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10th Cir.: Workers for Recreational Marijuana Covered by FLSA, Notwithstanding Federal Law Which Renders Business Illegal
Following denial of the defendant-employer Helix’s motion to dismiss, Helix appealed. Helix–a company that provides security services in the state sanctioned recreational marijuana business–appealed contending that the FLSA did not apply to it. Specifically, Helix asserted that the FLSA does not apply to workers such as plaintiff, because Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry is in violation of federal law, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Rejecting this argument just as the court below had, the Tenth Circuit held that just because an employer – such as one in Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry – may be in violation of federal law, here the CSA, that does not mean its employees are not entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Helix TCS, Inc., provides security services for businesses in Colorado’s state-sanctioned marijuana industry. One of its employees, Robert Kenney, alleged that he and other security guards regularly worked more than 40 hours per week without overtime pay.
Helix did not dispute the fact that Kenney worked more than 40 hours without overtime, nor did it try to argue that he was covered by one of the FLSA’s many overtime exemptions. Instead, it argued that the FLSA was in conflict with CSA’s purpose. The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument and held that employers are not excused from complying with federal laws because of their other federal violations.
The 10th Circuit compared the situation to the 1931 trial of Al Capone in which jurors convicted the gangster for failing to pay taxes on his ill-gotten income. Just as there was no reason then why the fact a business was unlawful should exempt it from paying the taxes it would otherwise have had to pay, the Tenth Circuit said there is no reason today why a recreational marijuana company should be exempt from paying overtime just because it may be in violation of the CSA.
Click Kenney v. Helix TCS, Inc. to read the entire decision.
LPNs, Commercial Cleaners and Cable Installers: Recent Decisions Continue to Clarify That So-Called “Independent Contractors” May Actually Be Employees Under the FLSA
As the workforce becomes more and more aware of the differences between true independent contractors and employees under the FLSA—the latter entitled to minimum wages and overtime premiums under the FLSA—courts continue to address this factually intensive issue in a variety of industries. However, as many FLSA practitioners are no doubt aware, certain industries seem to have more than their fair share of employers who misclassify their employees as independent contractors. In 3 recent cases, all from within the Eleventh Circuit, courts addressed the issue of independent contractor misclassification. Significantly, all of the cases held that—under the FLSA’s very wide definition of employment, each of the workers at issue were employees (or in one case reversed the lower court’s ruling otherwise). Because the decisions themselves are factually intensive inquiries, the facts of each case are discussed in detail below.
M.D.Fla.: LPNs Employees Not Independent Contractors
Solis v. A+ Nursetemps, Inc.
The first case discussed here concerned the defendant-employer’s misclassification of its LPN (licensed practical nurse) employees as independent contractors. Following a bench trial, the court held that the LPNs were employees and not independent contractors as the employer had maintained. Analyzing the issue, the court explained:
The Eleventh Circuit cases clearly establish that the “economic realities test” is the standard to be applied in determining whether a worker is an employee covered by the FLSA, or is an independent contractor who is not covered by the Act. Medrick v. Albert Enterprises, Inc., 508 F.2d 297 (5th Cir.1975); Villarreal v. Woodham, 113 F.3d 202 (11th Cir.1997); Freund v. Hi–Tech Satellite, Inc., 185 Fed. Appx. 782 (11th Cir.2006).9
See also Antenor, 88 F.3d 925 (applying the economic realities test in resolving a joint employer issue under the FLSA).
Each of those pertinent Eleventh Circuit decisions recite various factors to be considered in applying the economic realities test, and the lists are not identical. All of the cases agree, however, either implicitly or explicitly, that “[n]o one of these considerations can become the final determinant, nor can the collective answers to all of the inquiries produce a resolution which submerges consideration of the dominant factor—economic dependence.” Freund, supra, 185 Fed. Appx. at 783 (quoting Usery v. Pilgrim Equip. Co., 527 F.2d 1308, 1311 (5th Cir.1976)).
The factors listed in the cases include: (a) whether the alleged employer had the power to hire and fire the workers in question; (b) whether the alleged employer supervised and controlled the employee work schedules or conditions of employment; (c) whether the alleged employer determined the rate and method of payment; (d) whether the alleged employer maintained work time records; (e) whether the worker performed a specialty job requiring specialized training or skill; (f) whether the contractual terms of the employment varied in a material way as one worker succeeded another; (g) whether the workers had business organizations that could offer the worker’s services to others; (h) whether the alleged employer supplied the premises and/or the equipment necessary to perform the work; (i) whether the worker employed others to assist in performing the job; (j) the employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending upon management skill; (k) the degree of permanency or duration of the working relationship; and (l) the extent to which the service rendered by the worker is an integral part of the employer’s business.
Applying each of the factors, the court reasoned:
(a) The right to hire and fire. The Court interprets this factor (taken from Villarreal, supra ) to require an examination of whether the employer has retained the usual common law right to hire and fire at will, or has placed limitations on those rights by contract as would often be the case in dealing with an independent contractor and a contractual clause imposing liability or a penalty for cancellation of the work. Here, of course, Nursetemps has sole control with respect to the selection of nurses to be assigned to shifts, and may withhold such assignments if it pleases. Just as the nurses are under no obligation to take assignments, Nursetemps is under no obligation to make them.
(b) Control of work schedules and supervision of the work. This factor (also taken from Villarreal, supra ) has two aspects as applied to this case. Control of the work schedules, in terms of assigning work to the nurses, is in the hands of Nursetemps. Supervision of the work, however, is not. That control is in the hands of the client facility, not Nursetemps. Thus, as stated earlier, if the common law test applied, Nursetemps would have a stronger case. In the context of an FLSA examination, however, this division of control does not help the nurses’ independent contractor argument because control of the work does not shift to the nurses, it shifts to another entity (which may thereby become a joint employer, Antenor v. D & S Farms, supra,) but it does not mean that the nurses thereby become independent contractors.
(c) Determining the rate and method of payment. In an independent contractor relationship, the independent contractor normally has at least an equal say in the rate to be charged for particular work by bidding on the job or by posting or advertising standard rates for the work to be performed. Here, by contrast, it is Nursetemps that fixes the hourly rate it will pay the nurses for each shift or each assignment. Individual nurses have the right to negotiate with respect to the rate they will earn, but Nursetemps retains the upper hand in deciding the rate it will pay; and it is Nursetemps that pays the nurses, not the facility where the work is performed.
(d) Maintenance of time records. While the nurses keep their own time records, they are paid by the hour, and such records are turned in to and maintained by Nursetemps (albeit not in full compliance with 29 C.F.R. § 516.2) for the purpose of calculating the nurses’ pay. Stated another way, the nurses are not paid a flat rate or piece rate per shift. They are hourly employees.
(e) Performance of a specialty job requiring specialized training or skill. While it cannot be denied that the work of a nurse requires highly specialized training and skill, such work in this society is not necessarily a specialty job in the sense that members of the public do not typically seek them out for private or individual engagements; rather, the nurses involved in this case work, instead, on an hourly basis in institutional settings like the hospices, hospitals and detention facilities.
(f) Variation in terms of employment. There is no evidence of any variation in the terms of employment as one worker succeeds another. Nurses are assigned to work shifts for rates established by Nursetemps and (subject to occasional negotiation of rates with an individual nurse) remain the same from nurse to nurse, shift to shift, week to week.
(g) Business organization for offering nurses services to others. While some of the nurses formed limited liability or corporate entities, the evidence is that those who did so were acting at the suggestion of Nursetemps, and the existence of such entities did not change the practical day-to-day relationship between Nursetemps and the nurses in any way. Also, the formation of such entities did not lead any of the nurses to use them as a vehicle to offer their services as entrepreneurs to other health care providers or to the public in general.
(h) Premises and equipment. Nursetemps does not supply the premises on which the work is accomplished, but neither do the nurses. The equipment necessary for the nurses to do their work—stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, thermometers and uniforms are provided by the nurses who also bear the cost of their continuing educational requirements.
(i) Employment of others. The nurses do not employ others to assist them in the performance of their work.
(j) Opportunity for profit. The nurses are paid by the hour for shift work. There is no opportunity for additional income or profit through the exercise of managerial skill or increased efficiency in the manner or means of accomplishing the work.
(k) Permanency of the relationship. A majority of Nursetemps nurses have accepted work assignments on a regular basis for a year or more.
(l) Whether the nurses work is an integral part of Nursetemps business. The work performed by the nurses is more than an integral part of Nursetemps’ business, it is the whole of Nursetemps’ business.
