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Merritt v. Escambia County

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Pensacola Division

March 25, 2017

DELLAINA MERRITT, Plaintiff,
v.
ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, a political subdivision of the State of Florida Defendant.

          ORDER

          M. CASEY RODGERS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Dellaina Merritt filed this suit against Defendant Escambia County, Florida claiming that the County failed to compensate her for hours she worked in excess of forty hours per week, as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 33, and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to liability, ECF No. 34. Having fully considered the record and the arguments of the parties, the Court finds the motions are due to be denied.

         I. Background[1]

         Merritt began working for Escambia County in May 1998 as an Equipment Operator I. In April 2000, she was promoted to the position of Field Supervisor for the Roads and Bridges Division of Public Works, the position she currently holds. Field Supervisors are responsible for supervising various levels of Equipment Operators and Road Correctional Officers (“RCOs”). Merritt's “crew” is made up of eight Equipment Operators and three RCOs. Her crew is responsible for maintaining approximately 600 holding ponds throughout the county. In addition to supervising their crew, Field Supervisors are required to perform on-call duties. If called out, Field Supervisors, including Merritt, are paid a minimum of two hours of compensation, and if the callout requires more than two hours, they are compensated at “straight time” for all of the time actually worked, which is equivalent to one times the hourly rate. Each employees' paycheck is broken down into an hourly rate in order to calculate the straight time overtime.

         Field Supervisors are required to clock in and clock out at work. Thomas Turner, Director of Human Resources, explained that the clock in and out requirement is used so that sick leave, annual leave, and overtime compensation can be accurately calculated. See ECF No. 33-1, Turner Aff. ¶ 3-5; see also ECF No. 33-1, Overtime and Compensatory Time in Lieu of Overtime Pay Policy. Merritt testified that even if there is nothing to be done at work, she would still get paid and that if her work was finished she was “free to take leave and go on home” so long as it was approved by her Program Manager, Aaron Smith. ECF No. 33-1, Merritt Dep. at 56.

         The official Job Description for a Field Supervisor lists the applicable “salary range, ” in hourly, biweekly, monthly, and annual rates. ECF No. 33-6, Job Description for Field Supervisor at 28. The Job Description also lists a variety of duties, including “making hiring, termination, and disciplinary recommendations.” Id. Merritt testified that although she is in charge of her crew, she does not hire or fire anyone. Further, Merritt testified that she does not have the authority to discipline her crew and has never been asked for a recommendation as to whether particular employees should be promoted. Instead, according to Merritt, Field Supervisors make discipline reports to a Program Manager who then makes the reports to Wesley Moreno, Deputy Director of Public Works. Merritt also testified that she has initiated disciplinary actions against her crew members in the past and that she has “made a recommendation or input about terminating an employee.” ECF No. 33-1, Merritt Dep. at 41. Further, she testified that she determines which employees are assigned to particular jobs within her crew.

         Merritt filed this suit in order to recover unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA. Specifically, she claims she was compensated for hours she worked in excess of forty hours per week at one times her hourly rate, as opposed to one and one-half times her hourly rate, as required by the FLSA. Defendant claims it is entitled to summary judgment because Merritt is a “bona fide executive, ” and thus exempt from receiving overtime wages under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a); see also Martin, 543 F.3d at 1265. Summary judgment is not appropriate “if a reasonable fact finder evaluating the evidence could draw more than one inference from the facts[] and if that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact.” Jeffery v. Sarasota White Sox, Inc., 64 F.3d 590, 594 (11th Cir. 1995). An issue of fact is “material” if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing law, and it is “genuine” if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational fact finder to find for the non-moving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 594 F.3d 798, 807 (11th Cir. 2010) (en banc). The Court will not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence presented on summary judgment. Frederick v. Sprint/United Mgm't Co., 246 F.3d 1305, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001). When the Court reviews cross-motions for summary judgment, the standard of review does not differ from that applied when only one party files a motion. U.S. ex rel. Saldivar v. Fresenius Med. Care Holdings, Inc., 972 F.Supp.2d 1339, 1341 (N.D.Ga. 2013) (citing Am. Bankers Ins. Grp. v. United States, 408 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th Cir. 2005)). The Court must consider each motion on its own merits, “resolving all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration.” Id.

         III. Discussion

         Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to receive overtime pay at one and one-half times their regular rate for any hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). The FLSA exempts from the overtime requirement “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” Id. at § 213(a)(1). An employee is properly classified as a “bona fide executive” if:

(1) [s]he is compensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week; (2) [her] primary duty is management of the enterprise in which [s]he is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof; (3) [s]he customarily and regularly directs the work of two or more other employees; and (4) [s]he has the authority to hire or fire other employees, or [her] suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring, firing, advancement, promotion, or any other change of status of other employees are given particular weight.

Watkins v. City of Montgomery, 919 F.Supp.2d 1254, 1259 (M.D. Ala. 2013) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 541.100(a)) (internal marks omitted). Because “entitlement to an overtime exemption under the FLSA is an affirmative defense, ” the defendant bears the burden of proof. Id. (citing Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1269 (11th Cir. 2008)). Moreover, exemptions should be narrowly construed and applied “only to those employees who are ‘plainly and unmistakably' within the terms and spirit of the [FLSA].” Phillips, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 490, 493 (1945). Merritt does not dispute that her primary duty is management or that she customarily and regularly directs the work of two or more employees. Therefore, only the first and fourth requirements of the “bona fide executive” exemption are at issue in this case-whether she was compensated on a salary basis and whether she had authority to hire or fire employees or make recommendations which were given particular weight.

         Regarding the first requirement-whether Merritt is compensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week-it is undisputed that her pay exceeds the $455 threshold. The only dispute, therefore, is whether she is ...


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