Tag Archives: Affirmative Defenses

11th Cir.: Employer That Knew or Had Reason to Know Employee Underreported Hours Could Not Assert Equitable Defenses Based on Employee’s Conduct in Underreporting Hours

Bailey v. TitleMax of Georgia, Inc.

This case was before the Eleventh Circuit on the plaintiff’s appeal of an order from the trial court granting the defendant-employer summary judgment. Specifically, the court below held that the plaintiff-employee was barred by equitable doctrines from maintaining his claims under the FLSA, because he had underreported his hours, notwithstanding the defendant’s knowledge of the actual hours worked. Reversing the trial court’s order, the Eleventh Circuit held that “[w]here, as here, an employer knew or had reason to know that its employee underreported his hours, it cannot invoke equitable defenses based on that underreporting to bar the employee’s FLSA claim.”

The court described the relevant facts and procedural history below as follows:

Santonias Bailey was an employee of TitleMax of Georgia who worked overtime hours for which he was not paid. At the direction of his supervisor, who told him that TitleMax did not pay overtime, he regularly worked off the clock. The same supervisor also repeatedly edited Mr. Bailey’s time records to report fewer hours than he worked. Mr. Bailey eventually brought suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay their employees for overtime.

This appeal presents the question of whether TitleMax may defeat Mr. Bailey’s FLSA claim by deflecting the blame for the unpaid overtime onto him. TitleMax insists that Mr. Bailey is responsible for any unpaid overtime, because he could have complained about his supervisor, but did not. Neither did he follow TitleMax’s policies for ensuring accurate time records. In legal terms, the question is this: if an employer knew its employee underreported his hours, can it still assert equitable defenses based on the employee’s own conduct in underreporting as a total bar to the employee’s FLSA claim? We have heard oral argument, read the parties’ briefs, and examined the record in considering the question. Our answer is no. Because the District Court answered yes, we reverse its grant of summary judgment for TitleMax.

Mr. Bailey worked at a TitleMax store in Jonesboro, Georgia for about a year. We assume, as the District Court did, that Mr. Bailey worked overtime hours for which he was not paid. He was not paid because his time records were not accurate. They reflected an artificially low number of hours worked. This inaccuracy came from two sources: first, Mr. Bailey underreported his own hours by working off the clock. Second, Mr. Bailey’s supervisor changed his time records to decrease the number of hours he reported.

Mr. Bailey’s supervisor told him that TitleMax “does not allow overtime pay,” and that “[t]here [would] be days that [they] [would] be working off the clock.” To that end, Mr. Bailey would, “for the most part,” clock in and out when his supervisor told him to, even though that sometimes did not match up with the hours he actually worked. For example, on some Saturdays, he would work from 8:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. But his supervisor would tell him: “your hours are … high, so make sure that you clock in at 9:00 and clock out at 4:00.” And so he would, logging only seven hours despite working nine.

Second, Mr. Bailey’s supervisor herself edited Mr. Bailey’s time records. To take two examples: on September 9, 2011, Mr. Bailey clocked in at 10:57 A.M. and clocked out at 7:17 P.M., without recording any lunch break. His supervisor later changed his clock-out time to 7:00 P.M. and added a lunch break from 1:00 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. And on September 12, his supervisor edited Mr. Bailey’s clock-out time, changing it from 8:03 P.M. to 7:03 P.M. After he resigned from TitleMax, Mr. Bailey filed suit. He claims that TitleMax violated the FLSA by failing to pay overtime as the statute requires.

For its part, TitleMax emphasizes that Mr. Bailey’s conduct violated its policies. When he worked off the clock, he violated a policy requiring accurate reporting of hours. Also, by neither objecting to his supervisor changing his time records nor reporting inaccuracies in his records, Mr. Bailey violated a policy requiring regular verification of time. Finally, by not reporting any of this, he violated a policy instructing employees who had a problem at work to notify a supervisor, or if the supervisor was part of the problem, to inform a higher-level manager or call an anonymous employee hotline. Mr. Bailey was aware of each of these company policies.

In the face of Mr. Bailey’s law suit, TitleMax moved for summary judgment. It pointed to Mr. Bailey’s violation of its policies and argued that he was responsible for any unpaid overtime. It said that because Mr. Bailey bore responsibility, two equitable defenses—unclean hands and in pari delicto—barred his claim. The District Court agreed, and granted summary judgment. This appeal followed.

Discussing the FLSA’s remedial purpose and prior case law from the Eleventh Circuit, the court explained:

This Court has, in the decades since O’Neil, echoed the same principle: the goal of the FLSA is to counteract the inequality of bargaining power between employees and employers. See, e.g., Walthour v. Chipio Windshield Repair, LLC, 745 F.3d 1326, 1332 (11th Cir.2014) (quoting O’Neil ); Hogan v. Allstate Ins. Co., 361 F.3d 621, 625 (11th Cir.2004) (same); Lynn’s Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir.1982) (“Recognizing that there are often great inequalities in bargaining power between employers and employees, Congress made the FLSA’s provisions mandatory.”); Mayhue’s Super Liquor Stores, Inc. v. Hodgson, 464 F.2d 1196, 1197 n. 1 (5th Cir.1972) (quoting O’Neil ).