Per its analysis of each of the factors, the court concluded:
Consideration of the foregoing factors, both individually and collectively, leads inexorably to the conclusion that Nursetemps nurses are employees for purposes of the FLSA, not independent contractors. The same result is reached when one simply steps back to take a common sense look at the nature of the relationship between Nursetemps and the nurses. While it is certainly true that the nurses enjoy a degree of flexibility in their working lives, not shared by many in the work force, including an enhanced ability to “moonlight” by working for more than one agency at a time and by choosing when and where to make themselves available for work, the simple fact remains that when the nurses are available for work they are dependent upon Nursetemps to provide it, and when they are working on assignment for Nursetemps they are, during those workweeks, employees of Nursetemps.
Click Solis v. A+ Nursetemps, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Opinion Including Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
S.D.Fla.: Commercial Contractors Were Employees Not Independent Contractors
Robles v. RFJD Holding Co., Inc.
In a second recent case, a court in the Southern District of Florida was asked to decide whether commercial cleaners were employees or independent contractors, as the employer-defendant claimed. Applying the same test as the court above, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denied the defendant’s motion—holding that the defendant had misclassified the commercial cleaners as independent contractors. Discussing the factors regarding its determination on the issue the court explained, in part:
1. Control of the Manner of Performing Work
When an alleged employer provides “specific direction for how workers, particularly lowskilled workers, are to perform their jobs, courts have weighed the control factor in favor of employee status.” Montoya v. S.C. C.P. Painting Contractors, Inc., 589 F.Supp.2d 569, 579 (D.Md.2008) (finding factors such as the provision of supervision of painters, instruction in what paint to use and how many coats to apply, and on-the-job training to be indicative of employee status). Similarly, the provision of written instructions and procedures for how to complete the job also indicates employee status. See Schultz v. Capital Int’l Sec., Inc. ., 466 F.3d 298, 307 (4th Cir.2006) (finding an eight-page standard operating procedure document outlining job tasks indicative of employee status); Solis v. Int’l Detective & Protective Serv., Ltd., 819 F.Supp.2d 740, 750 (N.D.Ill.2011) (finding a policy and procedure handout coupled with close monitoring of workers’ compliance with the procedures indicative of control). The provision of training likewise indicates an employee-employer relationship. See Gate Guard Servs. L.P. v. Solis, 2013 WL 593418, at *4 (S.D.Tex. Feb.13, 2013) (noting the significance of training and observing that the non-provision of training indicates an independent-contractor relationship). Finally, supervision need not be constant to establish an employee-employer relationship. See Brock v. Superior Care, Inc., 840 F.2d 1054, 1060 (2d Cir.1988) (citing Donovan v. DialAmerica Mktg., Inc., 757 F.2d 1376, 1383–84 (3d Cir.1985)) (“An employer does not need to look over his workers’ shoulders every day in order to exercise control.”).
Here, the facts demonstrate that Defendants exercised substantial control over the manner of performing work. Defendants trained the cleaning crews in how to clean specific items, including what tools to use; they provided the crews with extensively detailed checklists of what to clean and how often to do so; they initially monitored the crews’ performance on-site and in person for an entire week; and, although there is some dispute as to how often any particular supervisor visited and inspected a specific restaurant,2 it is undisputed that Defendants’ supervisors regularly supervised the cleaning crews’ work. Viewed together, this all suggests that Defendants closely controlled the manner of Plaintiffs’ work as an employer would. While Defendants—as all businesses to some degree—may certainly have been concerned with “customer satisfaction,” Defendants manifested that concern through closely controlling and monitoring Plaintiffs’ work habits and methods. Accordingly, the first factor weighs in favor of finding that Plaintiffs were “employees” under the FLSA.
2. Opportunity for Profit or Loss Depending on Managerial Skill
Turning to the second half of the inquiry on this factor, the Court notes that Defendants do not point to any opportunity for loss that Plaintiffs risked. The opportunity for loss must extend beyond the mere threat of lost wages and must involve the risk of losing a capital investment. See Lauritzen, 835 F.2d at 1536;
Clincy v. Galardi S. Enters., Inc., 808 F.Supp.2d 1326, 1345–46 (N.D.Ga.2011). Beyond the occasional purchase of negligible cleaning supplies and tools, which is insufficient to present a risk of loss, Plaintiffs invested practically nothing but their labor in their cleaning work. See Lauritzen, 835 F.2d at 1536. To the extent that Defendants may contend that the back charges that they imposed on cleaning crews when customers were dissatisfied represent losses, see D.E. 56–1 at 9, the Court rejects this argument. Such back charges are not attributable to any discretionary managerial decision but, rather, are the result of poor cleaning performance.
When viewed as a whole, Plaintiffs’ opportunities to increase their profits support the idea that they were independent contractors, but the absence of any real risk of loss suggests Plaintiffs were “employees.” This factor is a wash.
3. Investment in Required Equipment or Materials and Employment of Workers
As discussed above, Plaintiffs were permitted to hire individuals on their own to accomplish their cleaning tasks but were not required to do so. D.E. 56–2, ¶ 5; D.E. 68–1, ¶ 5. During their fourteen-month tenure with Emmaculate, Plaintiffs Robles and Ulloa hired an individual only one time to help with their cleaning work. D.E. 56–2, ¶ 27; D.E. 68–1, ¶ 27. Plaintiffs’ investment in additional labor was minimal—even aberrant—and not indicative of independence. See Usery, 527 F.2d at 1312 (“Occasional exercise of the right to hire helpers also has not been found sufficiently indicative of independence to allow a finding of nonemployee status.”)…
Here, Plaintiffs made admittedly minimal purchases rather than large-scale investments in supplies and equipment. The lack of Plaintiffs’ substantial investment in equipment and materials tips in the direction of finding employee status.
4. Whether the Service Rendered Requires Special Skills
As other courts have found, cleaning services such as those provided by Plaintiffs require no special skills. See Quinteros v. Sparkle Cleaning, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 762, 770 (D.Md.2008); see also Usery, 527 F.2d at 1314 (“Routine work which requires industry and efficiency is not indicative of independence and nonemployee status.”). Defendants’ arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive. To the extent that Defendants suggest experience is required to do Plaintiffs’ work, D.E. 67 at 7, the Court does not agree that experience is, or is equivalent to, a specialized skill, and Defendants point to no authority that suggests otherwise. See Lauritzen, 835 F.2d at 1537 (citing Brock v. Lauritzen, 624 F.Supp. 966, 969 (E.D.Wis.1985) (holding that the development of occupational skill through experience “is no different from what any good employee in any line of work must do”). Put another way, one can quickly and easily develop experience at routine, unspecialized tasks…
Accordingly, this factor weighs in favor of finding employee status.
5. Permanency and Duration of the Working Relationship
The ability to readily reject jobs is not reflective of the permanency found in an employee-employer relationship and supports finding an independent-contractor relationship. On balance, the duration and permanency factor tips slightly in favor of Defendants.
6. The Extent to Which the Service Is an Integral Part of the Alleged Employer’s Business
Next, the Court considers the extent to which Plaintiffs’ cleaning services were an integral part of Defendants’ business. It is undisputed that Emmaculate is a “commercial cleaning business specializing in restaurant cleaning.” D.E. 56–2, ¶ 1; D.E. 68–1, ¶ 1. As Plaintiffs provide the cleaning services that Defendants’ offer, Plaintiffs’ services are indisputably integral, if not essential, to Defendants’ business. While Defendants attempt to cursorily dismiss this factor as “not determinative of one’s employee’s status,” D.E. 56–1 at 11, the reality is that this factor informs the inquiry as much as any other factor listed here. Freund, 185 F. App’x at 784;
Scruggs v. Skylink, Ltd., 2011 WL 6026152, at *8 (S.D.W.Va. Dec.2, 2011) (“Generally, the more integral the work, the more likely the worker is an employee, not an independent contractor.” (citation omitted)). Consequently, this factor weighs strongly in favor of finding an employee relationship.
