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Miller v. Health Services for Children Foundation

June 30, 2009

ALNITA MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HEALTH SERVICES FOR CHILDREN FOUNDATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Alnita Miller sues her former employer Health Services for Children with Special Needs alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., retaliation under the FLSA, violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1140 et seq., and common law defamation. Pending before the court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Because the plaintiff's job was exempt from FLSA coverage, because there is insufficient evidence to support retaliatory animus or a violation of ERISA, and because the allegedly defamatory statements were privileged and were not published with malice, the defendant's motion will be granted.

Background*fn1

HSCSN is a non-profit care management network that coordinates health and education services for District of Columbia children who have severe health issues. MSJ at 1. Starting in about July 2004, plaintiff worked for HSCS as a Behavioral Team Leader, a position which, among other duties, required her to supervise care managers. Pl. Opp. at 1; MSJ ex. 1 ¶ 9.

During her employment with HSCS, plaintiff was also required to perform certain "utilization review and utilization management" functions involving the assessment of network members for their admission to health facilities, the appropriateness of their treatment, and their continued hospitalization. MSJ ex. 1 ¶ 10; Opp. at 1. Plaintiff alleges that these duties did not fall within her job description and that defendant hired other employees to fulfill them from time to time, so that, as to her, these duties were "extra" work, the performance of which took between ten and twenty hours per week. Opp. at 2. Overall, plaintiff worked more than forty hours each week, arriving at around 8:30 or 9:00 A.M. and leaving anywhere from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. MSJ ex. 3 22:1-23:22.; Opp. at 2. Although she performed these allegedly "extra" duties for about two and one-half years, she received no compensatory leave, bonus, or pay raise. Opp. at 2.

In October 2007, defendant's human resources manager, Ms. Hostetter, and plaintiff's supervisor, Ms. Saucier, met with plaintiff about a grievance that had been brought against her by another employee, AJ. Opp. at 4. AJ complained that plaintiff treated her poorly and specifically referenced a comment that plaintiff once made to her -- "Where are you waddling off to?" --to which AJ, who is obese, took particular offense. Opp. at 4. A second meeting was held on the matter on November 1, 2007, which AJ attended. Opp. at 4; MSJ ex. 1 ¶ 33. On November 13, 2007, at a third meeting, plaintiff's employment was terminated. Opp. at 5. She was given a letter of explanation. Id.

Plaintiff filed for unemployment benefits with the D.C. Department of Employment Services on November 17, 2007. Opp. at 5. After "[p]laintiff presented a copy of her termination letter per DOES request," DOES denied her application on the ground that she had engaged in "misconduct." Opp. at 6. Plaintiff appealed. An administrative judge held a merits hearing on January 17, 2008, at which plaintiff did not appear. Opp. ex. 7. On January 18, 2009, the appeal was denied as untimely. Id.

Analysis

On a motion for summary judgment, the movant carries the burden of demonstrating that the "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "[A] material fact is 'genuine' . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" on an element of the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50.

1. FLSA Exemption

Plaintiff claims that under the FLSA she is due compensation for the "extra" time she put into performing the UR/UM duties. Under 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1):

[e]xcept as otherwise provided . . . no employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or is employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.

Certain kinds of employment are excepted from ยง 207's coverage, however, including "any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity . . . ." 29 ...


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