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W.D.Va.: Parties May File FLSA Settlement Agreement Under Seal For Limited Time; Good Cause Demonstrated By 800 Similar Cases Pending
Murphy v. Dolgencorp, Inc.
This case is one of many such individual plaintiff cases pending against Dolgencorp (Dollar General), following the decertification of a nationwide collective action pertaining to its alleged misclassification of its “Store Manager” position. The case was before the court on the parties second motion seeking approval of settlements of these related cases under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The court had previously denied approval because of the parties’ insistence on the confidentiality of the settlement terms without showing good cause. Murphy v. Dolgencorp, Inc., No. 1:09CV00007, 2010 WL 3766946 (W.D.Va. Sept. 21, 2010).
Permitting the parties to file the settlement under seal for a limited time, the court discussed its basis for doing so, under the limited and somewhat unique circumstances of the case:
“I continue to find that I cannot approve the settlements without knowing the terms thereof, although the parties continue to ask me to do so on that basis. As an alternative, they ask me to consider the written terms either secretly, in camera, or by having them stated orally in an open, but hopefully empty, courtroom.
The parties suggest another alterative, which I eluded to in my earlier opinion, which is to file and seal the settlement agreements for a limited period of time. As good cause for such a procedure, they represent that there are approximately 800 similar cases pending against the defendant in this and other federal courts around the nation, in which all of the plaintiffs are represented by the same counsel. They contend that keeping the terms of other settlements from each of these plaintiffs is beneficial in order to allow negotiations to concentrate on the specific merits of each individual case. They represent that plaintiffs’ counsel have agreed that they will not divulge the terms of another settlement to any of their individual clients.
It is true, as the parties assert, that the individual facts of each case are significant. Indeed, I have so ruled in denying summary judgment for the defendant in Teresa Hale’s case. Hale v. Dolgencorp, Inc., No. 1:09CV00014, 2010 WL 2595313, at *2-3 (W.D.Va. June 23, 2010) (holding that to determine if an individual store employee is exempt from overtime under the FLSA’s executive exemption requires a fact-intensive inquiry, unique to each store’s situation). The issue in each of these cases is whether the employee’s primary duty is management, which requires an analysis of various factors, including the amount of time spent by the employee in managerial duties. Id. Among the many stores operated by the defendant, those factors vary based on the circumstances of each store, as well as the preferences and circumstances of the various district managers. Id. at 4.
Under these circumstances, I find that good cause has been shown to seal the settlement agreements for a limited period of time. While the parties suggest three years, I find that two years ought to allow the parties the opportunity to negotiate settlement in most cases, and adequately balances the needs of the parties with the presumptive right of the public to access court records.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED as follows:
1. In connection with the requested approval of the settlements of these two cases, the parties must file under seal copies of the settlement agreements, together with (a) the amount of the plaintiffs’ overtime and liquidated damages claims, and (b) the amount of attorneys’ fees and expenses paid from the settlements, together with the basis for the calculation of the attorneys’ fees; and
2. The materials described above will be filed under seal, not to be unsealed earlier than two years after filing.”
W.D.Va.: Dollar General “Store Manager” May Have Been Misclassified As Executive Exempt; Defendant’s Motion For SJ Denied
Hale v. Dolgencorp, Inc.
This case was before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant asserted the Plaintiff, the “Store Manager” of its Dollar General store was properly classified as exempt from the Fair Labor Standard Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime provisions, under the executive exemption. Citing factual issues, that needed to be resolved by a jury, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion however.
The Court conducted a detailed factual inquiry in reaching its holding, as is typical in most exemption cases:
“Dollar General operates a chain of discount retail stores located around the country. Hale was hired as a full-time clerk in one of the stores in 1996. Initially, she earned $4.75 per hour and worked as a clerk until January 1997, when she was promoted to a position known as “third key.” A third key worker is a clerk who can open and close the store, and may take deposits to the bank. A year later, in 1998, Hale was promoted to assistant store manager. During this period she transferred from her original store to several different Dollar General stores in Southwest Virginia. With each promotion Hale also received a pay raise. She was promoted to the position of store manager in November 1999, and she worked in this position until July 2003, when she left the company for a new job.
