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Gonzalez v. Home Nurse Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

January 4, 2018

PABLO MICHEL RAMIREZ GONZALEZ, and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
HOME NURSE CORP. d/b/a THE PALACE AT HOME, JACOB SHAHAM, and HELEN SHAHAM, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          FEDERICO A. MORENO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pablo Michel Ramirez Gonzalez brought this suit alleging that from January 1, 2015 through February 17, 2017, The Palace at Home failed to pay him the proper overtime premium required under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Gonzalez moved for partial summary judgment, asserting that (i) he qualifies as a Palace employee rather than an independent contractor, and (ii) "Defendant is liable for at least some overtime wages." (D.E. 29, at 1.) Palace filed a cross motion for summary judgment, contending that (i) Gonzalez worked as an independent contractor, and regardless, (ii) Palace paid Gonzalez the appropriate and lawful premium for overtime hours worked.

         The Court need not address whether Gonzalez qualifies as an employee or independent contractor. Even assuming he worked as a Palace employee, the undisputed facts indicate that Palace properly compensated Gonzalez for all regular and overtime hours. Accordingly, the Court grants Palace's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         The Palace at Home is a home health agency that, among other things, refers home health aides to patients who need additional help in their everyday lives. Pablo Michel Ramirez Gonzalez is a certified home health aide who attends to the elderly. He prepares meals, administers medications, helps with bathing and dressing, and otherwise offers support, comfort, and companionship.

         On September 12, 2014-the day Gonzalez began working for Palace-Gonzalez received a document titled "The Palace at Home Rates Agreement." (D.E. 30-1, at 9.) The Rates Agreement explained how Palace compensated home health aides who-like Gonzalez-work 12-hour shifts. It detailed the regular (non-overtime) rate as well as the overtime premium rate for 12-hour shifts and included explicit language requiring Gonzalez to acknowledge both the "agreed hourly rate" and the "pay rate structure" prescribed in the Agreement. Specifically, the Rates Agreement stated:

do hereby understand that the agreed hourly rate for my assigned job is $7.93 per hour. I also understand that when I get (sic) job assigned, I will be pay (sic) according to the following:

12 Hour Shifts

60 minutes of breaks included per shift

11 working hours per shift/day X 7 days per week = 77 hours per week

40 hours at $7.93 = $317.20

37 hours at $11.90 = $440.30

$757.50per week that would be paid at $108.50/shift

1 fully understand and agree to the pay rate structure as personally discussed with me.

(Id.) Immediately below this compensation explanation (and on the same page), Gonzalez provided his signature certifying he understood the terms of the Rates Agreement. Gonzalez specifically acknowledged that his signature reflects an understanding that Palace would compensate him pursuant to a pay rate formula that included a regular rate component equal to Florida's minimum wage ($7.93 for the first 40 hours worked) and an overtime rate component C$11, 90[1] for the 37 overtime hours worked). (Id.; see also Gonzalez Dep. 44:7-45:25.) Gonzalez concedes that he had the opportunity to read the Agreement, he did not ask any questions about the Agreement, and he was not under any duress or threat to sign the Agreement. (Id. 43:5-44:2.) When asked whether he had any reason to believe that Palace paid him incorrectly while the Rates Agreement was in effect, Gonzalez admitted, "I don't know." (Id. 48:2-48:18.)

         ORDER

         Effective January 1, 2015, Florida increased its minimum wage from $7.93 per hour to $8.05 per hour. In response, Palace issued the "2015 Minimum Wage Addendum to Rates Agreement, " reflecting the increased regular rate of $8.05 and increased overtime premium rate of $12.08. (D.E. 30-6, at 2.) The 2015 Addendum provides the following explanation of compensation for 12-hour shifts:

New agreed hourly rate for assigned job is $8.05 per hour.

12 hour shifts .

60 minutes of breaks included per shift

11 working hours per shift/day X 7 days per week = 77 hours per week

40 hours at $8.05 =$322.00

37 hours at $12.08 =$446.96

$768.96 per week that would be paid at $109.85/shift

(Id.)

         Unlike the Rates Agreement, Gonzalez did not sign the 2015 Addendum. Indeed, he contends that he never saw the 2015 Addendum until Palace presented it to him at his deposition. (Gonzalez Dep. 52:24-53:2.) However, as evidenced in the March 2015 payroll report provided by Gonzalez, Palace paid Gonzalez $109.85 for each 12-hour shift worked during that period. That daily rate matches the daily shift rate stated in the 2015 Addendum. And Palace computed the daily shift rate using the regular rate of $8.05 for non-overtime hours and the overtime premium rate of $12.08 for work in excess of 40 hours per week. When asked whether he had any reason to believe that Palace paid him the incorrect amount for his work in 2015, Gonzalez again conceded, "I don't know." (Gonzalez Dep. 50:25-51:4.)

         Florida did not increase the minimum wage in 2016. However, Palace still issued a "2016 Minimum Wage Addendum to Rates Agreement" reflecting the same regular rate of $8.05 and overtime premium rate of $12.08. (D.E. 30-6, at 3.) Gonzalez did not sign the 2016 Addendum and he maintains that he first saw this document at his deposition. (Gonzalez Dep. 52:24-53:2.)

         Effective January 1, 2017, Florida increased the state minimum wage from $8.05 per hour to $8.10 per hour. Once again, Palace updated its compensation rates. It issued the "2017 Minimum Wage Addendum to Rates Addendum" reflecting the regular hourly rate increase from $8.05 to $8.10 and the overtime premium rate increase from $12.08 to $12.15. (D.E. 30-6, at 2.) The 2017 Addendum provides the following compensation details for 12-hour shifts:

New agreed hourly rate for assigned job is $8.10 per hour.

12 hour shifts

60 minutes of breaks included per shift

11 working hours per shift/day X 7 days per week = 77 hours per week

40 hours at $8.10 =$324.00

37 hours at $12.15 =$449.55

$773.55 per week that would be paid at $110.51/shift

(Id.)

         Once again, Gonzalez did not sign the 2017 Addendum and claims he never saw the document before his deposition. (Gonzalez Dep. 52:24-53:2.) However, the payroll report from January 2017 shows that Palace paid Gonzalez $110.51 for each 12-hour shift worked during that period. Here too, that daily shift rate matches the shift rate listed in the 2017 Addendum. Palace calculated that shift rate using the regular rate of $8.10 for non-overtime hours and the overtime premium rate of $12.15. When asked whether it was "accurate" that he was "paid 40 hours at a regular rate of $8.10 and an overtime rate for 37 hours at $12.15" in 2017, Gonzalez stated: "That's correct[.]"[2] (Gonzalez Dep. 52:20-52:24.)

         Gonzalez does not dispute the validity of the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Addendums. Nor does he allege that the compensation breakdown detailed in each Addendum is a sham. He simply claims that he never saw the Addendums before this lawsuit.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is authorized where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.,398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). "An issue of fact is 'genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., Inc.,357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not simply rest upon mere allegations or denials of the pleadings; the non-moving party must establish the essential elements of its case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574 (1986). The non-movant must present more than a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986). A jury must be able reasonably to find ...


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