In the broadest sense, this principle has guided the rulings of this Circuit, and it compels our holding here. If an employer knew or had reason to know that its employee underreported his hours, it cannot escape FLSA liability by asserting equitable defenses based on that underreporting. To hold otherwise would allow an employer to wield its superior bargaining power to pressure or even compel its employees to underreport their work hours, thus neutering the FLSA’s purposeful reallocation of that power.

After noting that the plaintiff had proffered evidence to meet his prima facie burden in this FLSA case, it then evaluated the defendant’s equitable defenses at issue: It insists that, while Mr. Bailey may have established the elements of his claim, TitleMax is nevertheless entitled to summary judgment unclean hands and in pari delicto:

These two defenses are similar. See Greene v. Gen. Foods Corp., 517 F.2d 635, 646–47 (5th Cir.1975) (discussing in pari delicto and other “closely related equitable defenses such as … unclean hands”). Broadly speaking, proof of either of these defenses may operate to bar a plaintiff’s claim in an appropriate case if he bears responsibility for his own injury. Each gives force to the well-worn maxim: “[h]e who comes into equity must come with clean hands.” See Keystone Driller Co. v. Gen. Excavator Co., 290 U.S. 240, 241, 54 S.Ct. 146, 146, 78 L.Ed. 293 (1933).

To assert an unclean hands defense, a defendant must show that (1) the plaintiff’s wrongdoing is directly related to the claim, and (2) the defendant was personally injured by the wrongdoing. See Calloway v. Partners Nat’l Health Plans, 986 F.2d 446, 450–51 (11th Cir.1993). Similarly, to assert an in pari delicto defense, a defendant must show that “the plaintiff bears at least substantially equal responsibility for the violations he seeks to redress.” Lamonica v. Safe Hurricane Shutters, Inc., 711 F.3d 1299, 1308 (11th Cir.2013). To invoke in pari delicto to bar a claim brought under a federal statute, the defendant must also show a second element: that barring the suit would not “substantially interfere” with the policy goals of the statute. Id.

The District Court accepted TitleMax’s argument that one or both of these defenses may bar an employee’s FLSA claim, even when the employer knew that the employee was underreporting his hours. In doing so, the District Court did not correctly apply the statute.

Our conclusion in this regard is consistent with two cases previously decided in this Circuit. In Allen and Brennan, we faced similar facts and rejected arguments similar to those made by TitleMax. In both of those cases, employers nominally required employees to accurately report their hours. See Allen, 495 F.3d at 1314; Brennan, 482 F.2d at 827. Despite those requirements, supervisors encouraged employees to underreport, and they did. See Allen, 495 F.3d at 1318 (supervisor told employee “that she could not continue to be paid overtime”); Brennan, 482 F.2d at 827 (supervisors exerted “pressure” and “insisted that reported overtime hours be kept to a stated minimum level”).

Facing FLSA claims, the employers argued they could not be responsible for unpaid overtime because they had neither actual nor constructive knowledge that the employees had worked unpaid overtime. Allen, 495 F.3d at 1318; Brennan, 482 F.2d at 827. This court rejected the argument in both cases, and imputed knowledge to the employers. Allen, 495 F.3d at 1318–19; Brennan, 482 F.2d at 827. The Brennan panel concluded that the supervisors had at least constructive knowledge of unpaid overtime because “they had the opportunity to get truthful overtime reports but opted to encourage artificially low reporting instead.” 482 F.2d at 828. And the Allen panel decided that a supervisor had knowledge based on even more tenuous facts: she “was aware that [the employee] was working overtime hours” and was also “aware that [the employee] had been told that she could not be paid overtime.” 495 F.3d at 1318. Both panels ruled that knowledge on the part of supervisors could be imputed to the employers. See id. at 1319 (“[O]ur predecessor court stated that when an employer’s actions squelch truthful reports of overtime worked, or where the employer encourages artificially low reporting, it cannot disclaim knowledge.” (quoting Brennan, 482 F.2d at 828)).

Ultimately, the court held that the facts here were vitually identical to the prior cases in which it had held that equitable defenses similar to those advanced by the defendant here could not nullify an employee’s claim under the FLSA:

The facts of Mr. Bailey’s case are substantially the same. TitleMax instructed its employees to accurately record their hours and to report problems with their records. Mr. Bailey worked off the clock at the behest (demand) of his supervisor, in violation of those policies. No one disputes that his supervisor knew he was working off the clock. The supervisor’s knowledge may be imputed to TitleMax, making it liable for the FLSA violation. This is the holding of Allen and Brennan. It is true that TitleMax presents its argument in different terms than the employers in Allen and Brennan. TitleMax does not claim that the supervisor did not know that Mr. Bailey was underreporting his hours. See Allen, 495 F.3d at 1318 (“The [employer] claims that even if unpaid hours can be shown, Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their supervisors knew that they were working overtime without pay.”); Brennan, 482 F.2d at 827 (“[The employer]’ s principal argument is that it cannot have violated the FLSA because it had no knowledge of the unreported overtime.”). Nor could it. Instead, TitleMax says that Mr. Bailey’s misconduct allows it to assert an equitable defense. Specifically, TitleMax argues that Mr. Bailey’s own misconduct makes Allen and Brennan inapposite. But we see this distinction as one without a difference. TitleMax seeks to skirt the clear holdings of Allen and Brennan by making the same argument under a different name. Whether we consider the employee’s actions in analyzing the knowledge prong of the FLSA or as an equitable defense, the question is the same: is an employee deprived of his FLSA claim because he underreported his time, even if knowledge of the underreporting is imputed to the employer? Allen and Brennan say no. TitleMax asks us to contravene those holdings under a different theory. We cannot oblige.

