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5th Cir.: Department Head Who Notified Employer of Potential FLSA Violations Did Not Engage in Protected Activity, Because She Did Not “Step Outside Her Normal Job Role”
Lasater v. Texas A & M University-Commerce
This case was before the Fifth Circuit on appeal of an order awarding the defendant summary judgment on plaintiff’s FLSA retaliation claim. Specifically, the plaintiff, a former department head for the defendant asserted that she was terminated for raising concerns regarding the defendant’s payroll policies (and failure to comply with the FLSA) to an independent auditor and later her supervisors. The court below held that plaintiff failed to allege that she had engaged in protected activity, because she was merely performing her duties for defendant when she reported her concerns regarding non-compliance. The Fifth Circuit agreed and affirmed the award of summary judgment for the defendant.
The Fifth Circuit recited the following factual history:
This case arises from TAMUC’s termination of Lasater’s employment in December 2009. From March 2006 to December 2009, Lasater was employed as the Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships at TAMUC. Prior to that, Lasater worked in the Financial Aid Department at Texas A & M University–Corpus Christi for 17 years.
In November 2008, Lasater met with Lori Ellison, an outside auditor from The Texas A & M University System who was conducting a regularly scheduled audit. During the meeting, Lasater alleges that Ellison asked her if she had any “concerns” and Lasater told her that “there were some things that were of concern to me and I felt like I needed to, in good faith, report some things that I thought were violations, including comp time.” Lasater alleges that in the course of the conversation with Ellison she discussed a number of problems related to the university’s employee compensatory time (“comp time”) policy. First, she was concerned that comp time had to be used before vacation time; because vacation time would be lost if not taken before the end of the year, this could in turn cause employees to lose accrued comp time. She also voiced her concerns that employees in her department had accrued large balances of comp time and were too busy for Lasater to allow them to timely use their comp time and still meet the demands of her office. Third, she specifically expressed her concerns about one of her employees, Diane Lewis, who had been promoted to a position within the department exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA and TAMUC had declined Lasater’s request that Lewis be paid for her accrued comp time after her promotion. Finally, Lasater alleges that she reported to Ellison her concerns about the operation of TAMUC’s Financial Services division, including its failure to “draw down” its allotted federal funds and the fact that it was not performing monthly reconciliations related to federal funds for financial aid. At the time of the meeting Lasater did not suggest to Ellison that TAMUC policies regarding comp time violated the FLSA or refer to any applicable law she believed had been violated.
Relevant TAMUC policy provides that employees who are not exempt under the FLSA may earn comp time for working more than forty hours per week; the policy requires component universities to compensate employees by giving them time off rather than paying them overtime. TAMUC policy also provided that administrators who supervise staff were to ensure that no employee accrue a comp time balance in excess of 240 hours and that, if necessary, employees were to use comp time before taking vacation time. Lasater, as a supervisor, had the responsibility for approving, and the authority to deny, employee leave requests. The policy also states that an employee who transfers between departments may, upon the department managers’ agreement, be paid for accumulated comp time but no policy required payment for comp time to an employee promoted within a department. TAMUC policy additionally provides that inquiries or interpretations of FLSA legal issues should be directed to the System Human Resources Office or the Office of General Counsel.
In December 2008, Ellison reported Lasater’s concerns up the chain of command to Lasater’s supervisor, Stephanie Holley; Mary Hendrix, Vice President for Student Access and Success; and Dan Jones, President of TAMUC. Lasater alleges that shortly after her conversation with the auditor Holley and Hendrix demanded to know why she had reported the comp time issue and began to act colder toward her, harassed her, increased their scrutiny of her, and forced her to take unqualified employees.
In May 2009, Holley gave Lasater a favorable evaluation, and in August, Lasatar received a merit raise. In September 2009, Holley and Hendrix met with Lasater and discussed their concerns about the need for a training manual, the role of Lewis, and how Lasater was not “allowing other people into [her] inner circle.” In early December 2009, Rose Giles, one of Lasater’s subordinates, approached Holley to discuss her frustration with the fact that she did not feel Lasater’s staff was properly trained. Holley then spoke with Susan Grove, the Assistant Director of Scholarships, who alleged that Lasater did not adequately train her staff, spent most of her time with co-employee Lewis to the exclusion of all others, repeatedly arrived late, and had a tendency to “lash out.” Grove stated that she was so distressed by Lasater’s management style that she was planning to leave the university. On December 15, 2009, Holley and Hendrix informed Lasater that her employment was terminated.
