Tag Archives: Joint Employer

E.D.Mo.: Where Common Tip Pool Violations Alleged, Employees of Franchise Stores as Well as Those at Company-Owned Stores Similarly Situated at Stage 1

White v. 14051 Manchester, Inc.

This case was before the court on the plaintiffs’ motion for conditional certification. As discussed here, the plaintiffs sought to facilitate class notice to employees who worked at the franchise locations of the franchisee who employed them, as well as those who worked for “Hotshots” franchisor or company-owned locations. In support of their motion, plaintiffs argued that all tipped employees at all Hotshots locations, regardless of the owner, were required to participate in illegal tip pools whereby they were required to tip out back-of-the-house employees not eligible to participate in a valid tip pool. Rejecting the defendants’ argument that the court should limit the putative class to those tipped employees employed by the franchisee who employed plaintiffs the court explained, that it would be inappropriate to resolve the merits issue regarding which entities employed each putative class member at Stage 1.

Discussing this issue the court opined:

The Supreme Court has noted that whether a relationship is covered by the FLSA turns on the economic realities of the working relationship rather than technical definitions relating to employment. Goldberg v. Whitaker House Coop., Inc., 366 U.S. 28, 33, 81 S.Ct. 933, 6 L.Ed.2d 100 (1961). The FLSA defines “employee” broadly to include “any individual employed by an employer.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1)(2006). In turn, “employ” is defined as “to suffer or permit to work” 29 U.S.C. § 203(g), and an “employer” is any person “acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(d). “Thus, based on the language of the statute, an employee is any individual who is permitted to work by one acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer.” Helmert v. Butterball, LLC, No. 4:08CV00342, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28964, at *6 (E.D.Ark. Mar. 5, 2010); see also Nicholson v. UTi Worldwide, Inc., No. 3:09–cv–722, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41886, at *3 (S.D.Ill. Apr. 18, 2011)(conditionally certifying class of “forklift operators employed” by defendant that included workers hired through temporary staffing agencies).

The Court finds that, for purposes of this Motion, Defendants “permitted or suffered to work” all Hotshots employees, even those at the franchise locations. Given the FLSA’s broad definition of the “employee” and its remedial purpose, Defendants’ franchise arrangement demonstrates sufficient “control” for conditional class certification. Moreover, the employment relationship for franchise employees is disputed by the Plaintiffs, and the Court cannot make credibility determinations at this juncture. See Arnold v. DirecTv, Inc., No. 4:10–CV–352–JAR, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140777, at *8 (E.D.Mo. Sept. 28, 2012)(“The Court will not make any credibility determinations or findings of fact with respect to contradictory evidence presented by the parties at this initial stage.”).

The Court also finds that the proper class definition is all Hotshots employees who shared in any tip pool. Employees who participated in the tip pool were allegedly victims of the same policy or plan and denied compensation as a result of the tip-pooling arrangement. While the Court acknowledges that distinctions exist among the Hotshot’s teams and locations, Plaintiffs’ affidavits provide enough evidence at this stage to demonstrate employees were similarly situated and subject to a common practice. McCauley, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91375, at *12–13 (citing Busler v. Enersys Energy Products, Inc., No. 09–00159, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84500, at *9–10, 2009 WL 2998970 at *3 (W.D.Mo. Sep. 16, 2009)); see also Fast v. Applebee’s Intern., Inc., 243 F.R.D. 360, 363–64 (W.D.Mo.2007) (citations omitted) (“To be similarly situated, however, class members need not be identically situated. The ‘similarly situated’ threshold requires only a modest factual showing.”); Schleipfer v. Mitek Corp., No. 1:06CV109, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64042, at *9 (E.D.Mo. Aug. 29, 2007)(class members need not be identically situated). “[A]rguments concerning the individualized inquiries required and the merits of Plaintiffs’ claims are inappropriate at this stage of the proceeding and can be raised before the Court at the second, or decertification, stage.” Dominquez v. Minn. Beef Indus., No. 06–1002, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61298, at *10 (D.Minn. Aug. 21, 2007)(internal quotation omitted).

Click White v. 14051 Manchester, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Order.

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W.D.Mo.: Court Has Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over Claims That Could Be Brought By Members of Putative Class, But Could Not Be Brought By Named Plaintiffs

Nobles v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co.