TitleMax has identified no case in which this Court approved the use of equitable defenses as a total bar to an employee’s FLSA claim when the employer knew the employee underreported his hours. Neither has TitleMax identified any such case from the United States Supreme Court or any of our sister Circuits. We are aware, of course, that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. But the FLSA has been on the books a long time.

Finally, the court discussed the deterrent effect of the FLSA, in the context of a Supreme Court case under the ADEA, and explained that to permit the equitable defenses at bar would negate the FLSA’s deterrent effect:

Like the ADEA, the FLSA has a deterrent purpose. See O’Neil, 324 U.S. at 709–10, 65 S.Ct. at 903 (“To permit an employer to secure a release from the worker … will tend to nullify the deterrent effect which Congress plainly intended that [the FLSA] should have.”); Nall v. Mal–Motels, Inc., 723 F.3d 1304, 1307 (11th Cir.2013) (“Allowing the employer to escape liquidated damages by simply giving an employee the wages she was entitled to earn in the first place—or in some cases, less than that—would undermine the deterrent effect of the [FLSA’s] statutory provisions.”). Cf. McKennon, 513 U.S. at 357, 115 S.Ct. at 884 (“The ADEA … contains a vital element found in both Title VII and the Fair Labor Standards Act: It grants an injured employee a right of action to obtain the authorized relief. The private litigant who seeks redress for his or her injuries vindicates both the deterrence and the compensation objectives of the ADEA.” (citation omitted)).

Barring FLSA actions for wage and overtime violations where the employer is aware that an employee is underreporting hours would undermine the Act’s deterrent purpose. In this case, the District Court applied equitable defenses based on Mr. Bailey’s misconduct to totally and entirely bar his FLSA claim. When it did that, it went beyond what the Supreme Court approved in McKennon, thereby interfering with the FLSA’s statutory scheme.

Click Bailey v. TitleMax of Georgia, Inc. to read the entire Decision.

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M.D.Fla.: Applying Twombly, Defendant’s Assertion of Generalized Affirmative Defense of “Good Faith” Struck, Due to Insufficient Facts

Drzik v. Haskell Co.

This case was before the court on Plaintiff’s motion to strike several affirmative defenses pled by Defendant as factually insufficient under FRCP 8 and Twombly.  Significantly, the court struck Defendant’s two affirmative defenses asserting that liquidated damages were not due to Plaintiff because Defendant had acted in “good faith” in committing violations, if any, of the FLSA.  The case is significant, because the affirmative defenses struck are asserted in the majority of FLSA defendants’ answers, typically with identical language to that pled here.  Noting that such bare bones allegations do not satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8, the court struck the Defendant’s affirmative defense(s) of good faith, with leave to replead with additional facts.

Holding that the Defendant’s allegations of good faith were insufficient as pled, the court explained:

“[Defendant’s] Third and Fifth Affirmative Defenses respectively claim that Plaintiff’s claims are barred because Haskell has acted in good faith, and because of the existence of exceptions, exclusions, or exemptions provided in the FLSA. (Doc. 6 at 6). These affirmative defenses correctly state that a “good faith” defense and exceptions exist under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, 260. However, the affirmative defenses, as drafted, are lacking in sufficient details and fail to provide the requisite notice of the theory of the defense. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (explaining the need for factual support to give defendant fair notice of claims, but equally applicable to defenses). The requirement to include factual support to provide fair notice of claims is also applicable to affirmative defenses. Therefore, if Haskell intends to pursue these defenses it will need to plead some factual basis to give the Plaintiff fair notice of its defense. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Motion is granted as to the Third and Fifth Affirmative Defenses and those defenses are stricken with leave to amend.”

As the trend of defendants filing more and more motions to dismiss based on Twombly continues, it will be interesting to see if we begin seeing an uptick in motions like this, which seek to apply the pleading standards equally to the other side of the “v.”

Click Drzik v. Haskell Co. to read the entire Order.

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S.D.Ind.: Court Erred In Resolving MCA Exemption Issues on Motion for Conditional Certification; On Reconsideration Motion Granted

Thompson v. K.R. Drenth Trucking, Inc.

This case was before the court on plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of the court’s order denying their motion for conditional certification of a collective action.  The case arose out of allegations that defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay a certain group of truck drivers (“plaintiffs”) overtime premiums.  Initially, the court denied Plaintiffs’ Motion.  In doing so, “the Court held that the Motor Carrier Act exemption applied to [the] named Plaintiffs… thus rendering them ineligible for overtime pay and unsuitable collective action representatives.”  In their motion for reconsideration, the plaintiffs asserted that the court had previously erred by inappropriately resolving the merits of the Motor Carrier Act exemption, with respect to the named-plaintiffs at the conditional certification stage.  The court agreed, and upon reconsideration granted conditional certification.