Discussing the type of behavior a management-level employee must engage in, for such behavior/activity to constitute “protected activity,” the court explained:
[T]his circuit has recognized that an employee’s communication does not constitute a complaint unless that employee “somehow steps outside of his normal job role” so as to make clear to the employer that the employee is “taking a position adverse to the employer.” Id. at 627–28. Such a requirement is “eminently sensible for management employees” because a managerial position “necessarily involves being mindful of the needs and concerns of both sides and appropriately expressing them.” Id. at 628. Thus, voicing “concerns is not only not adverse to the company’s interests, it is exactly what the company expects of a manger.” Id. (emphasis in original). Without such a requirement, “nearly every activity in the normal course of a manager’s job would be protected activity.” Id.
Illustratively, a personnel director responsible for monitoring compliance with workplace laws did not engage in protected activity when she discussed her “concerns about the company’s possible FLSA violations” with the president of the company. McKenzie v. Renberg’s Inc., 94 F.3d 1478, 1481 (10th Cir.1996). The Tenth Circuit found her “job responsibilities” included discussing wage issues and that assisting the company with FLSA compliance was “completely consistent with her duties.” Hagan, 529 F.3d at 627 (quoting McKenzie, 94 F.3d at 1487). It held that it is “the assertion of statutory rights (i.e., the advocacy of rights) by taking some action adverse to the company … that is the hallmark of protected activity.” Id. (emphasis in original) (quoting McKenzie, 94 F.3d at 1486). Thus because McKenzie “never crossed the line from being an employee merely performing her job as personnel director to an employee lodging a personal complaint about the wage and hour practices of her employer and asserting a right adverse to the company,” her discussion of her FLSA violation concerns with the president could not reasonably “be perceived as directed towards the assertion of rights protected by the FLSA.” Id. (emphasis in original) (quoting McKenzie, 94 F.3d at 1486–87).
Applying this standard to the facts at bar, the court held that the plaintiff failed to show she stepped outside of her normal job role in reporting her concerns regarding the defendant’s comp time system to the auditor and to her supervisors. Further, the court noted that even if she had, her actions could not reasonably be construed to have asserted FLSA rights on behalf of herself or the employees who were the subject of her conversations. Thus, the court affirmed summary judgment for the defendant.
Click Lasater v. Texas A & M University-Commerce to read the entire per curiam decision.
M.D.Ga.: Dollar General “Store Manager” May Have Been Misclassified As Executive Exempt; Defendant’s Motion For SJ Denied
Myrick v. Dolgencorp, LLC
Pending before the Court was Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC’s (Dollar General) Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking an Order holding that Plaintiff, a “Store Manager” was subject to the Executive Exemption to the FLSA, and not entitled to overtime compensation. The Court denied Defendant’s Motion, reasoning that a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff’s primary duty was not management, as required for application of the Executive Exemption.
Discussing the applicable burden and facts of the case, the Court said, “Dollar General bears the burden of proving the executive exemption affirmative defense. Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1269 (11th Cir.2008). The Eleventh Circuit has recognized the “Supreme Court’s admonition that courts closely circumscribe the FLSA’s exceptions.” Nicholson v. World Bus. Network, Inc., 105 F.3d 1361, 1364 (11th Cir.1997). The exemption “is to be applied only to those clearly and unmistakably within the terms and spirit of the exemption.” Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1269 (quotation omitted). Thus, the Court is required to narrowly construe exemptions to the FLSA overtime requirement. Id .
The Eleventh Circuit does not use a “categorical approach” to decide whether an employee is an exempt executive. Id. “[W]e have noted the ‘necessarily fact-intensive nature of the primary duty inquiry,’ that ‘the answer is in the details,’ and that ‘where an issue turns on the particular facts and circumstances of a case, it is not unusual for there to be evidence on both sides of the question, with the result hanging in the balance.’ “ Id. (quotation and alteration omitted).
