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Rodriguez v. Adams Restaurant Group

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 23, 2018

ANASTACIO SALVADOR RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
ADAMS RESTAURANT GROUP, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          DABNEY L. FRIEDRICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This suit concerns whether Adams Restaurant Group unlawfully classified former employee Anastacio Rodriguez as an executive rather than as the nonmanagerial laborer he says he was. Rodriguez sued the restaurant and its executive chef under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act, and the District of Columbia Wage Payment and Wage Collection Law. Dkt. 1. Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 27. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay overtime compensation (at least 150 percent of the rate of regular compensation) to a covered employee working more than forty hours in a week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). The Act exempts certain employees from that requirement, however, including those who work “in a bona fide executive . . . capacity.” Id. § 213(a). The D.C. Minimum Wage Act mirrors these provisions. D.C. Code §§ 32-1003(c), 32-1004(a). The D.C. Payment and Wage Collection Law sets timing requirements for payment of wages and defines wages to include overtime premiums. Id. §§ 32-1301 et seq.

         Plaintiff Anastacio Rodriguez alleges that defendants Adams Restaurant and executive chef Claudia Rivas's classification of him as a bona fide executive-and their corresponding decision not to pay him overtime-violated those laws. During discovery, Rodriguez and his former superiors gave very different accounts of his role with the company, both sides serving their own narrative. The restaurant's witnesses recalled Rodriguez regularly exercising managerial power, while Rodriguez described his work as manual-labor intensive and without administrative input or leadership.

         The restaurant initially hired Rodriguez as a part-time “line cook” in June 2015, paying him $14 an hour to prepare ingredients and cook food. Rivas Dep. at 72:12-15, Dkt. 27-3. An immigrant from Mexico with only a high school education, Rodriguez had nineteen years of culinary experience but no formal culinary education. Rodriguez Dep. at 16:19-20, 19:13-20, Dkt. 28-1; Rivas Dep. at 212:4-13; 228:18-229:15, Dkt. 27-3. In September 2015, the restaurant promoted him to sous chef with a $55, 000 annual salary and classified him as exempt from the overtime requirement. Adams Restaurant Answers to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs., Answer to Interrog. No. 9, at 10-11, Dkt. 27-4. According to Rodriguez, his hours per week jumped from about forty to about seventy. Rodriguez Dep. at 44:6-8, Dkt. 28-1; Rodriguez Answers to Defs.' Interrog. Answer No. 3 at 4-5. Dkt. 28-1, Ex. B.

         At first, another sous chef, Louis Benitez, also worked at the restaurant. See Rodriguez Dep. at 48:14-18, Dkt. 28-1. Rodriguez testified that he and Benitez both worked full days during their overlapping time as sous chefs, with Benitez supervising him. Rodriguez Dep. at 49:1-5, 52:7-19, Dkt. 28-1. The restaurant, on the other hand, claims that one of the sous chefs was responsible for the day shift while the other was responsible for the night shift. Adams Dep. at 160:18-161:7, Dkt. 27-6. In any event, Benitez left the restaurant after a month or two and Rodriguez became the only sous chef. See Rodriguez Dep. at 49:15-17, Dkt. 28-1, Ex. A; id. at 63:12-20, Dkt. 27-5. After about half a year, Rodriguez was fired in March 2016. Adams Restaurant Answers to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs., Answer to Interrog. No. 9, at 10-11.

         During Rodriguez's tenure, Rivas lived in Florida and visited the restaurant only two to five times per month. Rivas Dep. at 31:2-3, Dkt. 27-3. According to Rodriguez, however, she monitored employees daily through surveillance video, regularly informed them that she was watching them, and often provided corrective instruction and reprimands. Rodriguez Dep. at 118:11-119:15, Dkt. 28-1; Rodriguez Decl. ¶ 6, Dkt. 28-1, Ex. C. Rodriguez also claimed that Rivas “fired a lot of people” in the kitchen while Rodriguez was sous chef (and that he did not fire anyone himself). Rodriguez Dep. at 50:2-10, 59:3-5, Dkt. 28-1. Rodriguez testified that he was supervised by both Rivas and a restaurant manager (and Benitez at first), though Rivas disputed that. Rodriguez Decl. ¶ 5; Rivas Dep. at 372:6-7 (“[Rodriguez] didn't have someone supervising him, he was a supervisor.”). Rivas testified that Rodriguez supervised line cooks, but Rodriguez recounted that he offered the line cooks very little instruction beyond some informal training during three line cooks' first day on the job. Rivas Dep. at 174:14-17; Dkt. 27-3; Rodriguez Dep. at 86:16-20, 88:2-17, 89:8-16, 90:21-91:9, Dkt. 28-1. Rodriguez conducted approximately three interviews of prospective hires, but he says that his questions were limited to “Where have you worked?” and “What do you know how to do?, ” and he simply relayed the answers to the restaurant manager, who made the hiring decision without his input. Rodriguez Dep. at 59:6-61:20, Dkt. 28-1. But see Adams Restaurant Answers to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs., Answer to Interrog. No. 2, at 4 (“[Rodriguez] possessed the independent authority to hire and fire other employees.”). According to the restaurant, Rodriguez's primary duty was managing the restaurant's kitchen operations and staff, but according to Rodriguez, his daily schedule generally consisted of preparing food and cooking. Adams Restaurant Answers to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs., Answer to Interrog. No. 2, at 4; Dkt. 28-1, Ex. B, Pl.'s Interrog. Answer No. 2, at 4.

         After being fired, Rodriguez sued Adams Restaurant and Rivas (collectively, the restaurant) under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act, and the District of Columbia Wage Payment and Wage Collection Law. See Compl. at 4-7; 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.; D.C. Code §§ 32-1001 et seq.; D.C. Code §§ 32-1301 et seq. After discovery, the restaurant moved for summary judgment. Adams Restaurant Mot. Summ. J., Dkt. 27. The case was reassigned to the undersigned judge on December 4, 2017.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A court grants summary judgment if the moving party “shows 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 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A “material” fact is one with potential to change the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb v. Powell, 433 F.3d 889, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2006). A dispute is “genuine” if a reasonable jury could determine that the evidence warrants a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248; Holcomb, 433 F.3d at 895. “If there are no genuine issues of material fact, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party ‘fails 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.'” Holcomb, 433 at 895 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)).

         In reviewing the record, the court “must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). “Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe, ” id. at 151, and it “is . . . to believe[]” “[t]he evidence of the non-movant, ” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

         At the same time, to win at summary judgment a defendant “need only identify the ways in which the plaintiff has failed to come forward with sufficient evidence to [allow] a reasonable jury to find in her favor on one or more essential elements of her claim.” Grimes v. District of Columbia, 794 F.3d 83, 93 (D.C. Cir. 2015); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-325. And while the defendant bears this burden of establishing that the plaintiff lacks sufficient evidence, the defendant need not produce any evidence of its own. The plaintiff, meanwhile, “cannot rely on the allegations of her own complaint in response to a summary judgment motion, but must substantiate them with . . . evidence that a reasonable jury could credit in support of each essential element of her claims.” Grimes, 794 F.3d at 94. The plaintiff “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), and must establish that the evidence is not “so one-sided that reasonable men and women must find” for the defendant. Radtke v. Lifecare Mgmt. Partners, 795 F.3d 159, 166 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         Summary judgment is appropriate, in sum, when “the parties agree about the facts-what happened-and the court accepts the movant's view of the legal implications of those facts, or . . . when a putatively disputed body of evidentiary material could not, even assuming a sympathetic factfinder, reasonably support a finding crucial to the ...


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