Having weighed each of the factors, the court concluded that the commercial cleaner workers were defendant’s employees, as a matter of law:
Upon consideration of the six factors above and the circumstances as a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiffs were dependent on Defendants in their economic relationship and are considered employees under the FLSA. The fact that Robles and Ulloa worked exclusively for Emmaculate during their fourteen-month association highlights Plaintiffs’ economic dependency on Defendants. Further, Defendants’ significant control and supervision of Plaintiffs’ work habits and methods, Plaintiffs’ minimal capital investments and nonexistent risk of loss, Plaintiffs’ dependence on Emmaculate to find and engage restaurants to be cleaned, the lack of a need for specialized skills, and the integral and essential nature of Plaintiffs’ services to Defendants’ business all describe a relationship with the character of one between an employee and an employer, notwithstanding the few indicia of independent-contractor status found on the record. Taken together, these facts demonstrate that Plaintiffs were not in business for themselves but were, instead, dependent on Defendants for their continued employment in the restaurant-cleaning business. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted on this point, and Defendants’ motion is denied.
Click Robles v. RFJD Holding Co., Inc. to read the entire Order on Motions for Summary Judgment.
11th Cir.: Cable Installers May Be Employees; Summary Judgment For Employer Reversed
Scantland v. Jeffrey Knight, Inc.
The final case was before the Eleventh Circuit on the appeal of cable installer employees, following the district court’s order in which it held that the installers were independent contractors rather than employees, notwithstanding many cases holding to the contrary on similar facts. Applying the economic realities test discussed above, and taking the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs (as the non-movants), the Eleventh Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that the cable installers were employees under the FLSA. As such, the court reversed the decision below and remanded the case for trial on the issue.
Weighing the various factors, the court explained:
The first factor considers the nature and degree of the alleged employer’s control as to the manner in which the work is to be performed. Control is only significant when it shows an individual exerts such a control over a meaningful part of the business that she stands as a separate economic entity. Usery, 527 F.2d at 1312–13. The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, indicate that Knight exercised significant control over plaintiffs such that they did not stand as separate economic entities who were in business for themselves.
Technicians were required to report to a Knight facility by 7:00 to 7:15 each morning. Technicians would turn in equipment from the previous day and submit their work orders, which included the billing codes that determined their pay for particular jobs. These billing codes were set by Knight, and managers could unilaterally change the codes that technicians reported, thereby reducing a technician’s pay.4 Plaintiffs would also receive a route detailing the current day’s work orders, which were generally assigned in two-hour timeslots. Though plaintiffs’ Independent Contractor Service Agreements provided that they could decline any work assignments, plaintiffs testified that they could not reject a route or a work order within their route without threat of termination or being refused work in the following days. Thus, while a technician might consider a specific route or work order unprofitable, because, for example, it was low-paying or far away, plaintiffs had no power to decline the assignment. Technicians also might be required to attend quality control meetings and classes on new equipment or participate in a monthly equipment inventory conducted by BHN, which required technicians to unload their trucks and account for all BHN equipment. This morning routine could last up to two hours. Plaintiff Sperry testified that he had to arrive by 5:30 a.m. in order to make it to his first job assignment on time. During occasional downtime, technicians could request additional jobs; they could also be required to assist other technicians or be assigned additional jobs that they could not refuse. Technicians might be required to stay on the job until all the technicians in their area had completed their work; they could also be called back to jobs long after completing them to address problems. Plaintiffs could upsell by convincing customers to add additional BHN services, but those orders had to be approved by Knight. Plaintiffs could not sell non-BHN services to customers and could not work for other companies, either because they were told they could not do so or because the schedule Knight imposed prevented them from doing so. Plaintiffs could, according to their contract, employ others to help them, but any such employees had to be technicians already engaged by Knight, and were therefore bound by Knight’s policies. Plaintiffs were subject to meaningful supervision and monitoring by Knight. Technicians routinely communicated with dispatch during the day and were required to log in and out of Work Force Management—a service on their cellular phones that they paid for via payroll deductions—to indicate when they arrived on a job, when they completed a job, and what their estimated time of arrival was for their next job. Knight or BHN also conducted site checks of technicians’ work, and Knight tracked technicians’ quality control discrepancy rate. Technicians with consistent quality control issues could be given remedial training at a mock house or they could be terminated. An installation manager also might counsel a technician regarding his physical appearance or the appearance of his vehicle. Knight levied uncontestable fines called chargebacks for not meeting specifications, not using Work Force correctly, misplacing inventory, or being late to a job. Typically, $100 would be deducted from the technician’s pay for chargebacks on residential jobs and $150 for commercial jobs. Plaintiff Downs testified that chargebacks could mount up to the point where they surpassed the amount of money a technician could earn on a job. Technicians could also be downloaded, i.e., fired, for consistently misbilling, fraudulently billing, stealing, having a bad attitude, having consistently low quality control ratings, and being rude to customers, other technicians, or Knight employees. Knight’s Jill Williams testified that she and another installation manager had downloaded more than one hundred technicians. Plaintiff technicians worked five to seven days a week; some were required to work six days a week and sometimes seven days a week because of a requirement that they work rotating Sundays. Plaintiffs regularly worked more than forty hours a week.7 Technicians either had to inform their supervisors that they would be taking time off or request time off in advance, sometimes in writing.
In sum, Knight controlled what jobs plaintiffs did, how much they were paid, how many hours they worked, how many days they worked, their daily work schedule, whether they could work for others, whether they could earn additional income from customers, and closely monitored the quality of their work. Plaintiffs could not bid for jobs or negotiate the prices for jobs. Their ability to hire and manage others was illusory. This alleged control strongly suggests that the plaintiffs were economically dependent upon Knight…
B. Opportunity for Profit or Loss
The second factor considers the alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending upon his managerial skill. The facts, taken in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, indicate that plaintiffs’ opportunity for profit or loss depended more upon Knight’s provision of work orders and technicians’ own technical skill and efficiency than their managerial skill.
Plaintiffs’ opportunity for profit was largely limited to their ability to complete more jobs than assigned, which is analogous to an employee’s ability to take on overtime work or an efficient piece-rate worker’s ability to produce more pieces. An individual’s ability to earn more by being more technically proficient is unrelated to an individual’s ability to earn or lose profit via his managerial skill, and it does not indicate that he operates his own business. As the Supreme Court has explained, a job whose profits are based on efficiency is more like piecework than an enterprise that actually depend[s] for success upon the initiative, judgment or foresight of the typical independent contractor. Rutherford Food, 331 U.S. at 730, 67 S.Ct. at 1477. Technicians could not negotiate or otherwise determine the rates they were paid for jobs. In fact, the billing codes they submitted were subject to unilateral change by Knight. They were also subjected to uncontestable chargebacks that could wipe out their earnings from a single job.12 Knight’s argument that plaintiffs could control losses by avoiding chargebacks is unpersuasive. Chargebacks relate to the quality of a technician’s skill, not his managerial or entrepreneurial prowess. Plaintiffs’ ability to earn additional income through their own initiative was limited. Though plaintiffs could upsell, any jobs added to a work order by a technician had to be approved by Knight, and plaintiffs testified that the extra income was minimal and often not worth the additional effort. Plaintiffs could not sell non-BHN services to customers, nor work for other companies because of either a flat prohibition or because the schedules demanded by Knight prevented them from pursuing other work. Plaintiffs were able to exert some control over their opportunity for profits by pairing up to complete jobs and trading jobs among each other, but this ability was ultimately limited by the number and types of jobs Knight assigned them and whether Knight’s assigned schedule permitted them time to do so. Furthermore, as previously discussed, though the parties’ contract provided that technicians could hire helpers, this authority was illusory. Any helpers were required to be contracted with Knight as technicians, thus precluding the exercise of any real managerial skill over such helpers.
Assuming factual inferences in favor of plaintiffs, and in light of the minimal opportunity for profit (and that being little different from the usual path of an employee), this factor suggests economic dependence, and points strongly toward employee status.
C. Investment in Equipment or Materials
The third factor considers the alleged employee’s investment in equipment or materials required for his task, or his employment of workers. This factor favors independent contractor status, although it does so only weakly.
As previously discussed, technicians’ ability to employ workers was illusory. As regards investment in equipment and materials, Knight provides, via BHN, the hardware that is actually installed in customers’ homes and businesses, such as cable boxes, DVRs, and cable modems. Technicians are required to have vehicles, auto insurance, tools and safety equipment, and commercial general liability insurance. However, in light of the fact that most technicians will already own a vehicle suitable for the work and that many technicians purchased specialty tools from Knight directly via payroll withholdings, there seems to be little need for significant independent capital and very little difference from an employee’s wages being increased in order to pay for tools and equipment. Furthermore, even though a technician who initially bought his tools from Knight and paid for them via withholdings has some economic independence when the tools are paid for, it is analogous to the independence any employee has who has gained experience and the ability to market himself to competing employers.