Department of Labor regulations interpret the executive exemption defense. Myrick’s claims span between 2001 and 2003. Accordingly, the “old regulations,” which were in effect prior to August 23, 2004, apply to this case. Id. at 1265-66. The regulations contain a short test that defines the phrase “employee employed in a bona fide executive … capacity.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.1 (2003). “This short test has three requirements: (1) an employee ‘is compensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $250 per week,’ (2) his ‘primary duty consists of the management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof,’ and (3) his work ‘includes the customary and regular direction of the work of two or more other employees.’ “ Id. at 1266 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 541.1 (2003)).
Myrick does not dispute Dollar General’s argument or evidence showing that she met the salary requirement of the short test, or that she regularly directed the work of two other employees. Thus, the first and last requirements of the short test are met. The parties do, however, dispute the second element-whether Myrick’s primary duty was management.
1. Primary duty is management
The regulations provide examples of managerial tasks:
Interviewing, selecting, and training of employees; setting and adjusting their rates of pay and hours of work; directing their work; maintaining their production or sales records for use in supervision or control; appraising their productivity and efficiency for the purpose of recommending promotions or other changes in their status; handling their complaints and grievances and disciplining them when necessary; planning the work; determining the techniques to be used; apportioning the work among the workers; determining the type of materials, supplies, machinery or tools to be used or merchandise to be bought, stocked and sold; controlling the flow and distribution of materials or merchandise and supplies; providing for the safety of the men and the property. 29 C.F.R. § 541.102.
The regulations do not, however, provide a definition of “primary duty.” “A determination of whether an employee has management as his primary duty must be based on all the facts in a particular case.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (2003). The regulations provide a list of factors a court should consider when determining whether an employee’s primary duty is management. These factors are: (1) “[t]he amount of time spent in the performance of the managerial duties”; (2) “the relative importance of the managerial duties as compared with other types of duties”; (3) “the frequency with which the employee exercises discretionary powers”; (4) “his relative freedom from supervision”; and (5) “the relationship between [the employee’s] salary and the wages paid other employees for the kind of nonexempt work performed by the supervisor.” Id.; Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1267.
a. The amount of time spent in the performance of managerial duties
Myrick testified during her deposition that she spent 20% of her time on managerial duties, and 80% of her time on non-managerial tasks.
Myrick also testified that she did managerial work. This included interviewing potential employees, reviewing the revenue reports, completing various paperwork, ordering merchandise, evaluating employees, preparing the work schedules, receiving mail, hiring some employees, investigating customer complaints, and reviewing store policies. (Myrick dep., pp. 33, 54, 70, 77, 94, 95-96, 99, 130-32, 166, 175, 227, 250).
Myrick was required to complete her paperwork at night after the store closed, and on occasion took the paperwork home with her. (Myrick dep., p. 281). It normally took her an hour every day to do the required paperwork. (Myrick dep., p. 131). Myrick had to perform this managerial task after store hours because “[w]hile I was at the store I was always busy doing something else. Didn’t have time to do paperwork.” (Myrick dep., p. 281).
The regulations state that “an employee who spends over 50 percent of his time in management would have management as his primary duty.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (2003). Taking Myrick’s testimony as true, she does not meet the 50% threshold. However, “[t]ime alone … is not the sole test,” and “in situations where the employee does not spend over 50 percent of his time in managerial duties, he might nevertheless have management as his primary duty if the other pertinent factors support such a conclusion.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (2003). Thus, the Court must consider the other four factors.
b. The relative importance of the managerial duties as compared with other types of duties
The Court must examine the importance of Myrick’s duties in light of their value to Dollar General. See Dalheim v. KDFW-TV, 918 F .2d 1220, 1227 (5th Cir.1990). Dollar General argues that Myrick’s managerial duties were most important, as she had more impact on store profitability than any other employee, and was responsible for ensuring profitability. Because of her efforts, the Quitman store “turned around.” (Myrick dep., p. 52). Myrick also testified that if the store manager leaves the store, “things don’t get done.” (Myrick dep., p. 173). Dollar General also argues that the importance of Myrick’s managerial tasks is evidenced by the Store Manager job description and the criteria on which she was evaluated as a Store Manager. Finally, Dollar General argues that the importance of Myrick’s managerial duties was reflected in the fact that Dollar General paid her a higher salary and she had bonus potential.