During her tenure as a store manager, Hale was paid a weekly salary and she was eligible for bonuses based upon her store’s profitability. In the four years that she managed a store, Hale received one bonus for $1,182.02. Her salary as a manager ranged from $313 per week to $431 per week. As a manager Hale estimated that she averaged between sixty to seventy hours of work per week. In her management position, Hale was not required to punch a time clock and the company did not pay her overtime.
The parties in this case agree that Hale made more than $250 and her work included the regular direction of two or more employees. The central issue thus is whether Hale’s primary duty consisted of management.
Contrary to the defendant’s assertion, it is not particularly helpful to compare Hale’s situation to that of other discount store managers, such as the one described in Grace v. Family Dollar Stores Inc., No. 3:08 MD 1932, 2009 WL 2045784 (W.D.N.C. July 9, 2009). The question here centers upon the facts of Hale’s employment. I must, therefore, perform a fact-intensive inquiry as to each prong of the five-factor test as applied to Hale in order to determine whether the management issue can be decided as a matter of law.
Although the plaintiff’s estimate of time spent on managerial tasks is important, it has been held that “ ‘when non-management duties are performed simultaneous to the supervision of employees or other management tasks” this supports a finding “ ‘that the employee’s primary duty is managerial.’ “ Jones, 69 F. App’x at 637 (quoting Horne v. Crown Cent. Petroleum, Inc., 775 F.Supp. 189, 190 (D.S.C.1991)).
Hale stated she spent ten percent of her time, about six hours each week, performing management duties such as ordering supplies and scheduling workers. The remainder of her time was spent performing menial labor: cleaning restrooms, scrubbing floors, checking out customers, and stocking shelves.
Hale’s district manager determined how many labor hours each store was allotted. As a store manager, Hale was responsible for scheduling employees according to the district manager’s allotment of labor hours. Hale’s primary concern was making certain she had enough staff to unload supply trucks and place merchandise on the store floors on “truck day.” (Hale Dep. 274.) Dollar General required stores to place stock on the floor within twenty-four hours of a supply truck’s arrival. The store referred to this as their “door-to-store in 24” strategy. (Hale Dep. 278.) Hale would save her staff’s hours for truck day so merchandise could be placed in the store within twenty-four hours. During the rest of the week, Hale had to run the store with a skeleton crew.
To save labor hours for truck day, Hale worked alone in the store for about four hours every day during her ten-hour shift. During this time she manned the cash register, which could not be left unattended. When staff was in the store with her, Hale would have the other individual man the register while she stocked merchandise on shelves according to the company’s “Plan-O-Grams.” A Plan-O-Gram was a chart that instructed employees where to place specific merchandise within a store. Typically, ninety percent of Hale’s store was organized according to the Plan-O-Gram, with the remaining ten percent stocked according to rules prescribed by Dollar General and Hale’s discretion. (Hale Dep. 125-128.)
In response to questions from defense counsel in her deposition, Hale admitted that she was always thinking about how to manage her store even when she performed menial labor such as stocking shelves or cleaning. (Hale Dep. 205-207.) Hale’s answer, however, did not indicate that she actively managed the store while performing menial labor. Rather, she performed menial tasks and at the same time she pondered ways to clean the store or organize merchandise.
The defendant argues that a reasonable jury “could only” conclude that these facts demonstrate Hale’s primary duty was management. (Def.’s Individual Reply Br. 6.) But, in fact, a reasonable juror could reach the opposite conclusion. Based upon these facts, a juror could decide that Hale spent very little time managing the store. Hale spent forty percent of her time alone in the store, during which she supervised no one and she performed tasks typically done by a clerk. A juror could conclude that her mental management of the store, such as spotting empty shelves while performing menial labor, did not constitute management or supervision of others. Further, a reasonable juror could determine that the company’s strict policies and stringent allocation of staff labor hours resulted in Hale forgoing true management duties in order to perform menial tasks so the store could simply remain open. Thus, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Hale’s primary duty was management, or, whether Hale essentially performed a clerk’s duties under a different title and pay scale.
