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Benton v. Laborers' Joint Training Fund

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 1, 2009

ERIN BENTON, Plaintiff,
v.
LABORERS' JOINT TRAINING FUND, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION RE DOCUMENT NOS.: 31, 32

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge

         DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Erin Benton brought this action alleging that her former employer, Defendant Laborers' Joint Training Fund ("the Fund"), failed to pay her overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the D.C. Minimum Wage Revision Act ("DCMWRA"). The Court previously granted summary judgment to the Fund on Ms. Benton's FLSA overtime claim (as well as her related retaliation claim), after finding that Ms. Benton failed to establish that the Fund is a covered enterprise under the FLSA. See generally Benton v. Laborers' Joint Training Fund, 121 F.Supp.3d 41 (D.D.C. 2015). The Court permitted Ms. Benton "to seek leave to amend her complaint to include a claim of individual coverage based on interstate travel, " however, id. at 54, and the Court granted Ms. Benton's subsequent motion to amend to the extent it sought leave to add allegations of individual FLSA coverage, see generally Benton v. Laborers' Joint Training Fund, No. 14-1073, 2015 WL 7737304 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2015).

         The parties have again filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Fund moves for summary judgment on the FLSA claim, arguing that Ms. Benton fails to establish individual FLSA coverage and that, in any event, she is exempt from the FLSA's overtime provisions because she worked in a bona fide administrative position. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 31; Def.'s Mem. Law Supp. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 12-21, ECF No. 31-1 (“Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J.”). Because it contends that summary judgment should be entered in its favor on the FLSA claims, the Fund argues that the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the DCMWRA claim or otherwise grant summary judgment in its favor because the same administrative exemption applies. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 21-22. For her part, Ms. Benton seeks summary judgment on both claims, asserting that she is owed $6, 194.34 in unpaid wages for hours that she worked between June 25, 2011, and December 31, 2012, and that she should be awarded an equal amount in liquidated damages under the FLSA and DCMWRA. See Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 18, ECF No. 32; see generally Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 32-1. Upon consideration of the parties' motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, and the summary judgment record, the Court finds that genuine issues of fact exist regarding Ms. Benton's coverage under the FLSA and, if she is covered, whether she is exempt from the Act's overtime requirement because of her position. Accordingly, the Court will deny both parties' motions.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Fund is a non-profit 501(c)(5) organization “designed to provide training to members of two labor unions in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area: Laborers' International Union of North America (‘LIUNA') Local 657 and Local 11.” Def.'s Stmt. Material Facts Not in Genuine Dispute ¶¶ 1, 4, ECF No. 31-2 (“Def.'s SOF”). The Fund provides labor training on various subjects concerning the construction industry, specifically, see Id. ¶ 8, and “the purpose of the Training Fund is to provide unique training to construction laborers who are members of LIUNA to help them qualify for work and to get better work, ” see Dep. Erin Benton at 18:13-18, ECF No. 31-4 (“Benton Dep.”). The organization is a third-party recipient of contributions made pursuant to collective bargaining agreements entered into between the union and employers, and additional funding comes from federal, local, and union grants. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 5, 6.

         Ms. Benton was a full-time, salaried employee of the Fund from January 1, 2003, until her termination on May 16, 2014. Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Interrog. No. 7, ECF No. 32-5. At times, and beginning after Shannon Jones became director of the Fund in August 2007, Ms. Benton traveled to the Fund's training location in Alexandria, Virginia from the Fund's offices in Washington, D.C. to perform some of her job duties. Benton Dep. at 114:8-12, 116:7-11, 117:17-118:2; see Decl. Shannon Jones ¶ 2, ECF No. 31-11 (Jones Decl.). Ms. Benton testified that how often she traveled there “depended on the schedule, ” but that she was at the Virginia site on some occasions “twice a week, ” and on others “four days a week.” Benton Dep. at 116:9-11. The Fund “admits that [Ms. Benton] did perform” what it characterizes as “very limited work at the Fund's satellite office in Virginia on occasion, ” but the Fund contends that it lacks sufficient information to determine how often Ms. Benton traveled to that office or whether she traveled from the Fund's Washington office or Ms. Benton's home in Maryland. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 13, ECF No. 31-1. Indeed, an e-mail in April 2013 from Justin Meighan, the chairman of the Fund's Board of Trustees, sought “[c]onfirmation that [Ms. Benton] will work only out of [the] Local 657 office, ” and requested that her cell phone be cancelled since she would be working “at a single site.” Def.'s Ex. 16, ECF No. 31-18. These requests suggest that Ms. Benton did in fact work at other locations on occasion.

         On a number of occasions, Ms. Benton also traveled to and worked at the Virginia training center during Saturday training sessions put on by the Fund. See Progress Report, ECF No. 31-32. At the Saturday trainings, she processed classes and issued certificates and state licenses to attendees.[1] Benton Dep. at 267:13-15. She estimates that, as a result, she worked 595.5 hours of overtime from 2008 through 2012. Pl.'s Suppl. Resp. Interrog. No. 15, ECF No. 32-12. The Fund disputes the number of hours and instances Ms. Benton claims that she worked on Saturdays, but does not otherwise dispute that Ms. Benton made some Saturday trips to the Virginia site. See Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Stmt. Material Facts Not in Dispute ¶ 16, ECF No. 33-1. Ms. Benton testified that her travel to Virginia ceased around April 26, 2013. See Benton Dep. at 261:5-7.