The court explained:

“In the February 11, 2011 Entry (Dkt.68), this Court acknowledged that the issue of whether Thompson and Hayden engaged in interstate commerce was “hotly contested.” Plaintiffs emphasized that both Thompson and Hayden were Non–Recyclable Drivers who regularly transported non-recyclable materials within the State of Indiana. Plaintiffs argued that since they never engaged in interstate commerce as part of their “regular” or “normal” duties, Thompson and Hayden are suitable collective action representatives. KRD counters that any of its drivers, including Thompson and Hayden, “could be called upon at any time to carry any load, whether intrastate or interstate,” meaning the MCA exemption applies. (Dkt. 71 at 4). And, indeed, Thompson and Hayden each crossed Indiana state lines on one occasion to transport KRD equipment to South Carolina.

In its prior entry, the Court found KRD’s argument persuasive, determining that the MCA exemption applied to Thompson and Hayden. In other words, even if Thompson and Hayden rarely crossed state lines (or, for that matter, hauled recyclable material destined for out-of-state purchasers), they could have been called upon to do so in their regular course of work. For this reason, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for conditional certification.

Having now reviewed a more thorough body of case law, the Court finds that it erred by, in effect, making a merits determination at this early stage. As Plaintiffs emphasize, they have a “lenient” burden at this stage of the proceedings and, as such, courts do not reach the merits of Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims. Fravel v. County of Lake, 2008 WL 2704744, at *2 (N.D.Ind. July 7, 2008) (citations omitted). However, it is worth noting that even at this early stage, a court must also ensure that the proposed class representatives are adequate.”

Luckily for the plaintiffs here, the court recognized its initial error and corrected it almost immediately.  The court’s decision serves as a reminder that courts simply do not resolve the merits of an FLSA case at the conditional certification stage.

Click Thompson v. K.R. Drenth Trucking, Inc. to read the court’s Entry on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Reconsider.

 

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5th Cir.: Severance Payment Not A Set-off To FLSA Damages for Unpaid Overtime

Martin v. PepsiAmericas, Inc.

Plaintiff sued her former employer, to recover unpaid overtime wages allegedly due under the Fair Labor StandardsAct (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.  The district court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction after finding that Plaintiff’s maximum potential recovery was less than the value of her severance package received from Defendant, which the district court determined should be set-off against anypotential damages awarded to Plaintiff.  Holding that such a set-off was improper, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The court reasoned:

“At issue is whether Pepsi can set-off the value of benefits it paid to Karen Martin under her severance agreement against Martin’s FLSA claim for overtime wages. The district court found that Pepsi was entitled to the set-off and, consequently, dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We review a court’s ruling on a FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss de novo. See Budget Prepay, Inc. v. AT&T Corp., 605 F.3d 273, 278 (5th Cir.2010) (citing Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir.2001)). When challenging a 12(b)(1) motion, the party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. Id.

Pepsi initially contends that our opinion in Singer v. City of Waco, 324 F.3d 813 (5th Cir.2003), should be read broadly to allow set-offs in FLSA cases so long as they do not result in sub-minimum wages. Generally speaking, courts have been hesitant to permit an employer to file counterclaimsFN1 in FLSA suits for money the employer claims the employee owes it, or for damages the employee’s tortious conduct allegedly caused. See Brennan v. Heard, 491 F.2d 1, 4 (5th Cir.1974), rev’d on other grounds by McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co., 486 U.S. 128, 108 S.Ct. 1677, 100 L.Ed.2d 115 (1988); see also Donovan v. Pointon, 717 F.2d 1320, 1323 (10th Cir.1983) (“[T]he purpose of the present action is to bring Pointon into compliance with the Act by enforcing a public right. To permit him in such a proceeding to try his private claims, real or imagined, against his employees would delay and even subvert the whole process. Pointon is free to sue his employees in state court ….”).

In Heard, we said that set-offs and counterclaims are inappropriate in any case brought to enforce the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions. In that case, the Secretary of Labor sued an employer to enjoin it from withholding base and overtime wages from employees. Heard, 491 F.2d at 2. After finding a willful FLSA violation, the district court ordered the employer to pay its employees back wages, but permitted a set-off for the value of goods the employer had furnished to its employees. Id. This court reversed, stating that “[t]he federal courts were not designated by the FLSA to be either collection agents or arbitrators for an employee’s creditors.” Id. at 4. Noting that the only function of the federal judiciary under the FLSA “is to assure to the employees of a covered company a minimum level of wages,” we said that “[a]rguments and disputations over claims against those wages are foreign to the genesis, history, interpretation, and philosophy of the Act.” Id. And we observed that “[t]he only economic feud contemplated by the FLSA involves the employer’s obedience to minimum wage and overtime standards. To clutter [FLSA] proceedings with the minutiae of other employer-employee relationships would be antithetical to the purpose of the Act.” Id.; see also Pointon, 717 F.2d at 1323 (declining to address employer’s counterclaim for tortious sabotage in employee’s FLSA suit); Hodgson v. Lakewood Broad. Serv., 330 F.Supp. 670, 673 (D.Colo.1971) (declining to allow set-off or counterclaim against Secretary for employee’s breach of employment contract).