This case concered off-the-clock claims that were brought as a so-called hybrid case, so named because the claims asserted were a hybrid of several state wage and hour laws, as well as under the FLSA.  As discussed here, the plaintiffs, employees of one State Farm entity (State Farm Fire) sued both their employer, and another State Farm entity (State Farm Mutual), alleging identical wage and hour violations were committed by both against similarly situated employees.  By Motion to Dismiss, State Farm Mutual challenged the named-plaintiffs’ standing to assert claims against it, asserting that the named plaintiffs lacked standing to do so, because it was not their employer.  The court rejected these arguments, in granting plaintiffs’ motions for conditional and class certification.

Addressing this issue the court explained:

“In its pending Motion to Dismiss, State Farm Mutual contends that because Plaintiffs lack standing to assert joint employer status, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and therefore that claim should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Alternatively, State Farm Mutual contends that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for joint employer status and therefore it should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

State Farm Mutual argues that “[o]nly State Farm Fire employees could possibly have standing to assert joint employment claims under Plaintiffs’ … theory, and there are no such plaintiffs in this case.” [Doc. # 111, at 13]. Neither Nobles nor Atchison are employees of State Farm Fire. However, standing issues “must be assessed with reference to the class as a whole, not simply with reference to the individual named plaintiffs.” Payton v. County of Kane, 308 F.3d 673, 680 (7th Cir.2002). Here, unnamed class members of the certified classes and collective include State Farm Fire employees who would have standing to bring claims under State Farm Mutual’s status as a joint employer with State Farm Fire. Thus, the Plaintiffs in this litigation have standing to assert joint employment status for members of the class.

Two recently decided cases in this district, Gilmor v. Preferred Credit Corp., No. 10–0189–CV–W–ODS, 2011 WL 111238 (W.D. Mo. Jan 13, 2011), and Wong v. Bann–Cor Mortgage, No. 10–1038–CV–W–FJG, 2011 WL 2314198 (W.D. Mo. June 9, 2011), also concluded that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over claims that could be brought by members of the certified class, but could not have been brought by any of the named plaintiffs. However, as a practical matter, it may be prudent to have a specific named Plaintiff whose named employer is State Farm Fire. See Gilmor, 2011 WL 111238, at *7. Therefore, Plaintiffs shall file an appropriate motion to designate such an employee prior to the close of discovery on the merits.”

Addressing (and rejecting) the defendants’ contention that plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently plead joint employment, the court reasoned:

“To determine whether an individual or entity is an employer, courts analyze the economic reality of the relationship between the parties.” Loyd v. Ace Logistics, LLC, No. 08–CV–00188–W–HFS, 2008 WL 5211022, at *3 (citation omitted). Although the Eighth Circuit has not yet stated a test to determine joint employer status, four factors are typically examined by courts to make this determination. They are: “whether the alleged employer: (1) had the power to hire and fire the plaintiff; (2) supervised and controlled plaintiff’s work schedules or conditions of employment; (3) determined the rate and method of payment; and (4) maintained plaintiff’s employment records.” Id. at * 3 (citing Schubert v. BethesdaHealth Grp., Inc., 319 F.Supp.2d 963, 971 (E.D.Mo.2004)).

State Farm Mutual asserts that Plaintiffs have failed to allege the elements of joint employer status or single enterprise status. This argument rests on the contention that because all of the named plaintiffs in the litigation are not employees of State Farm Fire, none of their allegations concern State Farm Mutual’s power to hire or fire any plaintiff who is an employee of State Farm Fire. [Doc. # 111, at 7].

The Court finds that this argument is a re-characterization of State Farm Mutual’s standing argument. As previously stated, Plaintiffs in this case include the certified classes. See Gilmor, 2011 WL 111238, at *6 (citing Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 399 (1975)). Plaintiffs in this case include State Farm Fire employees who were subject to State Farm Mutual’s policies; and the Second Amended Complaint alleges that State Farm Mutual had the power to hire or fire them.

Second, State Farm Mutual asserts that even if the Court finds that Plaintiffs have alleged the elements of joint employment status, Plaintiffs’ factual allegations are “broad, unsupported statements” that do not provide the required factual support for Plaintiffs’ joint employment claim. [Doc. # 111, at 9]. The Court disagrees with State Farm Mutual’s characterization of Plaintiffs’ allegations. The Plaintiffs allege in their Second Amended Complaint that (1) the human resources department in State Farm Mutual retains the power to promote, retain, and discipline State Farm Fire employees, (2) State Farm Fire employees’ work and compensation are subject to State Farm Mutual’s written pay and timekeeping policy, and (3) State Farm Mutual’s and State Farm Fire’s timekeeping records are housed together, which the Court liberally construes to imply that State Farm Mutual maintains State Farm Fire’s timekeeping records. 