While Myrick did testify in her deposition that she thought the Store Manager had the most impact on store profitability (Myrick dep ., p. 173), when asked what she thought had more impact on the profitability of the stores, the managerial duties (scheduling, employee training, hiring, watching for inventory shrink, ensuring customer satisfaction) or the non-managerial duties (cleaning the bathroom, stocking the shelves, sweeping the floor), Myrick testified that “[i]t all goes together.” (Myrick dep., p. 174). Later, Myrick testified that some of the most important job duties she had as a Store Manager for Dollar General were “provid[ing] superior customer service, leadership.” (Myrick dep., p. 274). When asked what went into those tasks, Myrick identified making sure the store was stocked and clean, and making sure inventory got out on the floor. Id. These were all manual labor tasks that Myrick had to do herself because she did not have enough employees to do them. (Myrick dep., p. 276). And while Myrick did testify that she turned the Quitman store around through her efforts, when asked what she did differently than the previous store manager, Myrick stated that she “actually put the merchandise on the floor.” (Myrick dep., p. 52). When asked if she did anything else, Myrick testified, “No. That’s basically it.” Id.
Dollar General argues that Myrick has raised no issue of fact to dispute that Dollar General found her managerial duties to be of significant importance, and again points to the facts that Dollar General paid Myrick a higher salary and evaluated her on her managerial duties. Dollar General states that Myrick admitted to performing the duties outlined by the Store Manager job description, and that testimony further shows that Myrick performed managerial duties, rather than non-exempt duties. While a review of Myrick’s deposition confirms that she testified that she performed the job functions outlined in the job description, her testimony shows that her physical labor was required to meet these goals, including “facilitat[ing] the efficient staging, stocking and storage of merchandise by following defined company work processes,” “ensur [ing] that all merchandise is presented according to established practices, …” and “maintain[ing] a clean, well organized store, facilitat [ing] a safe and secure working and shopping environment.” (Doc. 26-3, p. 2).
Dollar General contends that what Myrick believed her most important duties to be is unimportant, as an employee’s primary duty is “what [the employee] does that is of principal value of the employer….” (Doc. 27, p. 6). Dollar General repeatedly states that the focus must be on what the employer values, not what the employee subjectively believes her employer values. Yet, the only evidence before the Court is Myrick’s subjective testimony about what she thought was and was not important. Dollar General makes the conclusory statement that it found Myrick’s managerial duties to be of significant importance, but provides no evidence to support that conclusion. It is not for the Court to guess or assume on summary judgment that a higher salary or a bonus means that Dollar General valued one set of duties over another. Dollar General wants to have it both ways. At one point, it states that “Plaintiff’s principal value to Dollar General was her management of her stores, as she herself testified.” (Doc. 25-2, p. 15). But when Myrick points to portions of her testimony which support her position that there is an issue of fact as to whether her managerial or nonmanagerial duties were more important, Dollar General replies that what Myrick believes to be more important is irrelevant and her opinions as to the duties she believes added the most value should be disregarded. (Doc. 27, pp. 6-7). The Court will not accept Myrick’s testimony when it is favorable to Dollar General’s position and ignore it when it is favorable to her own.
Dollar General has not presented sufficient evidence to meet its burden of showing that Myrick’s managerial duties were of principal value to Dollar General. Thus, this factor does not favor Dollar General.
c. Frequency with which an employee may exercise discretionary powers
Dollar General next argues that Myrick exercised tremendous discretion on a daily basis. Specifically, Myrick exercised discretion with respect to scheduling her subordinates’ hours, apportioning payroll budgets, delegating, assigning, and prioritizing tasks, training employees, counseling employees, appraising employee performance, resolving customer service issues, determining who to hire or fire, and how to best implement company policies and procedures. Dollar General states that Myrick’s managerial discretion was not fettered by the company’s standard operating procedure manual because she testified that she did not know such a manual existed. Dollar General further notes that Myrick was the highest store-level supervisory personnel in her stores, and she “determined what was important and what needed to be done.” (Myrick dep., p. 231).