         The parties dispute whether Ms. Benton had an official job title, but she was at times referred to as an “Administrative Assistant, ” Def.'s Ex. 12 at 6, ECF No. 31-14, and at other times referred to as the “Office Manager, ” Def.'s Ex. 13, ECF No. 31-15, or the “Assistant to [the] Director, ” Def.'s Ex. 15, ECF No. 31-17. When she was first hired, Ms. Benton's responsibilities included clerical duties, filing reports, implementing a database, assisting the director of the Fund, supporting the Fund's instructors, and providing customer service to the Fund's members. Benton Dep. at 22:7-11. By 2006, however, Ms. Benton had gained experience at the Fund and the director during her initial period of employment, Kelly Lapping, had been replaced by an individual who was less familiar with the role, so Ms. Benton took on greater responsibilities in assisting the director, communicating with the Fund's third-party administrator about the Fund's bills, and obtaining grants for the Fund. Id. at 26:2-36:12; 52:13-56:18. Among other things, Ms. Benton also reconciled the petty cash book, processed checks for stipends, ordered office supplies and meals for trainings, assisted in creating the Fund's training schedules, solicited bids for service providers and rental equipment, signed a $35, 220 lease for a copier, and kept the office running while the director was out. Id. at 41:16-48:8, 58:18-59:13, 127:17-128:8, 137:19-144:19.

         On December 31, 2012, the Fund terminated its relationship with the third-party administrator that had previously handled tasks like administering payroll, benefits, and cutting checks for vendors. Dep. Justin Meighan at 30:17-31:17, ECF No. 31-6 (“Meighan Dep.”). The decision to administer the Fund internally was made in an effort to reduce the organization's expenses. Benton Dep. at 61:11-63:12. As a result, Mary McNelis began handling the work related to administering the Fund as of January 1, 2013. Id. at 62:2-63:12, 227:5-10. Ms. McNelis “essentially took over a lot of [Ms. Benton's] responsibilities.” Id. at 227:16-18; see also Decl. Mary McNelis ¶ 5, ECF No. 31-13.

         During her employment at the Fund, Ms. Benton's annual salary ranged from $50, 404 to $54, 512. Pl.'s Suppl. Resp. Interrog. No. 15, ECF No. 32-12. She was not paid time-and-half for hours worked on Saturdays, regardless of whether it caused her to work over forty hours in a given week. Id.

         Ms. Benton was terminated on May 16, 2014, and she initiated this action on June 25, 2014, alleging that she is entitled to unpaid overtime wages for hours worked between February 9, 2008 and April 13, 2013. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 40, ECF No. 1. Counts I and II of her complaint alleged violations of the overtime provisions of the FLSA and the DCMWRA, respectively, id. ¶¶ 36-48, while Count III of Ms. Benton's complaint alleged that she was unlawfully terminated “in retaliation for complaining and asserting her rights to unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA, ” id. ¶¶ 18-24, 49-56. In a prior Memorandum Opinion, the Court granted summary judgment to the Fund on Ms. Benton's FLSA overtime claim (as well as her related retaliation claim), after finding that Ms. Benton failed to establish that the Fund is a covered enterprise under the FLSA. See generally Benton, 121 F.Supp.3d 41. In her Second Amended Complaint, Ms. Benton now alleges that she is covered by the FLSA's individual coverage because she “regularly and customarily crossed state lines” in the “course of performing her job duties.” 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 27. She again seeks overtime compensation and liquidated damages under the FLSA and the DCMWRA for hours she worked while employed at the Fund.[2] Id. ¶¶ 28-40.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [thus] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); accord Talavera v. Shah, 638 F.3d 303, 308 (D.C. Cir. 2011). “A fact is material if it ‘might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ' and a dispute about a material fact is genuine ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Steele v. Schafer, 535 F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). When Rule 56 is invoked, the moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to any material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). When the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, its burden “may be discharged by ‘showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 325.

         Once the moving party has met its burden, to defeat the motion the nonmoving party must designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (citation omitted). Although the Court must view this evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, see Grosdidier v. Broad. Bd. of Governors, Chairman, 709 F.3d 19, 23-24 (D.C. Cir. 2013), the nonmoving party must show more than “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of” his position-“there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for [the nonmoving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Moreover, the nonmoving party “may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading but must present affirmative evidence showing a genuine issue for trial.” Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         When both parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, “each must carry its own burden under the applicable legal standard.” Ehrman v. United States, 429 F.Supp.2d 61, 67 (D.D.C. 2006); Nuzzo v. FBI, No. 95-CV-1708, 1996 WL 741587, at *1 (D.D.C. Oct. 8, 1996) (“When both parties in a cause of action move for summary judgment, each party must carry its own burden.”). Finally, the Court notes that “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge at summary judgment.” Barnett v. PA Consulting Grp., Inc., 715 F.3d 354, 358 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). Indeed, a court's role in deciding a summary judgment motion is not to “determine the truth of the matter, but instead [to] decide only whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (citation omitted).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. FLSA Overtime Claim

         Ms. Benton's FLSA claim is premised on her allegation that the Fund failed to pay her time-and-half for overtime hours she worked during Saturday training sessions and otherwise, in violation of the FLSA. See 2d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-34. “Under the FLSA an employee is ordinarily entitled to pay equal to one and one-half times his normal hourly wage for all hours worked beyond forty per week.” Robinson-Smith v. Gov't Emps. Ins. Co., 590 F.3d 886, 892 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1)). Ms. Benton seeks summary judgment as to unpaid overtime wages for hours worked between June 25, 2011 and December 31, 2012.[3] Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at 5-18. The Fund's own motion for summary judgment maintains that it is entitled to summary judgment as to the entirety of Ms. Benton's FLSA claim because she has not shown that she is individually covered by the FLSA and, in any event, that even if she is covered she worked in a bona fide administrative capacity during the relevant time period and was therefore exempt from the FLSA. See Def.'s Mot. Summ. ...


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