Dollar General argues that it principally valued Hale’s management abilities. This is evidenced, the defendant asserts, by the fact that Hale had to take a test to become a manager and that Hale’s district manager transferred Hale to two different locations to “rescue” the troubled stores. (Id.) Further evidence of the store’s emphasis on Hale’s management duties was Hale’s salary-she earned more than any other employee in the store-and the fact that she could receive a bonus based upon the profitability of her store. The defendant also notes that Hale was subject to very little supervision because the district manager only visited Hale’s location once every few months for twenty to thirty minutes. The company asserts that this shows that it trusted Hale’s management abilities and that she was the individual responsible for the store’s overall performance.
Although Dollar General asserts that these facts indicate Hale’s management duties were the most important tasks that she performed, a reasonable juror could reach a different conclusion.
Hale’s deposition testimony emphasizes that she spent a significant amount of time alone in the store manning the cash register. Further, the company frequently sent Hale to a store in nearby West Virginia where she spent the day stocking shelves. While Hale testified that her district manager, Judy Spangler, never interfered with her ability to perform her duties, a possible reason for this was that Spangler did not have enough time to frequently visit Hale’s store or to spontaneously review Hale’s work. As Hale testified, Spangler served as the district manager for twenty to thirty stores within in a 200-mile radius. In addition, Spangler worked from an office located three hours away from Hale’s store. Hale testified that Spangler left frequent voice mails for her, which included detailed instructions on running the store. Under Dollar General’s policies, the company expected store managers to immediately report issues to district managers, which Hale did. The company’s policies did not instruct store managers to wait for a district supervisor’s visit to discuss issues or problems.
Based upon these facts, a reasonable juror could conclude that Dollar General valued Hale’s ability to quickly stock shelves, man a cash register, and serve as an employee who promptly informed her superior about problems. Hale’s testimony could lead a juror to conclude that what Dollar General truly valued was Hale’s unquestionable compliance with company rules and her ability to promptly report problems to a supervisor who could then decide how to proceed.
As a store manager, Hale interviewed and recommended candidates for hiring, trained employees, conducted employee performance evaluations, created employees’ work schedules, and recommended employees for raises, promotions and terminations. While Dollar General permitted Hale to perform these tasks, she did so under rules that a reasonable juror could interpret as severely limiting the frequency with which Hale truly exercised discretion.
Although Hale created work schedules, she had no control over the amount of labor hours allotted to the store. Given the company’s emphasis on its “door-to-store in 24” policy, Hale had almost no discretion with scheduling staff because her primary focus was to make sure she had enough staff for truck day. Hale was unable to discipline or terminate employees unless the district manager directed her to do so. While Hale could recommend that employees receive raises or promotions, the district manager decided whether to adopt such recommendations. Further, the company’s standard operating procedures dictated, with step-by-step directions, how Hale should respond to numerous issues, such as angry customers, answering the phone, and store operations during possible weather emergencies.
Hale testified that the true amount of discretion she exercised depended upon the specific task at hand. When it came to general staff issues on a day-to-day basis, things were “pretty open.” (Hale Dep. 280.) But, when she made decisions about inventory, procedures, and stocking shelves, Hale “didn’t feel like [she] had that much discretion….” (Id.)
Dollar General argues that Hale had the discretion to manage inventory and to mark down items, but Hale testified that she never discounted an item unless she had express permission from her district manager. The defense asserts that Hale had discretion as to what she placed within the “flex-space” that constituted ten percent of the store’s floor area. But, even within this space, Hale had to adhere to company policies such as placing related items near one another.