When asked during her deposition how much discretion she felt like she had to run her own store, Myrick replied, “Not a lot.” (Myrick dep., p. 276). Myrick points to this testimony to show that she did not frequently exercise discretionary powers. To rebut Dollar General’s allegation that she exercised discretion every day in the store, Myrick relies on her deposition testimony that she was severely restricted in the way in which employees were scheduled because of the labor budget she was assigned, that she would be asked questions if she exceeded the labor budget, that she had limited discretion over how to apportion the payroll budget as 40% of it had to be devoted to truck day, and that she could not exercise discretion over delegating and assigning tasks because there was usually only one other employee in the store with her at a time, which meant that she could not delegate non-managerial tasks, as she would end up having to do non-managerial work either in running the register or stocking shelves, for example. (Myrick dep., pp. 70-71, 112, 167, 275).
In Morgan, the Eleventh Circuit found that the evidence presented regarding the frequency with which the employee exercised discretionary power supported the jury’s verdict in favor of the employees. The plaintiffs presented evidence that store managers rarely exercised discretion because either the store’s manuals or the district managers controlled the store’s operations. “The manuals and other corporate directives micro-managed the days and hours of store operations, the number of key sets for each store, who may possess the key sets, entire store layouts, the selection, presentation, and pricing of merchandise, promotions, payroll budgets, and staffing levels.” 551 F.3d at 1270.
Myrick’s testimony shows that Dollar General decided who had keys to the stores and how many were issued, set the weekly payroll budget, decided what merchandise was ordered, set the store hours of operation, and set the store and merchandise layouts, other than in approximately 25% of the store, and even that discretion could be overridden by the district manager. (Myrick dep., pp. 69, 76-77, 128-29, 199-200, 277, 287-88). Furthermore, Myrick had no discretion to deviate from or change the company’s planogram. (Myrick dep., p. 277). She also testified that even if she ordered merchandise, that did not mean she would receive it, as Dollar General could decide not to send it to her. (Myrick dep., p. 77).
Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to Myrick, the discretionary power factor does not favor Dollar General, or is at least neutral.
d. The employee’s relative freedom from supervision
Dollar General argues that Myrick operated autonomously for the most part, as she had limited contact with her district manager, had an office she kept locked that only the Assistant Store Manager had access to, was the only employee with a key to the back door of the stores, and was unaware of the company’s standard operating procedures. (Myrick dep., pp. 46, 49-50, 129, 161, 233).
A review of Myrick’s testimony shows that on at least one occasion, the district manager personally directed Myrick to stock merchandise. Before any repairs could be made at the stores, Myrick had to get approval from Dollar General’s home office. When Myrick took a set of keys from an employee whom she believed to be stealing from the store, the district manager made Myrick give the keys back to the employee. If employees got into a dispute, Myrick had to refer them to the corporate resolution office. Myrick did not have the authority to set rates of pay or recommend raises. When Myrick wanted to take a day off from work, she had to get approval from the district manager. Myrick could only discipline employees for serious infractions after receiving approval from the district manager. The district manager instructed Myrick to spray the parking lot with Round-Up and to make repairs to the eaves of the Quitman store. On at least one occasion, Myrick was required to lend her employees to another store. Myrick could not mark down damaged goods or make special orders without the district manager’s approval. The district manager at least once made Myrick relocated products she had put in a purported “flex” area of the store. Myrick had to have the district manager’s approval before hiring an Assistant Store Manager, though she never actually hired one. When Myrick asked for more hours for her store because she did not have enough manpower to get all of the required work done, the request was refused. Myrick never terminated any employee without the district manager’s approval. The district manager was in charge when the stores did inventory, and also checked the paperwork completed by Myrick to make sure she did it right. (Myrick dep., pp. 46-49, 63-64, 100-102, 113-114, 175, 188, 197, 202, 220-21, 227, 256, 258, 276, 285, 287-88).