In sum, these expenditures seem to detract little from the worker’s economic dependence on Knight, which is the lens through which we evaluate each of the several factors. Thus, to the extent that this factor weighs in favor of independent contractor status, the weight in that direction is minimal.
D. Special Skill
The fourth factor considers whether the service rendered requires a special skill. This factor favors independent contractor status, but it does so only weakly.
Plaintiffs were clearly skilled workers. The meaningfulness of this skill as indicating that plaintiffs were in business for themselves or economically independent, however, is undermined by the fact that Knight provided most technicians with their skills. Technicians could come to Knight from other installation outfits or be completely inexperienced. Most technicians, however, were inexperienced and underwent some length of unpaid training by Knight, which was followed by some period of unpaid ride-alongs with experienced technicians, before performing work on their own. Robert Collins, a former Knight installation manager, testified that Knight generally provided about two weeks of training and technicians did about a week of ride-alongs, and he estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of technicians did not require training.
Plaintiffs were, therefore, dependent upon Knight to equip them with the skills necessary to do their jobs. The skills attained by technicians point toward a degree of economic independence insofar as a highly trained technician could gain economic independence by the ability to market his skills to a competing employer. This does not, however, significantly distinguish such a worker from the usual path of an employee. To the extent that this factor favors independent contractor status, it does so weakly.
E. Permanency and Duration
The fifth factor considers the degree of permanency and duration of the working relationship. This factor points strongly toward employee status.
Named plaintiffs worked for Knight for an average of more than five years. Their contracts were for year terms, were automatically renewed, and were terminable only with thirty days’ notice. These facts suggest substantial permanence of relationship…
Assuming factual inferences in favor of plaintiffs, and looking through the lens of economic dependence vel non, long tenure, along with control, and lack of opportunity for profit, point strongly toward economic dependence. Thus, this factor strongly indicates employee status.
F. Integral Part of Alleged Employer’s Business
The sixth and final factor considers the extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business. This factor weighs clearly and strongly toward employee status.
Approximately two-thirds of Knight’s business consists of the telecommunications installation and repair services it performs for BHN. Knight relies on approximately five hundred technicians to perform installations and repairs in BHN customers’ homes and businesses. Knight’s website described its Installation Services department as the backbone of its business.
The integral role played by technicians in Knight’s business shows that the arrangement follows more closely that of an employer-employee relationship than an independent contractor dynamic. If Knight had truly outsourced such a large portion of its business, as would be true if plaintiffs were independent contractors, then the company would retain far less control over the business. However, because of Knight’s concern with the quality of the services it provides through this arrangement, it does, as one might expect, control the relationship in much the same way a company would control its employees. The technicians’ integral part in Knight’s business follows the usual path of an employee.
Assuming factual inferences in favor of plaintiffs, this factor points strongly toward employee status.
Given these factual circumstances, the Eleventh Circuit concluded:
When all the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs and all reasonable inferences are drawn in their favor, four of the six factors weigh strongly in favor of employee status. The two factors that do not—investment and special skill—weigh only very slightly toward independent contractor status. Neither contributes in any significant manner to the workers’ economic independence or to distinguishing the workers from the usual path of an employee. Thus, we conclude that, viewing the facts most favorably toward plaintiffs and with all justifiable inferences drawn in their favor, plaintiffs were employees—not independent contractors—under the FLSA. Because there are genuine issues of material fact, and because plaintiffs were employees if all reasonable factual inferences are found in plaintiffs’ favor, the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Knight.
Click independent contractor misclassification for more information on industries where employees are frequently misclassified as independent contractors.
10th Cir.: Employee Who Performed Work Afterhours for Employer Through His Separate Company Held to be Independent Contractor for Afterhours Work
Barlow v. C.R. England, Inc.
Following an order granting the defendant summary judgment, the plaintiff appealed. As discussed here, the issue before the Tenth Circuit regarding the plaintiff’s FLSA claim, was whether he was properly deemed to be an independent contractor for janitorial work her performed for his employer afterhours, while the same employer deemed him to be an employee for security work he performed during the day. In a decision lacking much by way of reasoning, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the decision of the court below and held that the defendant’s dual classification for the two different types of duties performed was valid.
The Tenth Circuit laid out the pertinent facts as follows:
In February 2005, Barlow began working as a part-time security guard at a Denver maintenance yard operated by England, a large trucking company. Barlow patrolled England’s grounds for about thirty hours a week, from 6:30 P.M. to 5:00 or 6:00 A.M. Friday through Sunday nights. Most of the yard was fenced in, accessible through an automatic overhead gate. Barlow also performed maintenance and ground work to try to reach 40 hours of work per week.
After Barlow had been at England for about a year and a half, he asked the facility’s site manager, John Smith, for extra work. Smith, who had initially hired Barlow, was not satisfied with England’s janitorial contractor at that time, so he asked England’s personnel department about having Barlow take over. Smith was told he could not allow Barlow to work any more hours because the company would have to pay overtime.
To get around this, Smith suggested Barlow create a company England could contract with. Barlow formed E & W Janitorial & Maintenance Services, LLC. Beginning in February 2007, Barlow cleaned for England on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, pursuant to an oral agreement with Smith. On a few occasions, his girlfriend, a co-owner of E & W, filled in. England provided his cleaning supplies, but did not require Barlow clean in any particular order. England, the only company for which E & W worked, paid $400 a month for E & W’s services.
Without much reasoning regarding this portion of the plaintiff’s claim, the court held:
We also agree with the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment against Barlow regarding his FLSA claims. Barlow argues that he performed his janitorial work as an employee under the FLSA, and that he was therefore entitled to overtime pay. But applying the “economic realities” test of employee status, we conclude that Barlow was not a statutory employee for purposes of the FLSA.
The “economic realities” test seeks to look past technical, common-law concepts of the master and servant relationship to determine whether, as a matter of economic reality, a worker is dependent on a given employer. Baker v. Flint Engineering & Const . Co., 137 F.3d 1436, 1440 (10th Cir.1998). “The focal point in deciding whether an individual is an employee is whether the individual is economically dependent on the business to which he renders service, or is, as a matter of economic fact, in business for himself.” Doty v. Elias, 733 F.2d 720, 722–23 (10th Cir.1984) (emphasis added) (citations omitted). “In applying the economic reality test, courts generally look at (1) the degree of control exerted by the alleged employer over the worker; (2) the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss; (3) the worker’s investment in the business; (4) the permanence of the working relationship; (5) the degree of skill required to perform the work; and (6) the extent to which the work is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business.” Baker, 137 F.3d at 1440. It also “includes inquiries into whether the alleged employer has the power to hire and fire employees, supervises and controls employee work schedules or conditions of employment, determines the rate and method of payment, and maintains employment records.” Id. “None of the factors alone is dispositive; instead, the court must employ a totality-of-the-circumstances approach.” Id.
Some factors favor Barlow, while other factors favor C.R. England, but, ultimately, we agree with the district court that Barlow was an independent contractor. Barlow and his partner created a licensed, limited liability company in order to provide janitorial services. Cf. Rutherford Food Corp. v. McComb, 331 U .S. 722, 730 (1947) (classifying as employees speciality group of production line workers in part because “[t]he group had no business organization that could or did shift as a unit from one slaughter-house to another”). Barlow kept records for the company, opened a separate bank account, and filed a corporate tax return. The district court also noted Barlow had the “freedom to decide how to accomplish” his tasks, even if the company reviewed the ultimate work product. 816 F.Supp.2d at 1107. Indeed, little in the case indicates the relationship between Barlow and C.R. England materially differed from one the company would have with any other cleaning service except for the fact Barlow also happened to otherwise be an employee. This suggests Barlow was in business for himself as a janitor, and we therefore affirm the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment.
Click Barlow v. C.R. England, Inc. to read the entire decision.
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.
With the uptick in FLSA case filings in recent years, a previously rarely litigated issue- whether certain types of workers are volunteers or “employees” subject to FLSA coverage- has increasingly come under judicial scrutiny. And, while case law has long interpreted the FLSA in a liberal manner, with the stated purpose of erring on the side of coverage for workers, two recent cases demonstrate that definition is not without its limits. In the first case, the domestic partner/girlfriend of a Domino’s Pizza store manager helped the manager with his management duties, in the hopes that eventually such efforts would lead to the partner’s advancement within the company. In the second case, an alumni for a public high school served as a mentor to students following his graduation from school. As discussed below, in both cases, the courts employed the “economic reality” test, and held that the workers were volunteers as opposed to employees.