This language notwithstanding, in Singer v. City of Waco, 324 F.3d 813 (5th Cir.2003), we allowed an employer to set-off certain wage overpayments against the employees’ overall damages award. Singer involved a class of municipal fire fighters whose hours varied among pay periods. The city’s method for calculating their regular rate of pay under the FLSA resulted in an underpayment of the fire fighters’ overtime pay during some pay periods. Id. at 817, 824-25. When calculating how much money the city owed the fire fighters in unpaid overtime wages, “the district court found that the City’s method of calculating overtime compensation resulted in small deficiencies … in the work periods in which the fire fighters worked 120 hours,” but “the City’s method resulted in considerable overpayments ($126.20) in the work periods in which the fire fighters worked 96 hours.” Id. at 826. Because of this incongruity, the district court allowed the employer to set-off overpayments in some work periods against shortfalls in others. Id. at 826. We viewed these overpayments as akin to pre-payments, not prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations or the FLSA, and affirmed. Id. We reconciled our holdings in Singer and Heard by observing that “the offsets permitted by the district court [in Heard] caused the final awards of many of the defendants’ workers to drop below the statutory minimum.” Id. at 828 n. 9 (quoting Heard, 491 F.2d at 3) (internal quotation marks omitted). Meanwhile, in Singer, “no party contend[ed] that the offset might cause the fire fighters’ wages to fall below the statutory minimum wage.” 324 F.3d at 828 n. 9.

Relying on this distinction, Pepsi contends that Singer should be read to limit Heard, to stand for the proposition that set-offs are appropriate in FLSA cases so long as they do not cause an employee’s wages to fall below the statutory minimum. Pepsi has cited, as did the district court, several lower court decisions from outside this circuit that have given Singer such a broad construction. See, e.g. Hanson v. ABC Liquors, Inc., No. 3:09-cv-966, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108954, at *7-8 (M.D.Fla. Nov. 9, 2009) (collecting cases); see also Docket Entry No. 110, Memorandum Order at 5 n.3. These cases, however, predate our opinion in Gagnon v. United Technisource, Inc., 607 F.3d 1036 (5th Cir.2010), where we clarified that Heard’s longstanding prohibition of set-offs in FLSA cases is the rule in this circuit and Singer an exception.

In Gagnon, the district court found an FLSA overtime violation and awarded damages to the plaintiff. 607 F.3d at 1040. The defendant-employer counterclaimed and sought a set-off in the amount equal to the damages caused by the plaintiff’s breach of contract (i.e., his failure to notify the employer of his new address, as he was contractually obligated to do). Id. The district court did not address the employer’s counterclaims, and this court gave them short shrift likewise, holding that “our precedent suggests that such claims should not be addressed in an FLSA action.” 607 F.3d at 1042 (citing Heard, 491 F.2d at 4).

We specifically addressed the employer’s set-off claim in Gagnon, despite its semblance to the contract counterclaim, to clarify a reasonable uncertainty over Singer’s reach. See 607 F.3d at 1043 (“we nonetheless address the claim because we have previously held that offsets are permissible in FLSA actions”). Gagnon distinguished the set-off allowed in Singer as one that “simply acknowledged that the City had already paid the bulk of its overtime obligations.” Id. (citing Singer, 324 F.3d at 828) (emphasis in original). Gagnon (the employee), by contrast, was not paid “any additional sums that could be characterized as advanced or inappropriate amounts subject to an offset against the overtime owed to him,” id., and thus, a set-off was inappropriate.

In Gagnon, we rejected the employer’s argument, which Pepsi renews here, that Singer stands for the proposition that set-offs are allowed in FLSA cases so long as they do not result in sub-minimum wages. Although that reading of Singer may have been plausible at one time, Gagnon clarified that it was the unique character of the set-offs in Singer-that they represented overtime obligations already fulfilled-that allowed for a narrow exception to the bright-line rule spelled out in Heard. We continue to look with disfavor on set-offs unless the money being set-off can be considered wages that the employer pre-paid to the plaintiff-employee.

Pepsi contends, alternatively, that the benefits paid to Martin are similar to the fire fighters’ wages set-off in Singer because, in both cases, the employer paid some extra money or benefits to the employee to which the employee was not otherwise entitled. And in the opinion granting Pepsi’s motion to dismiss, the district court cited several lower court decisions that have allowed employers to plead set-offs as an affirmative defense in FLSA wage cases “where the employer paid the employee funds to which the employee was not entitled.” (Docket Entry No. 110, Memorandum Order at 5 & n.3.) This misconstrues the reciprocal nature of the benefits bargained for in Martin’s severance agreement. Although Martin had no legal entitlement to the benefits included in her severance package, these benefits were not gratuitous. Pepsi paid these benefits in return for Martin’s release of claims. That Martin later sued Pepsi on state law claims simply means that Martin did not keep her end of the agreement. Pepsi’s damages flow from a breach of contract. Pepsi is not entitled to set-off those damages here because unlike Singer, the money and benefits Pepsi paid to Martin were not wage payments, advance or otherwise; they were not related to her labors at all.