For these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a joint employer claim.”

Click Nobles v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company to read the entire Order.

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M.D.Tenn.: Contract Cleaners Not Joint Employees of the Restaurants Cleaned, Despite Fact They Exclusively Cleaned Defendant’s Restaurants

Politron v. Worldwide Domestic Services, LLC

Plaintiffs filed this action for unpaid wages and overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. Plaintiffs’  alleged that they were hired by Defendant Worldwide Domestic Services, Inc. (“Worldwide”) during the time period of October 2010 to December 2010 to clean Chili’s restaurants in the Middle Tennessee area.  The case arose from Plaintiffs’ contention that paychecks issued to the Plaintiffs by Worldwide bounced due to insufficient funds.  Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants’ failure to pay Plaintiffs at least minimum wage for each hour worked is a violation of the FLSA and, as discussed here, that Defendants Worldwide, Elite Commercial Cleaning, LLC and Chili’s, Inc. were “joint employers” under the FLSA.

Acknowledging that the Sixth Circuit had yet to formulate a specific test for the application of joint employment under the FLSA, the court instead discussed law from other courts, who have developed such tests.  Applying the various factors other courts have used, the court determined that the restaurant owner Defendant, was not properly alleged to be a joint employer here.

The court reasoned:

“Here, the Court finds that the agreement between Brinker and Worldwide, as alleged in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint, was an outsourcing type of relationship. Worldwide contracted with Brinker to have its restaurants cleaned after hours. Plaintiffs admit that they worked at the direction of Worldwide. Plaintiffs’ work was dependent upon Worldwide’s ability to get and keep contracts for cleaning. Plaintiffs agree that no one from Brinker supervised, trained or directed them; no Brinker employees were even present when Plaintiffs worked. Brinker had no control over their wages, no authority to hire, fire or discipline them, and kept no employment records for Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs received their relevant income tax information from Worldwide or from Defendant Elite Commercial Cleaning. There is no allegation that Brinker knew which employees worked or how many hours they worked.

Although Plaintiffs contend that every hour they worked was at Chili’s and they used some equipment from the restaurants (they also used equipment from Worldwide), the Court finds that the factors indicating a joint employer are outweighed by those which indicate no such relationship between Plaintiffs and Brinker.”

Although the case is not groundbreaking, it does demonstrate the flaws in allowing such “outsourcing” to abrogate a company’s responsibilities to those who provide its essential services under the FLSA.

Click Politron v. Worldwide Domestic Services, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Decision.

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11th Cir.: Joint Enterprises’ Cumulative Gross Revenues Properly Considered For Enterprise Coverage Analysis Where All Corporate Defendants Working For Common Purpose and Plaintiffs’ Work Furthered Purpose

Cornell v. CF Center, LLC

This was an appeal from a jury verdict in favor of the Appellees for Appellants’ alleged failure to pay overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).  The issue on appeal was whether the trial court property added together the gross revenues of the various Defendants, in order to determine that the “joint enterprises” met the $500,000.00 requirement for enterprise coverage.

The Court framed the issue as follows:

“While [Plaintiffs] worked primarily for CF Center, LLC, they contend that the corporate entities were, as a matter of economic reality, jointly engaged in the floor covering business and acted as their joint employers. The corporate Appellants-owned by Jay Meltzer before he sold his interest to Nicholas Elliot-contend that the district court improperly allowed Cornell and Harp to conflate and combine separate corporate entities in order to meet the annual gross sales requirement of the FLSA and establish joint liability. Appellants argue that Cornell and Harp failed to meet their burden at trial to establish that they were improperly denied overtime pay.  Appellants now appeal the district court’s denial of their motion for judgment as a matter of law on these points. Appellants further appeal the district court’s denial of their motion for a new trial based on their claim that the jury’s verdict was against the great weight of the evidence.”

Reasoning that the trial court properly considered the cumulative gross earnings of all Defendants, the Eleventh Circuit explained:

“This court has broadly construed the coverage requirements under the FLSA. The FLSA allows for coverage under a joint enterprise theory. Donovan v. Easton Land & Dev., Inc., 723 F.2d 1549, 1551 (11th Cir.1984). The FLSA states, “ ‘Enterprise’ means the related activities performed (either through unified operation or common control) by any person or persons for a common business purpose, and includes all such activities whether performed in one or more establishments or by one or more corporate or other organizational units including departments of an establishment operated through leasing arrangements, but shall not include the related activities performed by such enterprise by an independent contractor….” 29 U.S.C. § 203(r). In Patel v. Wargo, we explained that “the legislative history of the FLSA and the case law demonstrate that the enterprise analysis was included in the FLSA solely for the purpose of expanding the scope of coverage of the statute. The legislative history clearly states the congressional purpose to expand the coverage of the Act, i.e., to lump related activities together so that the annual dollar volume test for coverage would be satisfied.” 803 F.2d 632, 636 (11th Cir .1986). The enterprise and liability analyses are distinct. “The finding of an enterprise is relevant only to the issue of coverage. Liability is based on the existence of an employer-employee relationship.” Id. at 637.