The evidence presented by Myrick could support a finding that she was not relatively free from direct supervision. Thus, this factor does not weigh in favor of Dollar General.
e. The relationship between the employee’s salary and the wages paid other employees for the kind of non-exempt work performed by the supervisor
When Myrick first became a store manager at Pavo, she was paid $500 weekly. She later received a raise to $510 weekly. After her move to the Quitman store, Myrick was paid $650 weekly. She was paid this flat rate for all hours worked. (Myrick dep., p. 39). Myrick testified that she worked an average of 66 hours per week. (Myrick dep., p. 122). She also earned annual bonuses as a Store Manager of $1,474.59 in 2002 and $1,500 in 2003. (Myrick dep., p. 140).
Using Myrick’s figure of 66 hours per week, she made $7.58 per hour when first made a store manager, then $7.73 per hour, and finally $9.85 per hour. According to documents produced by Dollar General, Assistant Store Managers earned $7 per hour and clerks generally earned $5.35 per hour.
The evidence in Morgan showed that assuming a 60-hour week, store managers earned approximately $2 to $3 more per hour than hourly-paid assistant store managers. The Eleventh Circuit found that “[g]iven the relatively small difference between the store managers’ and assistant managers’ hourly rates, it was within the jury’s province to conclude that this factor either did not weigh in Family Dollar’s favor or at least did not outweigh the other factors in Plaintiffs’ favor.” 551 F.3d at 1271. Similarly, Myrick made, at most, $2.85 more per hour than the Assistant Store Managers. As this difference in pay is similar to that in Morgan, this factor does not weigh in Dollar General’s favor, or at least, is neutral as to whether management was Myrick’s primary duty.”
Based on a review of all of the specific facts of this case, as applied to the factors necessary for the Executive Exemption to apply, the Court concluded, “[i]t is Dollar General’s burden to show that the executive exemption applies in this case. It has failed to establish each element of the exemption. As a question of fact exists as to whether Myrick’s primary duty was management, Dollar General’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 25) is denied.”
W.D.Tenn.: “Maintenance Director” Not Executive Exempt; Management Not Primary Duty; Defendant Failed To Establish Plaintiff Supervised 2 Or More Co-Employees
Jones v. FMSC Leasehold, LLC
Before the Court was Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment seeking a finding that he was not executive exempt as a matter if law, because management was not his primary duty, and because he did not supervise 2 or more employees. The Court granted Plaintiff’s Motion, agreeing that neither of these required elements of the executive exemption were present here.
Plaintiff was employed at High Pointe Health and Rehabilitation Center (“the facility”) from June 19, 2005 to February 5, 2008. Starting in November 2005 and continuing until his employment ended, Plaintiff served as Maintenance Director at the facility. Plaintiff averred that he had only one assistant reporting to him during that time, and Sanford Mann, the administrator of the facility, verified that Plaintiff had only one assistant during the time Mann worked at the facility from June 2007 to January 2008. Plaintiff contended that his primary job duty as Maintenance Director was manual labor performing general maintenance tasks at the facility. Plaintiff received a salary and was not compensated by the hour. During weeks in which he worked more than forty (40) hours, Plaintiff was not paid one and one-half (1.5) times his regular rate of pay. Plaintiff argued that Defendant could demonstrate that Plaintiff was an exempt employee for purposes of overtime pay as defined under the FLSA and its regulations.
First, the Court discussed Defendant’s failure to raise an issue of triable fact regarding Plaintiff’s primary duty, stating, “[t]he Court holds that Defendant has failed to carry its burden as to the second element, whether Plaintiff’s primary duty was management. Defendant argues that Plaintiff held the title “Maintenance Director” at the facility and his primary duty was to manage the maintenance department and the assistants who reported to him. According to Defendant, Plaintiff had input on the hiring, firing, promotion and assignment of his assistants and was able to set his own work schedule. Plaintiff disputes that he ever had actual managerial duties and argues that his duties were limited to only maintenance tasks.
