United States District Court, D. Columbia.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
ERIN BENTON, Plaintiff: Michael K. Amster, LEAD ATTORNEY,
Jason D. Friedman, Philip B. Zipin, ZIPIN, AMSTER &
GREENBERG, LLC, Silver Spring, MD.
LABORERS' JOINT TRAINING FUND, Defendant: Emily Seymour
Costin, Jonathan G. Rose, LEAD ATTORNEYS, ALSTON & BIRD LLP,
Washington, DC; Kandis Wood Jackson, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC
VICE, ALSTON & BIRD LLP, Atlanta, GA.
Document Nos.: 14, 15
Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Granting
in Part and Denying in Part Defendant's Cross-Motion for
CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.
Erica Benton (" Ms. Benton" ) alleges that her
former employer, Defendant Laborers' Training Fund
(" the Fund" ), failed to pay her more than $22,000
in overtime wages between 2008 and 2012 in violation of the
Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ) and the
D.C. Minimum Wage Act (" DCMWA" ). She also alleges
that the Fund violated the FLSA by retaliating against her
for complaining about unpaid overtime, ultimately terminating
her on May 16, 2014.
before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment. Ms. Benton seeks partial summary judgment
as to a subset of unpaid overtime hours that she worked
between June 25, 2011, and December 31, 2012. She asserts
that she is owed $6,194.34 in unpaid wages for that time
period, and she requests an equal amount in liquidated
damages under the FLSA and DCMWA. The Fund has moved for
summary judgment as to all claims, arguing first that the
unpaid overtime claims fail as a matter of law because the
overtime provisions of the FLSA do not apply to the Fund,
which is a non-profit organization, or to Ms. Benton, who
worked in an administrative position. The Fund also maintains
that Ms. Benton has failed to establish a prima
facie case of retaliation, and that she was terminated
for legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons. Upon consideration
of the parties' motions, the memoranda in support thereof
and opposition thereto, and the summary judgment record, the
Court will deny Ms. Benton's motion for partial summary
judgment as to her FLSA overtime claim, grant the Fund's
cross-motion for summary judgment as to the FLSA overtime and
retaliation claims, and dismiss without prejudice the DCMWA
Fund is a non-profit 501(c)(5) organization " designed
to provide labor training to members of two labor unions in
the District of Columbia: Laborers' International Union
of North America ('LIUNA') Local 657 and Local
11." Def.'s Statement of Material Facts Not in
Dispute ¶ ¶ 1, 4, ECF No. 15-2 (" Def.'s
SOF" ). The training is limited to laborers'
classification construction work, Guerrero Dep. 45:5-8, Dec.
8, 2014, ECF No. 15-5, 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 Benton Dep. 18:13-17,
Dec. 3, 2014, ECF No. 14-4. The organization is a third-party
recipient of contributions made pursuant to collective
bargaining agreements, and additional funding comes from
federal, local, and union grants. Def.'s SOF at ¶
¶ 5, 6; Meighan Dep. 6:14-16, Dec. 8, 2014, ECF No.
Benton was a full-time, salaried employee of the Fund from
January 1, 2003, until her termination on May 16, 2014.
Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Interrog. No. 7, ECF No. 14-5.
The parties dispute whether Ms. Benton had an official job
title, but she was at times called an " Administrative
Assistant," Def.'s Ex. 12 at 6, ECF No. 15-14, and
at other times referred to as the " Office
Manager," Def.'s Ex. 13 at 2, ECF No. 15-15, or
" Assistant to Director," Def.'s Ex. 15 at 2,
ECF No. 15-17. 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. 22:7-11. By
2006, Ms. Benton had gained experience at the Fund and the
director had been replaced by an individual who was less
familiar with the role, so Ms. Benton took on a greater role
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;
number of occasions, Ms. Benton worked during Saturday
training sessions put on by the Fund. See Progress
Report, Def.'s Ex. 30, ECF No. 15-32. At the trainings,
she processed classes and issued certificates and state
licenses to attendees. Benton Dep. 267:13-15. She estimates
that as a result, she worked 595.5 hours of overtime from
2008 through 2012. Pl.'s Suppl. Resp. to Interrog. No.
15, ECF No. 14-12. Her annual salary during that time ranged
from $50,404 to $54,290, and 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.
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. Meighan Dep. 30:17-31:17. The decision to
administer the Fund internally was made in an effort to
reduce the organization's expenses. Benton Dep. at
62:2-63:12. 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." Benton Dep. 227:5-18; see
also McNelis Decl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 15-13.