Emanuel v. Rolling in the Dough, Inc.
In the first case, the plaintiff- apparently the girlfriend of the general manager of a Domino’s franchise store- assisted her boyfriend in his duties as the general manager. After the boyfriend’s employment with the defendant ceased, the plaintiff sought renumeration for all of the work she had previously performed on behalf of defendants, while he boyfriend had been employed. Interestingly, it appears from the style of the case that the defendants- who denied that the plaintiff was ever their employee- sought to bring a claim for indemnification/contribution against the boyfriend by impleading him as a third-party defendant. Looking at the totality of the circumstances, the court concluded that she was a volunteer and not an employee under the FLSA. Thus, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
Elucidating the relevant facts, the court explained that at some point in 2007, the plaintiff (Emanuel) told her boyfriend that she wanted to work at the store he managed on behalf of the defendants. Apparently, the plaintiff wanted to help with her boyfriend’s effort to become a Domino’s Pizza franchise owner.In response the boyfriend said he’d have to speak to the defendants about Emanuel working at the Elmhurst store. Thereafter, the boyfriend conveyed to Emanuel that defendants “believed your talents can be better utilized somewhere else.” Nonetheless, sometime later, the boyfriend (Shafer) communicated to Emanuel that she could begin working at the Elmhurst store. Significantly, the plaintiff acknowledged that she could not have worked in the store pursuant to the defendants anti-nepotism policy and that defendants would have told her to “get the hell out of my store,” had they known she was performing work in the store.
It was undisputed that neither the defendants, nor plaintiff’s boyfriend or anyone for that matter, ever promised plaintiff any compensation for the work she performed.
Ultimately, the plaintiff’s boyfriend and defendants got into a dispute regarding their agreement about his [plaintiff’s boyfriend’s] compensation, and as a result both plaintiff and her boyfriend ceased working for defendants. Subsequently, she filed the lawsuit, seeking compensation for the approximately 3 years of work she performed on behalf of defendants (and her boyfriend).
Laying out the elements of the “economic reality” test, the court explained:
Courts look to the totality of the circumstances when determining whether an individual is an “employee” under the FLSA and examine the “economic reality” of the working relationship. See, e.g., Vanskike v. Peters, 974 F.2d 806, 808 (7th Cir.1992). Courts have considered a variety of factors when examining the “economic reality” of a purported employment relationship, though none are dispositive or controlling. Secretary of Lab. v. Lauritzen, 835 F.2d 1529, 1534 (7th Cir.1987). Six commonly applied factors are: (1) the nature and degree of the alleged employer’s control as to the manner in which the work is to be performed; (2) the alleged employee’s opportunity for profit or loss depending upon his managerial skill; (3) the alleged employee’s investment in equipment or materials required for his task, or his employment of workers; (4) whether the service rendered requires a special skill; (5) the degree of permanency and duration of the working relationship; and (6) the extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business. Id. at 1534–35.
Rejecting the plaintiff’s contention that she was defendants’ “employee,” the court reasoned:
“Here, plaintiff Emanuel advances an absurd position. Emanuel argues that defendant Lindeman’s repeated statement that he would not pay her to work at the Elmhurst store was not a refusal to hire her as an employee, but an offer for her to work for free. Since Emanuel claims to have worked at the Elmhurst store without compensation and without [defendants] forcibly ejecting her from the store or otherwise preventing her from working, it is her position that an employment relationship impliedly exists.” However, noting the no one ever promised plaintiff compensation and that her work likely violated one or more of defendants corporate policies, the court held it was unreasonable for plaintiff to believe she was actually their employee, rather than a volunteer. Thus, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
Click Emanuel v. Rolling in the Dough, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Opinion and Order.
Brown v. New York City Dept. of Educ.
In the second case, the plaintiff, Brown, graduated from the New School for Arts and Sciences, a high school that shared space with Banana Kelly. After graduation, Brown maintained ties with Banana Kelly and occasionally came in to visit former teachers. In October 2007, when Plaintiff expressed an interest in mentoring students, the school offered Plaintiff the opportunity to do so at Banana Kelly. Neither Brown nor the school raised the issue of compensation at this time, and neither discussed Brown’s employee status. No one interviewed Brown about his background or qualifications. Thereafter, the plaintiff went to Banana Kelly and continued at the school for more than three years, finally leaving in December 23, 2010, apparently because he was being investigated for inappropriate conduct related to his comments to a freshman student. During his time at the school, with minor exceptions, the plaintiff reported five days a week throughout the academic year, working 7-8 hours per day on a regular basis.
Citing the fact that the plaintiff never submitted to the normal, legal requirements for employment by the Department of Education: application, interview, background check, job classification, and assignment, the court rejected plaintiff’s assertion that he was an employee, because he expected compensation for his services. Although it was undisputed that the defendant told plaintiff that there was not enough money in the budget to pay him, according to the plaintiff, defendant promised that he would attempt to search the budget for the funding.
Again, looking at the “economic realities” and the totality of the facts of the situation, the court held that plaintiff was a volunteer and not an employee, subject to FLSA coverage. Thus, the court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
The court gave the following overview of the analysis applicable to the issue:
Whether one is a volunteer is to be determined “in a common-sense manner, which takes into account the totality of the circumstances surrounding the relationship between the individual providing services and the entity for which the services are provided.” Purdham, 637 F.3d at 428;City of Elmendorf, 388 F.3d at 528; Todaro, 40 F.Supp.2d at 230. Accordingly, courts should review “the objective facts surrounding the services performed to determine whether the totality of the circumstances establish volunteer status, or whether, instead, the facts and circumstances, objectively viewed, are rationally indicative of employee status.” Purdham, 637 F.3d at 428. The court then examined 2 factors to determine whether the plaintiff was an employee or a volunteer. First, the court considered whether Brown performed the tasks at Banana Kelly for “civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons,” pursuant to 553.101(a).
Looking at this factor, the court reasoned:
One is a volunteer, if motivated by an altruistic sense of civic duty, see Krause, 969 F.Supp. at 276, as opposed to the expectation of compensation, see Rodriguez, 866 F.Supp. at 1019. When the situation is one of mixed motives, “the regulatory definition does not require that the individual be exclusively, or even predominantly, motivated by ‘civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons. Rather, what is required is that the individual must be motivated by civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons, at least in part.” Purdham, 637 F.3d at 429 (citing Todaro, 40 F.Supp. at 230); see also Benshoff v. City of Virginia Beach, 9 F.Supp.2d 610, 623 (E.D.Va.1998) (finding that firefighters were volunteers when motivated primarily, but not exclusively, by civic, charitable and humanitarian concerns). Here, Brown accepted Jerome’s offer to mentor, in part, because he wanted “[s]omeone … to stand up, and make a change, and show the kids that we do care.” (Welikson Dec. Ex. C, Brown Dep. at 35:21–22.) He felt that the school needed the change because in his experience as a student, “nobody cared” (id. 35:14–17). This motivation remained unchanged as Brown started performing non-mentorship tasks. Brown testified that he helped with lunch duty, dismissals and escorting students despite his displeasure with being asked because he wanted to be a “team player” and that he “want[ed] to help and [he] care[d].” (38:14–39:5.) He felt obligated because he did not want to “let[ ] the school down.” (id. at 150:20–22.) These statements show a continued civic and charitable intent to improve the environment at Banana Kelly. At the same time, Brown testified that he worked because he believed (“hoped”) that money was forthcoming. (Okoronkwo Dec. Ex. 13 Brown Dep. 231:18–19). Accepting Brown’s acknowledgements, the Court turns to whether, in this mixed motive case, Brown acted at least in part, by the proper humanitarian concerns. See Purdham, 637 F.3d at 429. Plaintiff’s testimony shows that his actions at Banana Kelly, had their source, at least in part, in his concern for what would become of students if he did not show up, and was thus properly motivated.
Next the court looked at whether there was a “promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.101(a). Noting that plaintiff was not compensated, was not offered “under-the-table” compensation, and was not promised compensation, the court concluded that the plaintiff had no reasonable expectation of compensation. Looking at all the circumstances the court concluded that:
There is ample evidence that Brown knew and understood, despite his hopes to the contrary, that he would not be compensated. Brown admitted that he understood that he would not get paid for mentoring. No one led Plaintiff to believe that he would get paid for non-mentoring tasks. Laub testified that he had conversations with Plaintiff in which he relayed to Brown that he was volunteer and intern. Banana Kelly gave him certificates of appreciation that acknowledged his services as an intern and volunteer which Brown accepted without objection. While labels used by the parties do not control the outcome (P. Opp. at 11), the parties’ understanding of their arrangement is a relevant factor in the totality-of-circumstances analysis. See Rodriguez v. Township, 866 F.Supp. 1012, 1020 (S.D.Tex.1994) (declining to hold that the plaintiff was a volunteer in part because both parties understood their relationship as an employment, rather than volunteer, relationship).