Appellants claim that their separate tax identifications, banking accounts, and tax returns establish that they are not engaged in a joint enterprise. Questions such as these, however, require courts to “look beyond formalistic corporate separation to the actual pragmatic operation and control, whether unified or, instead, separate as to each unit.” Donovan v. Grim Hotel Co., 747 F.2d 966, 970 (5th Cir.1984). Cornell and Harp have provided a wealth of evidence to show that, practically speaking, the corporate defendants functioned as a single unit for the purpose of selling and installing flooring. Business cards issued by the Appellants identify the business simply as “Coastal Floors” without identifying a particular corporate entity. Furthermore, these cards refer to locations in Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Stuart. CF Center is located in Vero Beach, whereas Granite by Coastal is in Port St. Lucie. Granite by Coastal banners were hung in CF Center’s showroom. Moreover, the corporations share a website which, like their business cards, treats the corporations interchangeably, listing four business locations without indicating which corporation is located in which city. A liability release signed by Harp includes a number of the corporate defendants, contradicting their claim that there is no relationship between them. Harp, upon beginning his employment with CF Centers, was required to sign a safety policy that listed his employer as Coastal Floors I, Inc. Meltzer summed up the business reality best when he testified regarding the companies’ health plan, stating, “Contractors Flooring was an existing company for tax purposes. Coastal Floors-see, Contractors Flooring was probably the initiator of the plan early, early on. Coastal Floors I, II or III were established-I don’t know if my bookkeeper had made a name change to the policy as required or not. I own them all, so I don’t think it mattered.” (R.117 110:13-18.) This evidence was more than sufficient to allow coverage under the FLSA subject to an enterprise analysis.

While the question of liability is different than coverage under the FLSA, many of the same factors support both the district court and the jury’s finding that, effectively, Cornell and Harp were employed by all of the entities. As with the joint enterprise analysis, whether a party qualifies as a joint employer for liability purposes depends on whether “as a matter of economic reality, the individual is dependent on the entity.” Antenor v. D & S Farms, 88 F.3d 925, 929 (11th Cir.1996). Under the FLSA “[a] determination of whether the employment by the employers is to be considered joint employment or separate and distinct employment for purposes of the act depends upon all the facts in the particular case.” 29 CFR 791.2. This case-by-case inquiry turns on no formula, but the court will consider factors such as control, supervision, right to hire and fire, ownership of work facilities, investment, and pay-roll decisions. Antenor, 88 F.3d at 932-37.

It is clear from the evidence discussed above that the multiple corporate defendants were acting in one purpose, a purpose that the employment of Cornell and Harp furthered. Appellants often conflated what corporation conducted what activity. This confusion included matters of employment, as evidenced by the Coastal Floors I safety plan and Contractors Flooring health plan applying to CF Centers’s employees. Appellants’ argument that these companies are completely separate ignores the economic reality analysis required by the FLSA. Thus, the district court’s refusal to grant Appellants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law was proper.

Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in denying Appellants’ motion for a new trial. Appellants’ claim that the jury verdict was against the great weight of the evidence appears to be based almost entirely on their contention that the jury gave too much weight to the testimony of Cornell and Harp and should have found them not credible. But as this court has said before, “we do not assume the jury’s role of weighing conflicting evidence or inferences, or of assessing the credibility of witnesses.” Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 421 F.3d 1169, 1177 (11th Cir.2005). Cornell and Harp testified in detail regarding their claims that they were not permitted to take lunch breaks and were not compensated for this extra hour of work. While Appellants were able to solicit testimony from Cornell and Harp that possibly contradicts some of their claims, it was for the jury to assess their credibility. While Appellants may believe that the jury came to the wrong conclusion, they have failed to show that the great weight of the evidence so undermines the jury’s decision as to warrant a new trial, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying one.

Accordingly, for the aforementioned reasons, we affirm the district court’s order denying Appellants’ motion for a judgment as a matter of law and the order denying Appellants’ motion for a new trial.”

Click Cornell v. CF Center, LLC to read the entire opinion.