Because we find that the district court erred in setting-off the value of Martin’s severance package against her potential recovery at trial, we VACATE the district court’s dismissal of Martin’s FLSA claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and REMAND the case for further proceedings.”

Click Martin v. PepsiAmericas, Inc. to read the entire decision.

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11th Cir.: Trial Court Erred In Allowing Defendants To Amend Their Affirmative Defenses At Trial To Add Previously Unpled Exemption

Diaz v. Jaguar Restaurant Group, LLC

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants, her former employer, for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201–216. During trial, the district court allowed Jaguar to amend its Answer pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b) to include the administrative exemption as an affirmative defense as it found that Diaz had injected the issue through her testimony at trial. The jury returned a verdict finding that Diaz had worked more than 40 hours per week for which she was not compensated, but also finding that she was exempt from the requirements of the FLSA as she was an administrative employee.  On appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s decision to allow Defendant to amend its Answer during trial. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, and remand the case to the district court for a trial on damages.

In reversing, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned:

“Jaguar failed to plead the administrative exemption as an affirmative defense in its Answer. In the fourteen months between the filing of its Answer and the commencement of trial, Jaguar never moved to amend its Answer to include the administrative exemption. Jaguar also did not raise the issue of the administrative exemption during discovery. The only time Jaguar raised the issue prior to trial was by inserting it in one line of the Joint Pretrial Stipulation and in the proposed Joint Jury Instructions, to which Diaz objected. Jaguar did not raise the issue during the pretrial conference and the district court did not include the issue in its Omnibus Order Following Pretrial Conference. If ever there were a classic case of waiver, this is it! See Latimer v. Roaring Toyz, Inc., 601 F.3d 1224, 1239 (11th Cir. 2010) (“Failure to plead an affirmative defense generally results in a waiver of that defense.”). Jaguar repeatedly waived the administrative exemption defense by failing to plead the defense in its Answer and by failing to move to amend its Answer before trial.

Ideally, cases should be tried on their merits. Accordingly, even if Jaguar failed to plead the administrative exemption defense, the district court could allow Jaguar to amend its Answer during trial if the issue was tried by the parties’ express or implied consent, or included in a pretrial order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(b); see Steger v. Gen. Elec. Co., 318 F.3d 1066, 1077 (11th Cir. 2003) (“[I]ssues not raised in the pleadings may be treated as if they were properly raised when they are ‘tried by express or implied consent of the parties,’ Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b), or are included in a pretrial order.”). In this case, the issue was not included in the district court’s Omnibus Order Following Pretrial Conference. Further, it is clear that the administrative exemption issue was not tried by the parties’ express consent as Diaz opposed the insertion of the issue in the Joint Pretrial Stipulation, proposed Joint Jury Instructions, and at trial. See R. Vol. 5: 160–65. The district court, however, found that the issue was tried by implied consent as it believed Diaz introduced the issue of the administrative exemption through her testimony at trial. Thus, the district court allowed the amendment.

The district court erred in finding that the administrative exemption issue was tried by implied consent and in thereby allowing Jaguar to amend its Answer.  That issue was not tried by implied consent as Diaz’s testimony was relevant to another defense in this case: Jaguar’s independent contractor defense. “The introduction of evidence arguably relevant to pleaded issues cannot serve to give a party fair notice that new issues are entering the case.” Wesco Mfg., Inc. v. Tropical Attractions of Palm Beach, Inc., 833 F.2d 1484, 1487 (11th Cir. 1987); see Jimenez v. Tuna Vessel Granada, 652 F.2d 415, 421 (5th Cir. 1981) (stating that implied consent cannot be found when “evidence is introduced that is relevant to an issue already in the case and there is no indication that the party who introduced the evidence was seeking to raise a new issue”). Diaz’s testimony was relevant to counter Jaguar’s independent contractor defense, and she clearly was not seeking to raise the administrative exemption as a new issue. Further, we cannot conclude that her testimony was “much more strongly relevant” to the administrative exemption than to the independent contractor defense, which could be construed as notice of a new issue. See United States f/u/b/o Seminole Sheet Metal Co. v. SCI, Inc., 828 F.2d 671, 677 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus, her testimony cannot be considered implied consent to try the administrative exemption.”

Click Diaz v. Jaguar Restaurant Group, LLC, to read the entire opinion.

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11th Cir.: Although § 255(a)’s Statute Of Limitations Is An Affirmative Defense That Must Be Specifically Pled, Defendants Sufficiently Did So With Language Referencing 2-3 Year Period In Their Pleadings

Following a jury verdict in favor of the Defendants, the Plaintiff appealed, based on a jury instruction the Court gave regarding the FLSA’s 2-3 statute of limitations.  Specifically, the Plaintiffs asserted that the Court erred in giving an instruction framing the applicable limitations period, because Defendants had failed to specifically plead statute of limitations as an affirmative defense.  However, construing Defendants’ pleadings in the case, as described below, to have pled such an affirmative defense, the Court affirmed the lower Court’s jury verdict, based on the instruction at issue.