Taking all of the circumstances into consideration, the court concluded that the plaintiff was a volunteer.
Click Brown v. New York City Dept. of Educ. to read the entire Opinion and Order.
N.D.Ill.: Former Attorney and Accountant Improper Third-Party Defendants in FLSA Case; Non-Employers Not Subject to Liability
Strauss v. Italian Village Restaurant, Inc.
This case was before the court on the third-party defendants’ motion to dismiss. The defendant, sued for FLSA violations, sought to implead its former attorneys and accountant, on the basis that the faulty legal/accounting advice they rendered resulted in the potential liability at issue in this wage and hour case. While indemnification by the professionals who rendered allegedly bad advice which led to the liability would seem to be a legitimate claim, the court dismissed the claim, because neither of the third-party defendants were alleged to be the plaintiffs’ employer (or joint employers), a prerequisite for the imposition of liability under the FLSA.
Reasoning that the professional consultants at issue were not subject to liability under the FLSA, Illinois state wage and hour laws, or similar counts derived from such statutes, the court explained:
Multiple employers may be held liable under the FLSA when “the facts establish that the employee is employed jointly by two or more employers.” The Supreme Court has held that the determination of whether a party is an employer is based on the “economic reality” of the situation. Courts have considered a variety of factors when making this determination, including the ability to hire or fire the employees, supervision of the employees’ schedules, determination of wages, and the maintenance of employment records. The Seventh Circuit has held that an “employer must exercise control over the working conditions of the employee.”
As these third-party defendants accurately point out, there is nothing in the Italian Villages’s conclusory allegations in these counts that suggests that these defendants could ever be considered “employers” within the meaning of the FLSA. There are no allegations that these third-party defendants had any control over these plaintiffs’ working conditions as the case law require; that they could hire, fire or manage them. Nor could there be. These firms were hired by the Italian Village to negotiate the employment contracts and to manage employee payroll. Their work in this respect was controlled by the Italian Village. Regardless of how much The Italian Village chose to rely on the advice and counsel of their third-party contractors with respect to these issues, there is no authority that the Court could find that supports the argument that the Italian Village’s reliance on these firms’ transforms these into “employers” under the FLSA.
Essentially the Italian Village is asking the Court to by-pass the statutory scheme set forth in the FLSA and shift responsibility for compliance with the FLSA from itself, the employer, to third-party consultants which it paid for services rendered. But nothing in the FLSA suggests that the Italian Village’s alleged “reasonable reliance” on its consultants can shift compliance with the law on to them as well. Moreover, there is ample authority that holds that the FLSA precludes all such potential blame-shifting and bars third-party actions for contribution and indemnity using any tort theories.
The Italian Village’s response to this raft of authority is that it is directed only at attempts by employers to shift liability to certain key employees, not to third parties like the accountants and attorneys sued here. Actually this is not correct. In Chao v. St. Louis Internal Medicine, the court held that an accounting firm could not be sued as a third-party defendant in an FSLA case under a tort theory. But even if this case did not so hold, this Court can see no real distinction between efforts to shift liability to employees, which is prohibited by the case law, and the Italian Village’s efforts to shift liability to their third-party consultants. Either scenario is barred by the FLSA’s express language that liability for compliance rests with the employer and the employer only so that the statute’s mandates are not diluted.
Click Strauss v. Italian Village Restaurant, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Opinion and Order.
E.D.Cal.: Plaintiff Could Simultaneously Be Part-Owner of Closely-Held S-Corp. and Its FLSA-Covered Employee
Hess v. Madera Honda Suzuki
This case was before the Court on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment regarding all of plaintiffs’ claims. As discussed here, one of the issues the court was asked to resolve was whether someone can simultaneously be a part-owner of a closely held s-corporation and an employee thereof. The court distinguished the case from one concerning a business structured as a partnership, and held indeed the plaintiff could simultaneously be a part-owner of the defendant and its employee. Thus, the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment with regard to her FLSA claim for unpaid wages on this ground.
As relevant to this discussion, the court recited the following facts (following a period of employment where the plaintiff was solely defendant’s employee):
As support for the contention Plaintiff was not their employee, Defendants point to evidence in the record, primarily from Plaintiff’s deposition testimony, establishing the following. After investing $100,000 ($50,000 allocated to stock and $50,000 as a business loan) with her husband, Terry Hess, Plaintiff became a co-owner of Madera Honda Suzuki, controlling 24 percent of the 100,000 shares of common stock originally issued by Harry D. Wilson, Inc. (Terry controlled 25 percent; defendant Robert Wilson controlled 26 percent while his wife, Lisa, controlled 25 percent.) Plaintiff was then elected as a director and chief financial officer of the corporation. Pursuant to their investment, it appears Plaintiff and her husband provided personal guarantees to Central Valley Bank for money presumably borrowed by the company. Plaintiff further stated she and her husband provided personal guarantees to American Honda and Suzuki, presumably to cover debts and obligations that might be incurred by the company through its sale of Honda and Suzuki motorcycles. Plaintiff understood it was possible she might lose some or all of her investment, and that even if the business were successful, it would take some time before it would start showing a profit. Plaintiff further understood that although the shares of stock were split 51 percent/49 percent between the Wilsons and the Hesses, everything else—including profits—would be divided equally (i.e., 50/50 between the Wilsons and the Hesses). According to Plaintiff, the business never made a profit.
Plaintiff testified it was her responsibility to pay bills and that she had authority to pay certain expenses, such as rent and dealership insurance, without consulting the other officers. Plaintiff was authorized to issue payroll checks to herself and others if the company had sufficient funds, and it appears Plaintiff issued a check to herself at least once during her tenure as CFO. At his deposition, Wilson testified he and Plaintiff interviewed prospective employees together and that Plaintiff “had a say in everybody [the company] hired.” Wilson further testified Plaintiff handled employee disciplinary matters “95 percent of the time” and that she was not required to consult with him before terminating an employee. It also appears Plaintiff was afforded special benefits. Plaintiff testified “if [she or Wilson] took days off, since [they] were on salary, [they] would be paid the days.” Other employees also had paid vacation, but only for a limited number of days. The company paid for vehicles and fuel for the Wilsons and the Hesses, whereas other employees did not have a vehicle allowance. Per Wilson, the company paid the cost of health insurance for shareholders, including Plaintiff, whereas it covered only part of the premiums for employees, who had to contribute the rest. All of this evidence, Defendants contend, shows Plaintiff was a co-owner, not an employee.
In light of the above undisputed facts, the defendant argued “that Plaintiff [could not] be considered an employee because Plaintiff assumed significant business risk, had involvement and discretion in the corporate decision-making process and was entitled to benefits not available to Madera Honda Suzuki’s other employees, none of which was consistent with employee status.” However, the court disagreed.
The court distinguished case law that has held that partners of a partnership cannot simultaneously be FLSA employees, in part discussing a case previously discussed here, from the situation before it where the alleged employee had a part-ownership interest in an s-corp. The court explained:
Defendants have provided no authority—and the Court’s research reveals no authority—stating categorically that a co-owner and shareholder of a closely held corporation who works for the corporation in another capacity, as was apparently the case here, cannot also be the corporation’s employee for the purpose of the FLSA. Indeed, case law seems to suggest otherwise. See Goldberg v. Whitaker House Co-op, Inc., 366 U.S. 28, 32, 81 S.Ct. 933, 6 L.Ed.2d 100 (1961) (“There is nothing inherently inconsistent between the coexistence of a proprietary and an employment relationship. If members of a trade union bought stock in their corporate employer, they would not cease to be employees within the conception of [the FLSA]. For the corporation would ‘suffer or permit’ them to work whether or not they owned one share of stock or none or many”).