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5th Cir.: As Plaintiffs’ Joint Employer, Staff Leasing Company Qualified As “Motor Carrier” Subject To MCA Exemption From FLSA’s Overtime Pay Requirements, Because “Actual” Employer Was A “Motor Carrier”

Songer v. Dillon Resources, Inc.

This case was before the Fifth Circuit on Plaintiffs’ appeal of an Order granting Defendant, a staff leasing company, summary judgment finding that they were entitled to assert the MCA exemption, because the company they leased Plaintiffs to was a motor carrier entitled to assert the exemption.  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision, essentially holding that the staff leasing company Defendant was entitled to assert the exemption of the actual employer. 

Plaintiffs did not dispute that Sunset Ennis and Sunset Logistics (the “actual” employers), two trucking companies, were motor carriers subject to the Secretary’s power. Instead, they argued that Dillon, a staff leasing agency, was not a motor carrier within the meaning of the MCA. Defendants assert that because the Sunset companies are motor carriers and the Sunset companies are joint employers with Dillon, Dillon is also a motor carrier within the meaning of the MCA.

Reasoning that the the staff leasing company was entitled to assert the Motor Carrier Exemption, if the “actual” employer was entitled to assert same, the Fifth Circuit stated:

“While Fifth Circuit precedent is limited on this issue, other courts have held that a staff leasing company who provides employees for a motor carrier and operates as a joint employer with the carrier meets the requirements of 29 C.F.R. § 782.2(a)(1). See, e.g., Moore v. Universal Coordinators, Inc., 423 F.2d 96, 99-100 (3d Cir.1970) (holding that truck drivers were employees of both noncarrier truck driver leasing company and private motor carrier and therefore MCA exemption extended to leasing company). The Moore court analyzed the MCA and the FLSA, and determined that Congress intended to regulate employees of carriers in the interest of safety. Id. at 99. Therefore, the Secretary’s power had to extend to leased drivers and to the leasing company that employed them. Id. at 99-100.

In a more recent case, the district court cited Congressional safety concerns as the rationale for extending the exemption:

The [MCA] exemption, as explained in Moore, safeguards the Secretary[‘s] authority to regulate the qualifications and maximum hours of employees whose work affects the “safety of operation” of a motor carrier…. Refusing to extend the [MCA] exemption to the staffing agency defendants would therefore facilitate what Congress sought to prohibit-circumvention of the Secretary’s regulatory authority.  Tidd v. Adecco USA, Inc., No. 07-11214-GAO, 2010 WL 996769, at *2 (D.Mass. Mar.16, 2010) (citing Moore, 423 F.2d at 98-99).

Applying Moore and Tidd, the evidence supports a finding that Dillon, as joint employer with Sunset Logistics and Sunset Ennis, is a carrier subject to the Secretary’s jurisdiction. Dillon is a staff leasing company who provides drivers to Sunset Logistics and Sunset Ennis to fulfill interstate work orders from clients for compensation. Our review of the record reflects the following evidence: Dillon hires and trains the drivers and is responsible for their payroll, the Sunset companies are responsible for control of the drivers’ day-to-day operations, and Dillon is reimbursed for wages and benefits paid to the drivers and receives a fee when the drivers are assigned. These facts are similar to Tidd, in which the staffing agency defendants were held as joint employers to FedEx, a motor carrier, and, therefore, subject to the Secretary’s jurisdiction. See Tidd, 2010 WL 996769, at *2-3. Accordingly, we hold that the first requirement for jurisdiction under the MCA-i.e., that Plaintiffs work for carriers engaged in interstate commerce-is met. See Barefoot, 1994 WL 57686, at *2.”

To read the entire opinion, click here.

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2d. Cir.: Question Of Joint Employer Is Mixed Question Of Law And Fact, Properly Submitted To The Jury

Ling Nan Zheng v. Liberty Apparel Co. Inc.

Plaintiffs-appellees were 25 Chinese garment workers living and working in New York City’s Chinatown. In 1999, they sued Liberty Apparel Company and its principals Albert Nigri and Hagai Laniado (collectively, “the Liberty Defendants”), and others, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”). After a lengthy procedural history, the case went to a jury trial, and the principal issue was whether the Liberty Defendants were plaintiffs’ “joint employer” for purposes of the FLSA and New York state law claims.

The Liberty Defendants appealed that judgment.  In this opinion, the Second Circuit considered Defendants’ contention that the district court-rather than the jury-should have determined whether the Liberty Defendants were plaintiffs’ joint employer.  And on that issue, they affirmed.  The substantive law regarding the joint employment issue was discussed in a separate opinion.