April 26, 2013, Justin Meighan, the chairman of the
Fund's Board of Trustees,
sent a list of " action items" to Fund director Lou
DeGraff requiring, among other things, confirmation that Ms.
Benton would work only out of the Fund's Local 657 Office
in DC during regular work hours and ordering that her work
cell phone be cancelled, as she would not need the phone when
working at a single site. Meighan e-mail, Def.'s Ex. 16,
ECF No. 15-18. Those changes were implemented the following
month. Benton Dep. at 260:5-261:9, 267:13-269:19.
2013, some of the Fund's instructors learned that other
training funds were being audited in relation to Saturday
training session hours worked by instructors. Benton Dep.
81:17-21; 83:4-13. Ms. Benton and the instructors mentioned
to Mr. DeGraff what they had heard about the other funds.
Id. at 84:2-88:13. Mr. DeGraff told them to "
start looking for [their] original employment letters because
if there was an issue, he was going to look into it and see
what he could do to get [them] compensated."
Id. at 85:10-13. The Fund subsequently investigated
the overtime hours worked by employees in 2013, terminated
Mr. DeGraff, and implemented a new employee handbook in July
2013 that required all overtime to be approved in writing in
advance, but it did not investigate any overtime hours worked
prior to 2013. Id. at 217:6-218:14.
a general staff meeting in June or July 2013, the Fund
announced that Mr. DeGraff was no longer employed as the
Fund's director and that there were going to be changes.
See Benton Dep. 97:7-16. When someone brought up
Saturdays during the staff meeting, Mr. Meighan "
abruptly ended the meeting." Id. at
86:16-87:17; 97:7-98:2. Ms. Benton recalls that when she saw
Mr. Meighan after the summer staff meeting, he greeted others
but " barely acknowledged" her, id.
87:11-17, and she believes that the work " atmosphere
changed" at the Fund " in the way that things were
done more by the book," id. at 86:5-7,
consequence, Ms. Benton felt as if the Fund employees were
" being treated as if they had done something
wrong" simply because they had brought the potential
overtime issue to the attention of the director. Benton Dep.
84:2-7. She believed management wanted to " take a
closer look at what was going on," and there was more
" micromanaging" in the office. Id. at
272:12-20. Making matters worse, the new director Jim
Anastase was " a screamer and a yeller," and she
found him " somewhat hard to deal with."
Id. at 239:12-240:3. She complained to Anthony
Frederick, who sat on the Fund's Board of Trustees, about
the way that she and the instructors were treated by Mr.
Anastase, and when she told Mr. Anastase that she expected to
be treated with respect, he told her he would not change and
she needed thicker skin. Id. at 241:11-24310. When
Ms. Benton became ill and took sick leave between late
December 2013 and mid-March 2014, she began to look for other
employment " [b]ecause the environment was very hard to
deal with . . . [b]ecause of the director . . . Jim
Anastase." Id. at 238:10-239:5; 244:11-22. Ms.
Benton " became discouraged when no one would basically
hear what [she] had to say in regards to some complaints that
[she] had with the treatment that [she] was receiving,"
and there was some " confusion as well regarding [her]
performance" at work. Id. at 245:21-246:15.
12, 2014, Ms. Benton went to the Employment Justice Center
(" EJC" ) in the District of Columbia to discuss
her overtime concerns. Benton Dep. 284:13-285:4. But when she
got to EJC, she filled out an intake form and spoke to a
volunteer who told her that EJC had a conflict of interest
and could not help her. Id. She
never made a claim regarding unpaid overtime with any agency.
Id. at 240:19-21.
Benton was terminated on May 16, 2014. The Fund maintains
that Ms. Benton was fired for performance issues, poor
attitude, and failure to comply with Fund policies and
procedures. Def.'s SOF ¶ 90; Meighan Dep. at 87:5-8.
Ms. McNelis recalls that Ms. Benton seemed upset when she
took over some of her prior administrative duties, that Ms.
Benton was hostile under Mr. Anastase's leadership, and
that she was argumentative about the Fund's new policies,
McNelis Decl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 15-13, although Ms. Benton
disputes these assertions. Ms. McNelis also recalls having to
ask Ms. Benton repeatedly to stop using her personal e-mail
to conduct Fund business and to provide account information
and passwords for the Fund's service providers.
Id. ¶ ¶ 8-9. According to Ms. McNelis, Ms.
Benton incorrectly input information so that the January 2014
reports for the Board of Trustees were incorrect, and in the
months prior to her termination, she failed to maintain the
petty cash in an organized and timely fashion. Id.