Given these facts, it would be rational for a juror to conclude that in reality, the company’s policies left little for Hale to decide and therefore, she did not frequently exercise her discretion.
Hale testified that Spangler, the district manager, spent relatively little time inside Hale’s store. Hale testified that Spangler was in the store for eight to ten hours during inventory visits. Outside of inventory days, Spangler was in the store for about twenty minutes every two to three months.
Clearly, the record demonstrates that Hale had little face-to-face contact with her supervisor. This factor weighs in favor of the exemption. But the record does not show that Hale was genuinely free from supervision. Rather, Hale’s testimony indicates that she knew she did not have the freedom to make unfettered decisions about employee pay, promotions, terminations, or punishment. Further, Hale was constantly reminded by Spangler’s frequent voice mails or in-store visits that she had to closely adhere to Dollar General’s rules regarding placement of merchandise, store cleanliness, and other customer relations policies such as greeting customers within ten feet of entry.
Viewing the evidence at this stage most favorably to Hale, it appears that her decisions about merchandise and store procedures were dictated by company policies, from which she could not deviate. So while Spangler did not personally supervise Hale on a day-to-day basis, Hale had little freedom from the supervisory rules and regulations outlined in Dollar General’s corporate publications and ultimately enforced by Spangler.
Hale testified that on average, she worked sixty to seventy hours. Prior to her departure from Dollar General, Hale earned $431 per week. When she started as a manager, her pay was $313 per hour. Converted to an hourly rate, Hale’s salary ranged from $4.47 to $5.21 when she began as a manager, and between $6.16 and $7.19 per hour when she left the company. The actual hourly rate depends upon whether Hale’s salary is based upon her minimum work week, sixty hours, or the higher end of her average work week, seventy hours.
During the time Hale worked as a manager, the federal minimum wage was $5.15. When Hale left the company in 2003, the lowest paid clerk earned $5.60 per hour. (Hale Dep. 112). At that same time, assistant managers earned about $7 per hour.
Hale was also eligible for bonuses and during her tenure as a manager she received one for $1,182. The bonus paid to Hale weighs against a finding that Hale’s salary was similar, or close to, the salary of an hourly worker because Hale earned a ten percent bonus based upon the store’s profit while the remainder of the profit was pro-rated among lower-paid employees.
The analysis of Hale’s salary, however, when converted to an hourly rate, weighs toward a finding that Hale essentially earned the same as a clerk. For example, had a clerk earning $5.60 per hour, the lowest paid salary in Hale’s store, worked a sixty-hour week, she would have earned $224 for the first forty hours, and time and a half, or $168, for the next twenty hours. If this clerk worked a sixty-hour week she would earn $392 to Hale’s $431. If the same clerk worked seventy hours, she would earn $476 to Hale’s salary of $431. Thus, only when Hale worked a sixty-hour week would she earn slightly more than an hourly employee. Given these facts, a reasonable juror could determine that this factor weighs in favor of Hale and demonstrates that her primary duty was not management.
Whether Hale’s primary duty consisted of management is a question which must be answered by a jury. Based upon the applicable five-prong test, a reasonable juror could determine that Hale’s primary duty was not management. Thus, summary judgment in favor of the defendant is inappropriate.”
Similarly, the Court denied the branch of Defendant’s Motion seeking summary judgment regarding the alleged willful nature of its FLSA violations.
The Court’s analysis and holding was starkly similar to another case, recently discussed here, where another Court held that issues of fact required a jury determination of whether a Dollar General “Store Manager” was exempt under the executive exemption.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On July 8, 2010, another Court reached virtually the same decision, regarding another claim alleging that a Dollar General “Store Manager” was improperly denied overtime. In that case, Kanatzer v. Dogencorp, Inc., No. 4:09CV74 CDP (E.D. Mo. July 8, 2010), the Court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, citing to factual issues regarding the applicability of the executive exemption.
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.”