After a lengthy procedural history, the defendants removed for summary judgment, and on May 23, 2008, Judge Sullivan denied that motion. Zheng v. Liberty Apparel Co., 556 F.Supp.2d 284, 287 (S.D.N.Y.2008) (“Zheng III ”). The court determined that, while there was no genuine issue of fact that the first, second, and fourth Zheng II factors weighed in the Liberty Defendants’ favor, there was a dispute of fact regarding factors three, five, and six. Id. at 289-95. On February 11, 2009, after a two-and-a-half week trial, the jury found in plaintiffs’ favor. The court denied the Liberty Defendants’ post-verdict motions to set aside the verdict and for a new trial. By final judgment entered October 26, 2009, plaintiffs were awarded $556,566.76 in damages.

Discussing the issues on this appeal, the Court framed them as: Whether “(1) the district court improperly allowed the jury to determine the “ultimate legal question” whether the Liberty Defendants were plaintiffs’ joint employer, whereas instead the court itself should have resolved that issue; (2) the district court refused to charge the jury that, as a matter of law, three of the six Zheng II factors weighed in the Liberty Defendants’ favor (to some degree); and (3) as a matter of law, plaintiffs’ evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s finding of joint employment. As to the § 345-a(1) claim, the Liberty Defendants argue that (1) the statute does not authorize a private right of action, and, alternatively, (2) whether it authorizes a private right of action raises a novel and complex issue of state law such that the district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over that claim, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(1).”

Holding that the Court below had correctly submitted the issue of joint-employment to the jury, the Court reasoned:

“In the context of a jury trial, the question whether a defendant is a plaintiffs’ joint employer is a mixed question of law and fact. Such questions “involve[ ] the application of a legal standard to a particular set of facts.”   Richardson v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Corr. Serv., 180 F.3d 426, 437 (2d Cir.1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). “FLSA claims typically involve complex mixed questions of fact and law….” Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys., 450 U.S. 728, 743 (1981); cf. Holzapfel v. Town of Newburgh, N.Y., 145 F.3d 516, 521 (2d Cir.1998).

The jury’s role was to apply the facts bearing on the multi-factor joint employment inquiry to the legal definition of joint employer, as that term had been (properly) defined by the district court in the jury charge. “[M]ixed questions [of law and fact] are ‘especially well-suited for jury determination….’ “ Richardson, 180 F.3d at 437 (quoting Mendell v. Greenberg, 927 F.2d 667, 673 (2d Cir.1990)); see also Kirsch v. Fleet St., Ltd., 148 F.3d 149, 171 (2d Cir.1998); Simms v. Vill. of Albion, N.Y., 115 F.3d 1098, 1110 (2d Cir.1997) (“A mixed question of fact and law may be submitted to the jury only if the jury is instructed as to the applicable legal standards.”).

In the Liberty Defendants’ view, the district court should have provided a special verdict form so that the jury could detail its factual findings regarding the various joint employment factors, and so that the district court could then have applied those findings to make the final determination as to joint employment. But such a rule would distort the jury’s proper role, described above, of applying law to fact. Moreover, requiring the use of a special verdict form would be anomalous in the law, cf. Fed.R.Civ.P. 49(a); Kirsch, 148 F.3d at 171; 9B C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2505 (“Wright & Miller”); and appellate courts rarely-if ever-vacate for failure to use a special verdict form, see Skidmore v. Balt. & O.R. Co., 167 F.2d 54, 67 (2d Cir.1948) (“[W]e cannot hold that a district judge errs when, as here, for any reason or no reason whatever, he refuses to demand a special verdict, although we deem such verdict usually preferable to the opaque general verdict.”); Wright & Miller § 2505 (“[A]s numerous courts have held, as evidenced by the many cases cited in the note below, the exercise of th[e trial court’s discretion in using a general rather than a special verdict form] is not likely to be overturned on appeal.”).

The Liberty Defendants’ reliance on language from Zheng II is misplaced. That decision recognized that the joint employment question is a mixed one of law and fact: “Finally, there is the conclusion of law to be drawn from applying the factors, i.e., whether an entity is a joint employer.”   Zheng II, 355 F.3d at 76 (emphasis added); cf. id. at 76 n.13 (noting “[t]he fact-intensive character of the joint employment inquiry”). Moreover, to the extent Zheng II contemplated de novo review of a joint employment determination, it did so only in the context of summary judgment, not a jury trial. De novo review of a jury’s joint employment determination would necessitate use of a special verdict-which, as we explained above, we do not require-and would cause the appellate court to tease apart the interwoven elements of facts and law, a project that would raise serious Seventh Amendment concerns, cf. Castillo v. Givens, 704 F.2d 181, 199 (5th Cir.1983) (Higginbotham, J., concurring)-if it could even be done.