The Eleventh Circuit explained:

“The district court instructed the jury as follows:

The Plaintiff is entitled to recover lost wages from the present time back to no more than two years before this lawsuit was filed on June 18, 2008, unless you find the employer either knew, or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA. If you find that the employer knew, or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the FLSA, the Plaintiff is entitled to recover lost wages from the present time back to no more than three years before this lawsuit was filed.

The jury answered “no” to the first question on the verdict form, concerning whether Appellees failed to pay Navarro overtime wages as required by law. Thereafter, Navarro filed this appeal.

On appeal, Navarro urges that the district court’s application of § 255(a)‘s limitation was improper because Appellees had waived the limitation by failing to properly plead it in their Answer. Appellees, on the other hand, urge that § 255(a) is not a traditional statute of limitations that must be raised as an affirmative defense. In the alternative, they claim that they adequately raised the limitation in their Answer and in the pretrial stipulations submitted to the district court.

The Court reviews a district court’s instructions to the jury for abuse of discretion. U.S. v. Lopez, 590 F.3d 1238, 1247-48 (11th Cir.2009). The Court reviews de novo a district court’s grant of a F.R.Civ.P. 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law. D’Angelo v. Sch. Bd., 497 F.3d 1203, 1208 (11th Cir.2007).

This Court has held that the § 255(a) statute of limitations is “an affirmative defense which must be specifically pled.” Day v. Liberty Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 122 F.3d 1012, 1015 (11th Cir.1997) (citing F.R.Civ.P. 8(c)).  In Day, the Court ruled that the defendant had waived the § 255(a) statute of limitations by failing to assert it until after the jury had rendered a verdict. As a result, the Court reversed the district court’s grant of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict based on the statute of limitations defense. Id. at 1015-16 The Day Court emphasized the fact that the defendant’s failure to raise the defense until after the jury rendered a verdict deprived the plaintiff of the opportunity to contest the application of the limitation. Id. at 1015 (“[I]f [the defendant] had brought the limitations issue to the court during the … trial, [the plaintiff] could have offered evidence that the statute was tolled during some period of time, or have insisted that the jury instructions reflect the effect of the statute of limitations on any possible recovery by him.”). In finding a waiver, the Day Court relied on the Fifth Circuit’s earlier opinion in Pearce v. Wichita County, 590 F.2d 128, 134 (5th Cir.1979). The Pearce Court had addressed a situation almost identical to that in the Day case. In Pearce, the defendant had not raised the statute of limitations defense in its pleadings or in objection to the court’s jury instructions. Id. It had waited until after the jury verdict, finally bringing the limitations issue to the Court’s attention in a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Id. The Pearce Court held that such a delay constituted waiver of any objection to the limitations period that was applied. Id.

The case at hand is clearly distinguishable from the Day and Pearce cases, however, as Appellees raised § 255(a) several times before the case was submitted to the jury. First, Appellees stated in their Answer (under the heading “Affirmative Defenses”) that “[a]ny violation of the [FLSA] by Defendants was not willful, and was wholly unintentional. Defendants continuously acted in good faith with regard to the administration of its [sic] pay plan.” Next, more than a month before trial, the two-or-three-year limitation was referenced more than once in the parties’ Joint Pretrial Stipulation. Specifically, under the heading “Defendants’ Statement of the Case,” Appellees stated that “Defendants dispute … that Plaintiff was not paid for any overtime he may have worked during the last two or three years of his employment.” Also, in the Stipulation, the parties stated that the following fact was agreed upon and would not require proof at trial: “The corporate Defendant grossed in excess of $500,000.00 per year during the last three years of Plaintiff’s employment.” Finally, the parties and the court addressed this matter during trial, when, following the close of Navarro’s case, the Appellees based several motions for directed verdict on the three-year maximum limitations period. Navarro’s counsel, armed with case law, responded with the contention that the Appellees had not pled § 255(a) as an affirmative defense. The Court reviewed the proffered case, but ultimately ruled that § 255(a) would apply so that, at most, Navarro would recover for a three-year time period. Thus, this case stands in stark contrast to the Day and Pearce cases, where defendants had waived the defense by not raising it until after the jury had rendered a verdict.

The Court finds that Appellees timely raised the § 255(a) statute of limitations. Even if Appellees’ assertions in their Answer did not comply with a strict reading of F.R.Civ.P. 8(c), under this Court’s precedent, the limitation was still not waived. That is, although Rule 8(c) requires that a statute of limitations defense be raised as an affirmative defense, this Court has noted that “the purpose of Rule 8(c) is to give the opposing party notice of the affirmative defense and a chance to rebut it,” and, as a result, “if a plaintiff receives notice of an affirmative defense by some means other than the pleadings, ‘the defendant’s failure to comply with Rule 8(c) does not cause the plaintiff any prejudice.’ “ Grant v. Preferred Research, Inc., 885 F.2d 795, 797 (11th Cir.1989) (quoting Hassan v. U.S. Postal Serv., 842 F.2d 260, 263 (11th Cir.1988)). In Grant, the defendant raised the statute of limitations defense for the first time in a motion for summary judgment filed approximately one month before trial. Id. This court ruled that, because the plaintiff was “fully aware” that the defendant intended to rely on the defense, and because the plaintiff did not assert any prejudice from the lateness of the pleading, the defendant’s failure to comply with Rule 8(c) did not result in a waiver. Id. at 797-98.