Rather than rely on a job description or an employee’s job title, the Court must analyze an employee’s “actual duties” in light of the factors set forth and defined in the Department of Labor regulations. With respect to this second element of the exemption, Defendant must prove that Plaintiff’s primary duty was “management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof.”The regulations implementing the FLSA define “management” to include activities such as interviewing, selecting, and training of employees; setting and adjusting their rates of pay and hours of work; directing the work of employees; maintaining production or sales records for use in supervision or control; appraising employees’ productivity and efficiency for the purpose of recommending promotions or other changes in status; handling employee complaints and grievances; disciplining employees; planning the work; determining the techniques to be used; apportioning the work among the employees; determining the type of materials, supplies, machinery, equipment or tools to be used or merchandise to be bought, stocked and sold; controlling the flow and distribution of materials or merchandise and supplies; providing for the safety and security of the employees or the property; planning and controlling the budget; and monitoring or implementing legal compliance measures.
The phrase “a customarily recognized department or subdivision” indicates “a unit with permanent status and … a continuing function.” Furthermore, “[c]ontinuity of the same subordinate personnel is not essential to the existence of a recognized unit with a continuing function.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Court must determine that management was the employee’s primary duty in order for the exemption to apply. A “primary duty” means “the principal, main, major or most important duty that the employee performs.”
Based on the record before the Court, Defendant has failed to adduce evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that Plaintiff’s primary duty was management. In his affidavit Plaintiff has stated that his primary job duties were as follows: manual labor such as replacing lights, replacing receptacles, cutting the lawn, law (sic) maintenance, cleaning and servicing heating and air units, minor plumbing, painting, carpeting, tiling floors, minor pipe replacement, some small motor repair, and other preventive maintenance including record keeping and documentation….
Defendant has not demonstrated the amount of time Plaintiff spent performing exempt work or the scope of discretion Plaintiff was granted in performing that work. Defendant has presented no evidence concerning Plaintiff’s relative freedom from direct supervision other than to state Defendant could set his own schedule. Defendant has failed to provide evidence about wages paid to other employees including employees Plaintiff allegedly supervised for the same kind of nonexempt work performed by Plaintiff. As a result, Defendant has provided very little from which a reasonable juror could find that this element is satisfied.
Defendant has proffered a job description for Plaintiff’s position. However, there is no corroborating evidence that the duties listed in the five-page job description were the actual duties carried out by Plaintiff….
Having failed to meet its burden as to this element, the Court concludes that Defendant is not entitled to the affirmative defense that Plaintiff was an exempt employee.”
The Court further held that Defendant could not satisfy the so-called 2 or more element either.
Therefore, the Court held that, as a matter of law, Plaintiff was not subject to the FLSA’s executive exemption.
S.D.N.Y.: Email From Employer’s “Management Team” Regarding FLSA Classification Not Attorney-Client Privileged
Clarke v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
Before the Court in this FLSA/Overtime Law case was an application by defendant, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for an order compelling plaintiffs to return or destroy all copies of an e-mail message, dated December 3, 2007, allegedly sent from Defendant’s Global Technology Infrastructure Management Team (the “GTI Management Team”) to “all those in GTI who manage employees impacted by upcoming FLSA changes.” Defendants contended that the e-mail is protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine and that the email, intended solely for senior management, was errantly forwarded to Plaintiffs, who it was not intended for. After considering arguments from both parties, the Court denied Defendant’s application, finding that the email lacked confidentiality and was not an attorney-client communication either.
First the Court addressed whether the email was in fact an “attorney-client communication”:
“Here, when distributed to management employees, the e-mail in question did not state that it was prepared by or was being sent from Gutfleisch; rather, the “sender” of the e-mail was identified only as the GTI Management Team. (Defendant’s 3/3/09 Letter, at Ex. A2.) Nor did the e-mail state that it contained privileged information. (Id.) Nor did it state that any of the information incorporated therein had been obtained from counsel, or was based on communications from counsel, or even that counsel had been consulted.(Id.) Nor did it state that the policy change reflected in the e-mail was intended to implement a recommendation of counsel. (Id.)