While the court noted similarities between the structures of a partnership and the closely-held s-corp. at issue here, ultimately it reasoned that the differences permitted a co-owner who lacked the ability to use the corporate assets as her own and lacked the ability to use the corporate assets as she thought fit. Further, contrary to the relationship partners have in a partnership where they are primarily investors, the court noted that shareholders such a plaintiff remain economically dependent on the s-corporation and their primary source of income is typically wages earned from the s-corporation:
The fact the company is a closely held corporation is key because shareholders view closely held corporations precisely as a means of acquiring corporate assets through employment: “Unlike the typical shareholder in a publicly held corporation, who may be simply an investor or a speculator and does not desire to assume the responsibilities of management, the shareholder in a close corporation considers himself or herself as a co-owner of the business and wants the privileges and powers that go with ownership. Employment by the corporation is often the shareholder’s principal or sole source of income. Providing employment may have been the principal reason why the shareholder participated in organizing the corporation. Even if shareholders in a close corporation anticipate an ultimate profit from the sale of shares, they usually expect (or perhaps should expect) to receive an immediate return in the form of salaries as officers or employees of the corporation, rather than in the form of dividends on their stock. Earnings of a close corporation are distributed in major part in salaries, bonuses and retirement benefits[.]” Hollis v. Hill, 232 F.3d 460, 467 (5th Cir.2000).
Having determined that part-ownership of an s-corporation does not preclude a finding of an employer-employee relationship under the FLSA, the court held that—taking the facts most favorably for plaintiff, the non-movant—plaintiff could meet the economic reality test and demonstrate that she was an employee subject to FLSA coverage. Thus, the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on this ground.
Click Hess v. Madera Honda Suzuki to read the entire Order re: Motion for Summary Judgment or Summary Adjudication.
When an employee is employed by a company, as long as that company is an enterprise covered by the FLSA, it is subject to the wage and hour requirements of the FLSA. But what about when the company alleged to have violated the FLSA changes hands before its employees have initiated a lawsuit or claim for their unpaid wages. Does the successor company, who acquires the assets of the alleged violator have successor liability under the FLSA? Two recent decisions discuss this very issue. However, given the factually intensive nature of the inquiry, as discussed below, both courts denied the respective defendants’ motions based on issues of fact.
Paschal v. Child Development Inc.
In the first case, Paschal v. Child Development, Inc., the plaintiffs’ subsequent employer (“CDIHS”) sought judgment as a matter of law at the pleading stage of the case, asserting that it could not be plaintiffs’ employer under the FLSA, because it was not in existence when the plaintiffs’ claims arose. In denying the subsequent employer’s motion as premature, the court explained the parameters for successor liability in FLSA cases.
The court explained that the test for liability of a successor company under the FLSA requires the examination of several elements:
The doctrine of successor liability has [ ] been recognized to apply to FLSA violations.” The question of successor liability is difficult based on the “myriad [of] factual circumstances and legal contexts in which it can arise;” therefore, the court must give emphasis on the facts of each case as it arises. A finding of successorship involves two essential inquiries: (1) whether there is continuity of the business; and (2) did the successor know of the violations at the time it took over the business. A court may also consider whether: (a) the same plant is being used; (b) the employees are the same; (c) the same jobs exist; (d) the supervisors are the same; (e) the same equipment and methods of production are being used; and (f) the same services are being offered.
In their Reply, CDIHS argues that Plaintiffs failed to plead any facts that put them in the category of being a successor in interest. Specifically, they argue that “[t]he business was not transferred, nor were employees or property transferred. There was no purchase of the business in any sense.” However, Defendants fail to address the two essential questions of whether they had notice of the violations and whether there was continuity of the business… Plaintiffs argue that “[s]ubstantial continuity of operations between CDI and CDIHS is a given.” They point to CDIHS’s website that indicates all of the efforts on CDIHS’s behalf to maintain the continuity of program. They also argue that based on CDIHS’s intervention, they were “aware of CDI’s potential liability for FLSA and ERISA violations.”
Ultimately, the court denied CDIHS’ motion as premature.
Click Paschal v. Child Development Inc. to read the entire Order Denying Motion to Dismiss.
Battino v. Cornelia Fifth Ave., LLC
In the second case, Battino v. Cornelia Fifth Ave., LLC, a different court applied a similar test to that discussed above. However, because the Battino case was before the court on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment (rather than a motion to dismiss at the pleading stage), it provides a greater insight into how courts apply the multi-factor test in ascertaining whether there is successor liability under the FLSA. In Battino, the court denied the subsequent employers’ motion for summary judgment holding that issues of fact precluded a finding in the defendants’ favor on this issue. As discussed here, the court primarily focused its inquiry on the second factor enunciated above, whether the successor knew of the violations at the time it took over the business.
Regarding the specific test applied by the Battino court, the court explained:
The substantial continuity test in the labor relations context looks to “whether the new company has acquired substantial assets of its predecessor and continued, without interruption or substantial change, the predecessor’s business operations.” Fall River, 482 U.S. at 43 (citation and quotation marks omitted). Courts applying this test typically look at the nine factors enunciated by the Sixth Circuit in the Title VII discrimination context in EEOC v. MacMillan Bloedel Containers, Inc., 503 F.2d 1086, 1094 (6th Cir.1974): (1) whether the successor company had notice of the charge or pending lawsuit prior to acquiring the business or assets of the predecessor; (2) the ability of the predecessor to provide relief; (3) whether there has been a substantial continuity of business operations; (4) whether the new employer uses the same plant; (5) whether he uses the same or substantially the same work force; (6) whether he uses the same or substantially the same supervisory personnel; (7) whether the same jobs exist under substantially the same working conditions; (8) whether he uses the same machinery, equipment, and methods of production; and (9) whether he produces the same product. Musikiwamba, 760 F.2d at 750 (paraphrasing MacMillan Bloedel ). “No one factor is controlling, and it is not necessary that each factor be met to find successor liability.” EEOC v. Barney Skanska Const. Co., 99 Civ.2001, 2000 WL 1617008, at *2 (S .D.N.Y. Oct. 27, 2000) (citation omitted).
In denying the defendants’ motion, the court held that there were issues of fact precluding same, because the successor company could not be said to be an “innocent purchaser,” inasmuch as one of its principals was also a principal in the prior company.
The court explained:
This is not a case of an “innocent purchaser” who “exercised due diligence and failed to uncover evidence” of any potential liability. Musikiwamba, 760 F.2d at 750, 752. Rather, SCFAL was fully aware of the potential liabilities to the unpaid employees and attempted to negotiate the APA accordingly. Thus, the Court is unable to conclude as a matter of law that Canizales cannot be liable as a successor to Cornelia Fifth because of a lack of notice of the claim to SCFAL.
Click Battino v. Cornelia Fifth Ave., LLC to read the entire Opinion and Order.
E.D.Wisc.: Plaintiff Who Helped Set Up Defendants’ Business Was an Employee Subject to FLSA Coverage, Not a Volunteer
Okoro v. Pyramid 4 Aegis
This case was before the Court on the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on a variety of issues. As discussed here, the plaintiff sought a finding that she was entitled to minimum wages under the FLSA as an employee, while the defendants contested that, arguing that any duties she had performed for them were volunteered. The case apparently followed the break-up of the plaintiff from the individual defendant in their romantic relationship. It was undisputed that the plaintiff performed many duties for the defendants- operators of a group home- over the approximate 2 years in question, including obtaining workers compensation insurance, attendance at residential training classes, cleaning and purchasing items for the facility, putting in business processes for the business (i.e. payroll services), marketing, hiring employees on behalf of defendants and other duties necessary for the defendants’ business to operate. While most of these facts were uncontested, the defendants maintained that this work was all volunteered, despite the fact, while the plaintiff asserted she expected to be paid as an employee.
After discussing various tests for employment under the FLSA (i.e. independent contractor vs employee), the court noted that there was no specific test for determining whether someone who performs duties for another is an employee or a volunteer under the FLSA. Thus, the court explained it was constrained only by a flexible “reasonableness” standard that takes into account the totality of the circumstances. The court explained:
In determining whether someone is an employer or a volunteer, this court has not stumbled upon any factored test similar to that of the 6–factor economic realities test used to differentiate independent contractors and employees. Rather, the court finds that the test for employment is governed by a reasonableness standard that takes into account the totality of the circumstances. The court is to review ” ‘the objective facts surrounding the services performed to determine whether the totality of the circumstances’ establish volunteer status, … or whether, instead, the facts and circumstances, objectively viewed, are rationally indicative of employee status.” Purdham, 637 F.3d at 428 (quoting Cleveland v. City of Elmendorf, 388 F.3d 522, 528 (5th Cir.2004)). In addition to the “economic reality” of the situation, other factors to consider include whether there was an expectation or contemplation of compensation, whether the employer received an immediate advantage from any work done by the individual, the relationship of the parties, and the goals of the FLSA. See Alamo Found., 471 U.S. at 300–01;
Rutherford Ford Corp. v. McComb, 331 U.S. 722, 730 (1947) (stating that the employer-employee relationship “does not depend on such isolated factors but rather upon the circumstances of the whole activity”); Lauritzen, 835 F.2d at 1534–35). It is the examination of objective indicia and the application of common sense with which this court arrives at its determination of whether the plaintiff here is an employee for purposes of the FLSA.