As demonstrated above, in this case, Navarro was given ample notice of Appellees’ intent to rely on § 255(a) in several instances prior to trial. Moreover, when the issue was debated in light of the Appellees’ directed verdict motions, Navarro’s counsel made a thorough argument (including case citations) against the statute’s application. He never claimed during that argument that he had been surprised or somehow otherwise prejudiced by defense counsel’s reliance upon § 255(a) at trial. As a result, the district court did not err in limiting the jury’s consideration of unpaid overtime to the two-or three-year period prior to the filing of the complaint. Further, because it was uncontested that there was no evidence that Domingo or Rosa Santos exercised any active supervisory control over the company for the period three years prior to the filing of the complaint, the district court did not err in granting Appellees’ motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of the individual liability of either of them. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment entered on the jury’s verdict.”

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S.D.Tex.: Plaintiff’s Prior Acceptance Of Check For Backwages, Following DOL Investigation, Not A Waiver Of Her FLSA Rights; No Waiver/Release Was Ever Signed

Alvarez v. 9ER’s Grill @ Blackhawk, L.L.C.

In November of 2008 Alvarez went to the Department of Labor (“DOL”) to complain about the lack of overtime pay. Alvarez identified the establishment about which she was complaining as 9ER’s Grill, 1315 Grand Parkway, Katy, Harris County, Texas, and identified Mr. Ali Qattom and Mrs. Ghapa Qattom as the owners of the establishment. Qattom met with a DOL investigator and agreed to pay back wages to Alvarez. The funds to pay the back wages to Alvarez came from Jaser and 9ER’s Grill @ Blackhawk. Since Jaser was out of the country at the time, Qattom “handled the making of the payment [ ].” Alvarez received a cashier’s check for $1,690, but never signed any forms or receipts for the check. The Court denied Defendants’ Motion, finding that under the circumstances, Plaintiff did not waive her right to pursue a private right of action, simply by cashing a check issued by Defendants, resulting from the prior DOL investigation.

Addressing the settlement/waiver issue the Court stated,

“Defendants Jaser and 9ER’s Grill @ Blackhawk contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because Alvarez settled any FLSA claim that she may have against them by accepting payment made at the conclusion of an investigation by the DOL.

(a) Applicable Law

The FLSA provides for a waiver of an additional recovery when settlement payments have been supervised by the Secretary of Labor. 29 U.S.C. § 216(c). For such a waiver to be valid, the employee must agree to accept the payment that the Secretary determines to be due and there must be payment in full. See Sneed v. Sneed’s Shipbuilding, Inc., 545 F.2d 537 (5th Cir.1977). In Sneed, 545 F.2d at 539, the court held there was adequate supervision where the DOL official investigated the claim for back wages, determined the amount owed the employee, presented the check to the employee on the employer’s behalf, and required the employee to sign a receipt waiving his right to sue. Id. 545 F.2d at 538-40.

(b) Application of the Law to the Facts

Citing the Back Wages Disbursement and Pay Evidence Instructions that they received from the DOL, defendants argue that Alvarez’s claims “are barred by settlement of the claims prior to the filing of this lawsuit.” The DOL Back Wages Disbursement and Pay Evidence Instructions instructed the employers “to make the full payment of back wages by 09/03/2008 …” and also instructed the employers to “Send the Wage and Hour Division copies of the signed WH-58 Receipt Form to the Houston TX District Office as they are returned to you.” Alvarez states in her declaration, “I received a cashiers check in certified mail. There was nothing in the envelope with the check. I was never asked to sign any forms to receive my check. I did not sign any forms to receive my check.” Defendants do not dispute Alvarez’s statements that she neither received nor signed any form releasing her right to bring this action. Instead, Jaser states in his affidavit that

[t]he payments would not have been made if we had realized that the Plaintiff [ ] would take the money and then file a lawsuit … Based on the DOL material provided to us, it was my understanding the Plaintiffs were provided with a release and knew that by cashing the checks each was releasing any claims against each of their respective employers.

Because defendants have failed to present any evidence that they either provided Alvarez a form WH-58 to sign, or that Alvarez ever signed such a form releasing her FLSA claims, the court is not persuaded that her claims against Jaser and/or 9ER’s Grill @ Blackhawk are barred by settlement of the claims prior to the filing of this action.

(c) Conclusions

For the reasons explained above, the court concludes that 9ER’s Grill @ Blackhawk and 9ER’s Grill @ 359 are subject to enterprise treatment under the FLSA, and that neither Jaser nor 9ER’s Grill @ Blackhawk has presented evidence showing that the claims asserted against them in this action are barred by prior settlement.”

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