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Morese v. Harris Teeter

July 13, 2011

MORESE DELOATCH PLAINTIFF,
v.
HARRIS TEETER, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No: 28

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff claims that his employer, Harris Teeter, Inc. ("the defendant"), violated various federal statutes relating to employee compensation, workplace discrimination and medical leave. See generally Am. Compl. Because the defendant demonstrates that the plaintiff does not make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to each of his claims, the court grants the defendant's motion.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In October 2005 the plaintiff, an African American, began working as an associate in the meat department of one of the defendant's retail grocery stores. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5. From 2005 until September 2008, the plaintiff worked for the defendant at Store # 83 located in Virginia. See Def.'s Mot. for. Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot."), Ex. B (Pl.'s Dep.) at 50-55. After a brief stint at another store, the plaintiff transitioned to Store #282, located in the District of Columbia, where he remained working from September 2008 until his separation from the defendant in June 2009. See id.

The defendant asserts that, like all of its employees, the plaintiff received an "associate guidebook," detailing the defendant's policies and procedures regarding hourly compensation, anti-discrimination and employee leave. See id. at 55. According to the plaintiff, however, the defendant largely failed to uphold its own policies. See generally Am. Compl.

The plaintiff filed this action in February 2010, asserting that the defendant violated various federal statutes relating to employee compensation, workplace discrimination and medical leave. See generally id. The factual allegations underlying these claims are discussed in more detail in the court's analysis below.

In December 2010, the defendant moved for summary judgment. See generally Def.'s Mot. With the defendant's motion now ripe for review, the court turns to the parties' arguments and the applicable legal standards.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and evidence show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine dispute" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. A nonmoving party, however, must establish more than "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that the nonmoving party "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the nonmoving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Id.

The nonmoving party may defeat summary judgment through factual representations made in a sworn affidavit if he "support[s] his allegations . . . with facts in the record," Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993)), or provides "direct testimonial evidence," Arrington v. United States, 473 F.3d 329, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Indeed, for the court to accept anything less "would defeat the central purpose of the summary judgment device, which is to weed out those cases insufficiently meritorious to warrant the expense of a jury trial." Greene, 164 F.3d at 675.

B. The Court Grants the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the

Plaintiff's Failure to Compensate Claims

The plaintiff alleges that the defendant failed to pay him for overtime and off-the-clock work, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207.*fn1 Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-24. More specifically, the plaintiff asserts that the defendant willfully violated the FLSA by not compensating him for the time spent: (1) completing product transfers*fn2 between stores, (2) working certain shifts that he picked up in addition to his normal work schedule; (3) attending certain training sessions, (4) working during periods which management erroneously punched him out as being on a lunch break (referred to by the plaintiff as "improper management punch outs") and (5) working during meal periods that lasted less than 30 minutes ("short lunches"). See Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.

The defendant argues that many of the plaintiff's claims are time-barred under the FLSA's two-year statute of limitations period. Def.'s Mot. at 33. The defendant further contends that the plaintiff does not adequately demonstrate "how much [off-the-clock] work he performed, when he performed it, or that he was not paid for it" and has not submitted any evidence that the defendant was aware of the plaintiff's uncompensated work. Id. at 33. Finally, the defendant alternatively maintains that the plaintiff's allegations of uncompensated work occurred "perhaps a handful of times" and therefore should be treated as de minimis. Id. at 34.

In response, the plaintiff asserts that he has sufficiently raised a "reasonable inference" as to the amount and extent of the work he performed. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 11. Further, the plaintiff asserts that his claims are not de minimis because they cannot be categorized as being "insubstantial or insignificant periods of time." See id. at 9.

As a threshold matter, the court determines that many of the plaintiff's claims are barred by the FLSA's two-year statute of limitations. An action to collect unpaid overtime is "forever barred unless commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued, except that a cause of action arising out of a willful violation may be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrued." Figueroa v. D.C. Metro. Police Dep't, 633 F.3d 1129 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 255(a) (2009)). A FLSA violation is willful if the employer knows, or shows reckless disregard, as to whether its conduct is prohibited by the FLSA. McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co., 486 U.S. 128, 133 (1988). Mere negligence on behalf of an employer is insufficient to trigger the three-year limitations period under the FLSA. Id.

The plaintiff has provided no evidence that the defendant acted recklessly or willfully with regard to its alleged failure to pay him for overtime work. See generally Pl.'s Opp'n. Indeed, the defendant's time and attendance policies explicitly outlined procedures to ensure compliance with the FLSA, and the record reflects that the defendant sought to monitor its compliance through routine audits of employee time records. See Def.'s Mot., Ex. A (Associates Guidebook) at 13; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 5 (Vines's Decl.) at ¶ 9. Accordingly, because the plaintiff has failed to provide evidence of either a willful or reckless violation of the FLSA, any alleged violations that occurred before February 5, 2008, two years prior to the date the plaintiff filed his Complaint, are barred under FLSA's two year statute of limitations. See 29 U.S.C. § 255(a); see also Phuong v. Nat'l Acad. Of Scis., 901 F. Supp. 12, 15 (D.D.C. 1995) (granting summary judgment on the issue of statute of limitations because the employee's conclusory and unsupported allegations were insufficient to show that the defendant had willfully violated the FLSA).

Turning to the plaintiff's allegations of uncompensated work arising after February 5, 2008, the FLSA requires that an employee must be paid overtime wages for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); see also id. § 216(b) (providing that affected employees may recover for violations of the FLSA's overtime provision). An employee seeking unpaid overtime compensation under the FLSA has the "burden of proving that he performed work for which he was not properly compensated." Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 687-88 (1946). An employee may discharge this burden if he "proves that he has in fact performed work for which he was improperly compensated and if he produces sufficient evidence to show the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable inference." Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. at 687; see also Hunter v. Sprint Corp., 453 F. Supp. 2d 44, 52-53 (D.D.C. 2006). If the employee provides ...


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