Defendant has the burden of establishing that the e-mail is privileged, see Mercator Corp. v. United States, 318 F.3d 379, 384 (2d Cir.2002), and, as a threshold matter, this includes showing that the recipients of the e-mail would have understood that it contained or referenced a communication from counsel. On this point, Defendant essentially asks the Court to assume that the recipients of the e-mail would have understood that the e-mail incorporated the advice of counsel because (1) the e-mail addressed the issue of FLSA compliance, (2) it noted facts regarding the IT employees’ job duties on which, according to Defendant, “no non-lawyer manager could ever have been expected to focus” (Defendant’s 3/3/09 Letter, at 4), and (3) it referenced litigation against other companies. Yet none of these aspects of the e-mail necessarily signaled to the recipients that the e-mail contained legal advice. Cf. Baptiste, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2579, at *7 (finding that it was “of no moment that the e-mail was not authored by an attorney or addressed to an attorney” where the e-mail at issue “was clearly conveying information and advice given to [its author] by … outside counsel”); see also id. at *2 (noting that the e-mail at issue specifically referenced the author’s having spoken with counsel).)
Indeed, all of the information in the e-mail could easily have been understood to have come from senior management, working in conjunction with Defendant’s human resources (“HR”) department, as can be seen from the follow-up memorandum that was apparently sent out by the HR department on or about December 11, 2007. (See Letter to the Court from Sam S. Shaulson, Esq., dated April 1, 2009 (“Defendant’s 4/1/09 Letter”) (enclosing the follow-up memorandum), and attachment thereto; Defendant’s 3/3/09 Letter, at Ex. A2 (noting that follow-up would be sent on December 11 from “Corporate Sector HR”).). Not only does that second communication also fail to mention any involvement of counsel, but it suggests that the recipients tell the reclassified employees that “Human Resources and technology management partnered to conduct a review of Technology jobs to ensure they are classified consistently from an overtime eligibility standpoint.”(Defendant’s 4/1/09 Letter, attached exhibit, at TG00003.). Further, this follow-up memorandum explains that the reclassification was being made because, “[a]s a normal practice, we periodically review our jobs to ensure we have them classified consistently.” (Id. at TG00006). There is no implication that this particular compliance review was actually conducted by counsel and that the upshot of the review was a recommendation by counsel to implement a reclassification. On the contrary, the plain implication of the communications, especially when read together, was that the determination to reclassify certain employees was made by HR and “management,” as part of their “normal practice.” (Id. at TG00003, TG00006).”
The Court then addressed the separate issue of confidentiality:
Even if the Court were to find that an attorney-client relationship existed between Gutfleisch and the recipients of the e-mail, the way in which the e-mail was written in any event undermines any argument that a privileged communication was made with the expectation that it be kept confidential. Although the e-mail did request that the recipients “not begin any communication to employees prior to receiving specific details on December 11” (see Defendant’s 3/3/09 Letter, at Ex. A2), the e-mail did not flag that any of its contents, in particular, were privileged and should not be communicated. Further, the December 11 follow-up memorandum (which, as stated above, was sent out by corporate HR) was plainly intended to provide guidance as to how to communicate with the employees whose positions had been reclassified; nothing therein identified any particular information that was supposed to be held back and not conveyed. (Defendant’s 4/1/09 Letter, at attached exhibit). Thus, nothing about the original e-mail or its follow-up gave the recipients any indication that portions of the e-mail contained legal reasoning or legal advice that should be held in confidence.
Moreover, the fact that one or more of the affected employees actually obtained the e-mail in the course of their employment (see Declaration of Tapas Sarkar Regarding Letter Sent to Potential Class Members, dated Feb. 24, 2009 (“Sarkar Decl.”), at ¶¶ 2, 4-5, attached to Plaintiffs’ 2/24/09 Letter) bolsters the Court’s view that the recipients of the e-mail would not have been aware that it contained confidential legal advice.
At bottom, Defendant has not satisfied its burden of demonstrating that the recipients of the e-mail would have reasonably understood that its contents, or any specific portion of those contents, contained legal advice that was being communicated in confidence.”