Which rate would prevail: $8 from the CBA or $8.25 from state law? According to § 218(a), the employer must pay $8.25 an hour; state law supersedes the collective bargaining agreement. And if this is so about the wage per hour, it is equally true about the number of hours.

Nothing that labor and management put in a collective bargaining agreement exempts them from state laws of general application. If a CBA were to say: “the workers will receive the minimum wage under FLSA, and not one cent more no matter what state law provides,” that would be ineffectual. So too would an agreement along the lines of: “Because our base hourly rate is more than 150% of the minimum wage, we need not pay overtime rates under state law.” States can set substantive rules that determine the effective net wage, even when a CBA plays a role (as it does when a law requires overtime pay at some multiple of the base pay set in a collective bargaining agreement). Every state’s overtime-compensation rule could affect collective bargaining-knowing that state law requires pay at time-and-a-half, labor and management might agree to a lower base rate per hour-but that effect would not prevent application of the state’s wage-and-hour statutes.

Management and labor acting jointly (through a CBA) have no more power to override state substantive law than they have when acting individually. Imagine a CBA saying: “Our drivers can travel at 85 mph, without regard to posted speed limits, so that they can deliver our goods in fewer compensable hours of work time.” That clause would be ineffectual. And a CBA reading instead that “our drivers can travel at a reasonable rate of speed, no matter what state law provides” would be equally pointless. Making a given CBA hard to interpret and apply (as the word “reasonable” would be) would not preempt state law on the theory that states must leave the interpretation of CBAs to the National Labor Relations Board and the federal judiciary; states would remain free to enforce laws that disregarded CBAs altogether. That is what Wisconsin does when determining which donning and doffing time is compensable.

The district court therefore did not err in concluding that plaintiffs are entitled to be paid for all time required by Wisconsin law, and the judgment is AFFIRMED.”

To read the entire opinion, click here.

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W.D.Ark.: FLSA Does Not Preempt State Common Law Claims; Claims Dismissed On Other Grounds

Montize v. Pittman Properties Ltd. Partnership No.1

This case was before the Court on one of the Defendant’s  Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings filed.  The Plaintiffs did not file any response to the Motion.  Of interest, the Court held that certain non-FLSA state law claims were not preempted by the FLSA.  In so holding, the Court noted its agreement with the Ninth Circuit and disagreement with the Fourth Circuit on this issue.  Nonetheless the claims at issue were dismissed for failure to state a claim, because they failed to allege, with specicificity, the facts on which such claims could rest.

The Court dicussed the following facts (as pled) as relevant to its inquiry:

“In this action, Plaintiffs were migrant agricultural workers employed by Pittman Nursery Corporation for seasonal work. They allege that a former Pittman Nursery employee, Dawood Aydani, extorted money from them over the course of several years, in the form of kickbacks, and that such extortion effectively reduced Plaintiffs’ net compensation below the federal and state minimum wage. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Aydani required Plaintiffs to pay him $1,000 cash to secure and keep their employment. They further allege that these funds were then shared with some of the other Defendants in this action.

Plaintiffs assert causes of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), and for negligent supervision. Pittman Nursery asks the Court to dismiss the non-FLSA claims and argues that these claims are preempted by the FLSA.”

Discussing the issue of preemption, the Court held: 

“The FLSA authorizes workers to file private actions to recover unpaid wages, damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Pittman Nursery argues that, because Congress intended that these remedies be exclusive, duplicative claims seeking damages beyond those established under the FLSA are preempted by federal law. In the present case, Pittman Nursery asserts that the FLSA preempts Plaintiffs’ state law and RICO claims because these claims are duplicative. The Court does not agree.

The Eighth Circuit has not addressed the issue of whether the remedies under the FLSA are exclusive. The Court is aware that the Fourth Circuit has held that the FLSA preempts claims that “depend on establishing that [the employer] violated the FLSA.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 193 (4th Cir.2007). Several other district courts outside of the Eighth Circuit have ruled that state claims are preempted by the FLSA where those claims merely duplicate the FLSA claims. Id. at 194. On the other hand, the Ninth Circuit has held that the FLSA does not preempt common law fraud claims and that the FLSA does not provide exclusive remedies for violating its provisions. Williamson v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 208 F.3d 1144, 1151-53 (9th Cir.2000). Also, several district court cases within the Eighth Circuit have held that the FLSA does not provide the exclusive remedy for its violations and does not preempt state law claims even when there is a common core of operative facts. See Cortez v. Neb. Beef, Inc., Nos. 8:08CV90, 8:08CV99, 2010 WL 604629 (D.Neb. Feb.16, 2010); Bouaphakeo v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 564 F.Supp.2d 870, 886 (N.D.Iowa 2008); Robertson v. LTS Management Services, LLC, 642 F.Supp.2d 922, 928 (W.D.Mo.2008); Osby v. Citigroup, Inc., No. 07-CV-06085-NKL, 2008 WL 2074102 (W.D.Mo. May 14, 2008). Most district courts in the Eighth Circuit agree that the FLSA’s savings clause, which allows states to enact stricter wage, hour, and child labor provisions, indicates that the FLSA does not provide an exclusive remedy for its violations. Bouaphakeo, 564 F.Supp.2d at 882. In fact, “it would seem that state law may offer an alternative legal basis for equal or more generous relief for the same alleged wrongs.” Cortez, 2010 WL 604629, at *6.

Here, the Court is more persuaded by the opinions of district courts within the Eighth Circuit and adopts the view that the FLSA does not provide an exclusive remedy for violations of its provisions. Accordingly, the Court does not agree with Pittman Nursery that Plaintiffs’ non-FLSA claims are preempted by the FLSA.”

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