¶ ¶ 9-11. Ms. Benton also worked unauthorized
overtime on two occasions despite having been instructed not
to do so, and she was formally reprimanded for the second
offense. Def.'s Ex. 18, ECF No. 15-20; Def.'s Ex. 19,
ECF No. 15-21.
Benton 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
allege violations of the overtime provisions of the FLSA and
the DCMWA, respectively. Id. ¶ ¶ 36-48.
Count III of Ms. Benton's complaint alleges that after
she and the instructors inquired about unpaid overtime in
June 2013, she was unlawfully terminated on May 16, 2014,
" in retaliation for complaining and asserting her
rights to unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA."
Id. ¶ ¶ 18-24, 49-56.
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, 395 U.S. App.D.C. 7 (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, 383 U.S. App.D.C. 74 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248,
106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d
265 (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.
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, 404 U.S. App.D.C. 189
(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, 259
U.S. App.D.C. 115 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
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, 404 U.S.
App.D.C. 439 (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).
FLSA Overtime Claim
Benton's first claim is that the Fund failed to pay her
time-and-half for overtime hours worked during Saturday
training sessions in violation of the FLSA. Compl. ¶
¶ 36-42. She seeks partial summary judgment as to unpaid
overtime wages for hours worked between June 25, 2011 and
December 31, 2012. Pl.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. at
2, ECF No. 14-2. The Fund, on the other hand, maintains that
it is entitled to summary judgment as to the entirety of Ms.
Benton's FLSA claim because she has not shown that the
Fund is an " enterprise engaged in commerce"
subject to coverage under the FLSA's overtime provision.
Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 20-23, ECF No.
15-1. The Court's analysis of Ms.
Benton's FLSA overtime claim begins--and ends--with the
threshold question of whether the Fund constitutes an "
enterprise" covered by the FLSA.
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 Emples. Ins. Co., 590
F.3d 886, 892, 389 U.S. App.D.C. 46 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (citing
29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1)). While courts construe the FLSA
" liberally to apply to the furthest reaches consistent
with congressional direction," Tony & Susan Alamo
Found. v. Sec'y of Labor, 471 U.S. 290, 296, 105
S.Ct. 1953, 85 L.Ed.2d 278 (1985) (internal quotation marks
omitted), the reach of the FLSA's overtime provision is
expressly limited to those " employees who in any
workweek [are] engaged in commerce or in the production of
commerce, or [are] employed in an enterprise engaged in
commerce or in the production of goods for commerce." 29
U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Accordingly, before an employee can
recover overtime wages under the Act, she must first
establish that her employment relationship is subject to
coverage under the FLSA. See D.A. Schulte,
Inc., v. Gangi, 328 U.S. 108, 120, 66 S.Ct. 925, 90
L.Ed. 1114 (1946) (discussing plaintiff's burden of
establishing individual FLSA coverage); Malloy v. Assoc.
of State and Territorial Solid Waste Mgmt. Officials,
955 F.Supp.2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2013) (holding that "
enterprise coverage [is] a substantive ingredient of the
plaintiff's [FLSA] claim" ); Benitez v. F & V
Car Wash, Inc., No. 11--CV-1857, 2012 WL 1414879, at *1
(E.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2012) (holding that establishing
enterprise coverage under the FLSA is an " element that
a plaintiff must establish in order to prove liability"
) (collecting cases).
coverage comes in two forms: " enterprise" and
" individual." Tony & Susan Alamo Found. v.
Sec'y of Labor, 471 U.S. 290, 295 n.10, 105 S.Ct.
1953, 85 L.Ed.2d 278 (1985). An employee with "
enterprise" coverage works for an employer that is both
" an enterprise" and " engaged in commerce or
in the production of goods for commerce." See
29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); see alsoMalloy, 955 F.Supp.2d at 55 (explaining that to
establish enterprise coverage, an employee must first show
that the employer is an " enterprise," and then
show that the enterprise is " engaged in commerce"
). Alternatively, an employee is covered individually under
the FLSA if she personally is " engaged in commerce or
in the production of goods for commerce." Id.
Although a given employee may have coverage under either or
both theories, Ms. Benton's complaint alleges only
enterprise coverage, not individual coverage. See
generally Compl. (alleging that the Fund " was
engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for
commerce within the meaning of [29 U.S.C. §
203(s)(1)]," that its " gross revenue exceeded
$500,000.00, and thus Defendant qualified as an
'enterprise' within the meaning of § 3(r) of ...