Applying this test to the facts at bar, the court held that the plaintiff was an employee rather than a volunteer:
According to Okoro, she never agreed to volunteer for Aegis; at all times, she expected to be compensated for her work. Specifically, Okoro expected to be paid $2,000 per month for her work, and in agreeing to defer her compensation until the facility garnered clients, she still worked with the expectation that she would be paid. (Okoro Aff. ¶¶ 4, 7–9.) Battles, while arguing that Okoro was a volunteer, also states that he intended to pay Okoro for her work if she qualified as an administrator and if the business had enough money in the future. (Battles Aff. ¶¶ 6, 25 .) The court notes Battles’s expectation not for the purpose of weighing the parties’ competing assertions (for this would surely contradict the FLSA’s remedial purpose) but to merely highlight that he too contemplated a compensation mechanism for Okoro’s work.
Expectations aside, it is not entirely correct for the plaintiff to assert that the defendants have failed to identify any personal benefit that Okoro purportedly received from her work for Aegis. In his affidavit, Battles avers that when Okoro sold him worker’s compensation insurance for Aegis, she told him “that she wanted to learn the group home business and therefore, she would learn the business by working at Pyramid 4 Aegis for no compensation.” (Battles Aff. ¶ 5.)
This court is not unmindful of any claim that Okoro may have wanted to learn and indeed did learn about the CBRF business. That may certainly have been part of her motivation in providing Battles some assistance in his effort to build the business. However, Battles does not deny that the work Okoro performed on behalf of Aegis conferred an immediate benefit to the company. Thus, the facts in this case stand in stark contrast to those in Walling. In Walling, the lower court’s finding that “the railroads receive[d] no ‘immediate advantage’ from any work done by the trainees” was unchallenged. 330 U.S. 148, 153. Indeed, “the applicant’s work [did] not expedite the company business, but … sometimes [did] actually impede and retard it.” Id. at 150. In other words, the railroad was not receiving any immediate benefit from the training that was being given to the prospective brakemen.
Not so in the case at bar. The evidence here does not demonstrate that the work performed by Okoro on behalf of Aegis interfered in any way with the business of Aegis. To the contrary, the nature of the work that she performed, such as cleaning, picking up prescriptions, appearing in court on behalf of clients at the facility, and calling in hours for caregivers to Paychex, was undeniably of substantial assistance to Aegis. Even more to the point, such work was not akin to the “course of practical training,” which the prospective yard brakemen in Walling received. Id. at 150. One hardly needs to be trained in how to clean a facility, how to pick up prescriptions, and how to call in hours for caregivers.
Additionally, the economic reality of the situation was that Okoro worked for Aegis for a substantial length of time. The length of the “training course” that the prospective brakemen received in Walling was seven or eight days. Id. at 149. By contrast, Okoro worked for Aegis over the course of almost one year.
To be sure, Okoro and Battles had a “personal relationship” over the course of the relevant time period. (Okoro Aff. ¶ 6.) While it may be that at least some of the time Okoro spent at Aegis was to socialize with Battles, that particular matter may speak to the amount of damages to which she is entitled; after all, socialization may not be the equivalent of work. For purposes of Okoro’s motion, it is sufficient to find that, despite her relationship with Battles, she still performed substantial work for Aegis, Aegis reaped a direct and immediate benefit from her work, and she had a reasonable expectation that she would be compensated for her work. In sum, taking into account the totality of the circumstances in this case leads me to conclude that Okoro performed work for Aegis as an employee and not as a volunteer.
The court also noted the duty to interpret the FLSA broadly in favor of coverage, given the FLSA’s remedial purpose:
Finally, it must not be forgotten that, by design, the FLSA’s purpose is “remedial and humanitarian.” Tenn. Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. v. Muscodoa Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 597 (1944), superseded by statute, Portal–to–Portal Act of 1947, Pub.L. No. 80–49, 61 Stat. 86 (1947) (codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 254). To effectuate this purpose, the FLSA requires courts to interpret its application broadly. See id. With this in mind, allowing Aegis the benefit of Okoro’s free labor when there existed an expectation of compensation would not comport with the FLSA’s purpose.
Thus, to the extent that the plaintiff’s motion seeks a determination that she worked for Aegis and is therefore entitled to compensation for such work under the FLSA, her motion will be granted. Precisely how much work she performed for Aegis, and for how many hours she should be compensated by Aegis, are matters for trial. It is enough to say that the work she performed for Aegis, at least for purposes of the FLSA, was not as a volunteer, but rather as an employee.
Click Okoro v. Pyramid 4 Aegis to read the entire Decision and Order on Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
5th Cir.: Member of LLC Lacked Sufficient Day-to-Day Involvement In Operation of Nightclub to be “Employer” Under FLSA
Gray v. Powers
This case was before the Fifth Circuit on Plaintiff’s appeal of an Order granting an individual defendant summary judgment, having held that there were insufficient facts to render the individual defendant to be an “employer” subject to FLSA liability. Affirming the decision below, the Fifth Circuit held that the individual defendant- who was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the defendant nightclub as a member of the LLC that owned same- lacked sufficient involvement to be an “employer.”
According to the court it was undisputed that- after participating in the initial construction of the nightclub- the individual defendant in question (“Powers”) had little day-to-day involvement in the club’s operations:
“After completion of the construction, Powers was not involved in the day-to-day operation of the Pasha Lounge. Powers only visited the club on five or six occasions during the seventeen months the club was open for business. He denies that he supervised any employee, defined employee job duties, controlled work schedules, or maintained employment records. During his rare trips to the lounge, the bartenders would tell him how much they made in tips. Powers was, however, a signatory on PEG’s checking account, along with Kathleen and the club’s general manager, and he occasionally signed several pages of pre-printed checks.
Other members, Kathleen in particular, were much more involved in the operation of the club. Kathleen kept the books, was a signatory on the accounts, received nightly numbers, and served as the point of contact for the general manager. The members of PEG collectively made significant business decisions such as hiring John W. Ritchey, Jr. as the first general manager. Ritchey’s job duties included hiring and firing staff, handling promotions, setting operation hours, and supervising day-to-day operations. In Ritchey’s words, he was “in charge of pretty much everything that went on at the club.” Ritchey was later removed by the members of PEG because his salary was too expensive.
Appellant Gray was a bartender at Pasha Lounge from February to September 2007 and replaced Ritchey as general manager from March to September 2008. Gray asserts that while he was a bartender under Ritchey’s supervision, he and his fellow bartenders were not paid an hourly wage and were compensated solely by tips. Gray considered Ritchey to be his boss at that time because Ritchey hired him and defined his job duties. Though Gray asserts that Powers was another “supervisor,” Gray admitted in a deposition that Powers was not involved in the club’s day-to-day operations. Powers rarely visited the club, but on one visit he did tell Gray that he was doing a “great job.” Also, on two occasions Powers asked Gray to serve specific people while Powers was a patron at the club. Beyond these three instances, Gray could not remember any other occasion when Powers “directed” his work as a bartender. Gray contends, however, that Powers asked him to fill in as general manager after Ritchey was let go. Stephen disputes that fact because he allegedly enlisted Gray to fill in as general manager.”
After going through each element of the economic reality test, the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence that Powers was an “employer” under the FLSA:
“Applying the economic reality test to Powers, we reaffirm the district court’s conclusion that no reasonable jury could have found him to be an employer. The dominant theme in the case law is that those who have operating control over employees within companies may be individually liable for FLSA violations committed by the companies. An individual’s operational control can be shown through his power to hire and fire, ability to supervise, power to set wages, and maintenance of employment records. While each element need not be present in every case, finding employer status when none of the factors is present would make the test meaningless. We decline to adopt a rule that would potentially impose individual liability on all shareholders, members, and officers of entities that are employers under the FLSA based on their position rather than the economic reality of their involvement in the company. In this case, Powers was simply not sufficiently involved in the operation of the club to be an employer. The district court’s judgment is AFFIRMED.”
Click Gray v. Powers to read the entire decision.