For the foregoing reasons, we hold that the district court properly submitted the joint employment issue to the jury. The judgment of the district court is affirmed, subject to the partial vacatur and remand required by the companion summary order. The mandate shall issue forthwith.”

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9th Cir.: Walmart Not Joint Employer Of Its Suppliers’ Employees Under FLSA; Employees Not Third-party Beneficiaries Of Standards Contained In Supply Contracts Between Walmart And Plaintiff’s Employers

Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

The appellants were employees of foreign companies that sell goods to Wal-Mart. They brought claims against Wal-Mart based on the working conditions in each of their employers’ factories. These claims relied primarily on a code of conduct included in Wal-Mart’s supply contracts, specifying basic labor standards that suppliers must meet. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal on appeal.

For its analysis the Court assumed the following facts to be true:

“In 1992, Wal-Mart developed a code of conduct for its suppliers, entitled “Standards for Suppliers” (“Standards”). These Standards were incorporated into its supply contracts with foreign suppliers. The Standards require foreign suppliers to adhere to local laws and local industry standards regarding working conditions like pay, hours, forced labor, child labor, and discrimination. The Standards also include a paragraph entitled “RIGHT OF INSPECTION”:

To further assure proper implementation of and compliance with the standards set forth herein, Wal-Mart or a third party designated by Wal-Mart will undertake affirmative measures, such as on-site inspection of production facilities, to implement and monitor said standards. Any supplier which fails or refuses to comply with these standards or does not allow inspection of production facilities is subject to immediate cancellation of any and all outstanding orders, refuse [sic] or return [sic] any shipment, and otherwise cease doing business [sic] with Wal-Mart.

Thus, each supplier must acknowledge that its failure to comply with the Standards could result in cancellation of orders and termination of its business relationship with Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart represents to the public that it improves the lives of its suppliers’ employees and that it does not condone any violation of the Standards. However, Plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart does not adequately monitor its suppliers and that Wal-Mart knows its suppliers often violate the Standards. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that in 2004, only eight percent of audits were unannounced, and that workers are often coached on how to respond to auditors. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart’s inspectors were pressured to produce positive reports of factories that were not in compliance with the Standards. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that the short deadlines and low prices in Wal-Mart’s supply contracts force suppliers to violate the Standards in order to satisfy the terms of the contracts.”

Initially, the Court found that Plaintiffs’ Complaint could not support a third-party beneficiary claim on behalf of the employees under the contract their employer had with Walmart.

Next, the Court addressed the “Plaintiffs’ theory that Wal-Mart was Plaintiffs’ joint employer, such that they can “sue Wal-Mart directly for any breach of contract or violation of labor laws.” Again, the Court concluded, to the contrary, that Wal-Mart could be considered Plaintiffs’ employer on the facts alleged. “The key factor to consider in analyzing whether an entity is an employer is “the right to control and direct the activities of the person rendering service, or the manner and method in which the work is performed.” Serv. Employees Int’l Union v. County of L.A., 225 Cal.App.3d 761, 275 Cal.Rptr. 508, 513 (1990) (internal quotations and citation omitted). “A finding of the right to control employment requires … a comprehensive and immediate level of ‘day-to-day’ authority over employment decisions.” Vernon v. State, 116 Cal.App.4th 114, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 121, 132 (2004).”

The Court then addressed “Plaintiffs’ negligence claims, which Plaintiffs bring under four distinct theories: third-party beneficiary negligence, negligent retention of control, negligent undertaking, and common law negligence. Whichever theory is invoked, however, we conclude that Wal-Mart did not owe Plaintiffs a common-law duty to monitor Wal-Mart’s suppliers or to prevent the alleged intentional mistreatment of Plaintiffs by the suppliers. Without such a duty, Plaintiffs’ negligence theories do not state a claim. See *684 Paz v. State, 22 Cal.4th 550, 93 Cal.Rptr.2d 703, 994 P.2d 975, 980-81 (2000) (“The threshold element of a cause of action for negligence is the existence of a duty …”).

Plaintiffs’ “third-party beneficiary” negligence theory relies on the assumption that Wal-Mart owes Plaintiffs a duty under Wal-Mart’s supply contracts. Because we have already determined that no legal obligation flows from Wal-Mart to Plaintiffs under Wal-Mart’s supply contracts, Plaintiffs do not state a claim for third-party beneficiary negligence.

In order to state a claim for “negligent retention of control and supervision,” Plaintiffs must allege facts that, if proven, would show that Wal-Mart exercised significant control over Plaintiffs and that “exercise of retained control affirmatively contributed to the employee’s injuries.” Hooker v. Dep’t of Transp., 27 Cal.4th 198, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 853, 38 P.3d 1081, 1083 (2002) (emphasis in original). We have already determined that Wal-Mart is not Plaintiffs’ employer because Wal-Mart exercised minimal or no control over the day-to-day work of Plaintiffs in the suppliers’ foreign factories. Accordingly, we hold that Wal-Mart did not owe Plaintiffs a special duty to protect Plaintiffs from the suppliers’ alleged intentional misconduct.

Plaintiffs’ “negligent undertaking” theory relies on the assumption that Wal-Mart undertook to protect Plaintiffs, and therefore Wal-Mart had to exercise reasonable care in monitoring the suppliers. See Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill, 36 Cal.4th 224, 30 Cal.Rptr.3d 145, 113 P.3d 1159, 1175 (2005) (stating that one who “undertakes to provide protective services to another” must exercise a duty of care). This theory fails because, as we have already concluded, Wal-Mart did not undertake any obligation to protect Plaintiffs. “[T]he scope of any duty assumed depends upon the nature of the undertaking,” id., and here Wal-Mart merely reserved the right to cancel its supply contracts if inspections revealed contractual breaches by the suppliers. Any inspections actually performed by Wal-Mart were therefore gratuitous, and do not independently impose a duty on Wal-Mart to protect Plaintiffs. Id.

Plaintiffs’ “common law negligence” claim provides no additional ground for finding a duty on the part of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had no duty to monitor the suppliers or to protect Plaintiffs from the intentional acts the suppliers allegedly committed. Thus, Plaintiffs’ theories sounding in negligence do not state a claim. See Paz, 93 Cal.Rptr.2d 703, 994 P.2d at 980-81.”

Lastly, the Court addressed Plaintiffs’ claim of unjust enrichment. “Plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart was unjustly enriched at Plaintiffs’ expense by profiting from relationships with suppliers that Wal-Mart knew were engaged in substandard labor practices. Unjust enrichment is commonly understood as a theory upon which the remedy of restitution may be granted. See 1 George E. Palmer, Law of Restitution § 1.1 (1st ed. 1978 & Supp. 2009); Restatement of Restitution § 1 (1937) (“A person who has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another is required to make restitution to the other.”). California’s approach to unjust enrichment is consistent with this general understanding: “The fact that one person benefits another is not, by itself, sufficient to require restitution. The person receiving the benefit is required to make restitution only if the circumstances are such that, as between the two individuals, it is unjust for the person to retain it.” First Nationwide Sav. v. Perry, 11 Cal.App.4th 1657, 15 Cal.Rptr.2d 173, 176 (1992) (emphasis in original).

The lack of any prior relationship between Plaintiffs and Wal-Mart precludes the application of an unjust enrichment theory here. See Smith v. Pac. Props. & Dev. Corp., 358 F.3d 1097, 1106 (9th Cir.2004) (noting that a party generally may not seek to disgorge another’s profits unless “a prior relationship between the parties subject to and benefiting from disgorgement originally resulted in unjust enrichment”). Plaintiffs essentially seek to disgorge profits allegedly earned by Wal-Mart at Plaintiffs’ expense; however, we have already determined that Wal-Mart is not Plaintiffs’ employer, and we see no other plausible basis upon which the employee of a manufacturer, without more, may obtain restitution from one who purchases goods from that manufacturer. That is, the connection between Plaintiffs and Wal-Mart here is simply too attenuated to support an unjust enrichment claim. See, e.g., Sperry v. Crompton Corp., 8 N.Y.3d 204, 831 N.Y.S.2d 760, 863 N.E.2d 1012, 1018 (2007) (holding that “the connection between the purchaser of tires and the producers of chemicals used in the rubbermaking process is simply too attenuated to support” the purchaser’s claim of unjust enrichment).

In sum, we conclude that Plaintiffs have not stated a claim against Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart had no legal duty under the Standards or common law negligence principles to monitor its suppliers or to protect Plaintiffs from the suppliers’ alleged substandard labor practices. Wal-Mart is not Plaintiffs’ employer, and the relationship between Wal-Mart and Plaintiffs is too attenuated to support restitution under an unjust enrichment theory.”

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