B. Count Two — PMWA
Defendant raises two issues with respect to Count Two: statute of
limitations and Plaintiff's status as an exempt employee. Because the
Court determines that Plaintiff's claims fall outside the statute of
limitations, the Court will not address Defendant's alternative
Defendant argues that the PMWA has a three-year statute of limitations
and that Plaintiff's claim under the PMWA is untimely because the claims
for unpaid wages occurred prior to January 26, 1998, three years before
the Complaint was filed. See 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 260.9a (West
2001). Plaintiff disputes that the three-year statute of limitations
stated in section 260.9a applies to the PMWA, and instead argues that a
six-year period governs. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5527 (West
2001). The Court rejects Plaintiff's argument. Courts in this district
have unanimously applied section 260.9a's three-year limitations period
to claims under the PMWA. See Harris v. Mercy Health Corp., No.
Civ.A.97-7802, 2000 WL 1130098 *5 (E.D.Pa. Aug. 9, 2000); Friedrich v.
U.S. Computer Serv., Inc., 833 F. Supp. 470, 477 (E.D.Pa. 1993).
Since the three-year limitations period applies, Plaintiff's claims are
time-barred. The Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant failed to pay
proper overtime wages for two periods: (1) from August 1993 until January
1, 1997; and (2) beginning August 1997 when he agreed to work additional
shifts at the Curran-Fromhold correctional facility and the detention
center. (Am. Compl. ¶ 43, 45, 46.) While the Amended Complaint does
not give an ending date for the latter period, it is clear from the face
of the Amended Complaint that the last date for which unpaid overtime
wages may be claimed is November 19, 1997, when Plaintiff took his FMLA
leave. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) After Plaintiff returned from his
leave on January 16, 1998, he was given only part-time work, which by
definition is fewer than forty hours a week, and the amount of time
declined over time until he stopped receiving work in March 1998. (Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 29, 31.) The Amended Complaint does not otherwise allege
that he performed any overtime work after returning from his FMLA leave.
Given that the last date for which unpaid overtime wages could be due
under the allegations in the Complaint is November 19, 1997, and
Plaintiff's Complaint was not filed until January 26, 2001, Plaintiff's
claims under the PMWA fall outside the statute of limitations period.
Accordingly, the Court dismisses Count Two.
C. Count Three — Breach of Contract
Count Three alleges a claim for breach of contract seeking payment of
time-and-a-half for overtime and wages during meal breaks during which
Plaintiff remained on duty based on a provision in Defendant's employee
All employees who do not qualify as overtime exempt
will be paid for all hours worked in excess of the
regular forty-hour week. Time worked in excess of
forty hours per week will be paid time and one-half or
as required by federal and/or state law.
(Compl. Ex. B; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 48-50.) Defendant advances multiple
arguments in support of dismissal of this claim. First, Defendant argues
that the Handbook does
not constitute an enforceable contract. Defendant next argues that any
promise contained in the Handbook by its terms does not apply to Plaintiff,
and that the claim is barred by the statute of limitations. Last, Defendant
contends that the claim is preempted by the PMWA or Fair Labor Standards
An employment handbook is enforceable against an employer if a
reasonable person in the employee's position would interpret its
provisions as evidencing the employer's intent to supplant the at-will
rule and be bound legally by its representations in the handbook. Bauer
v. Pottsville Area Emergency Med. Serv., 758 A.2d 1265, 1269
(Pa.Super.Ct. 2000). The handbook must contain a clear indication that
the employer intended to overcome the at-will presumption. Id. (citing
Luteran v. Loral Fairchild Corp., 688 A.2d 211, 214-15 (Pa.Super.Ct.
1997). The court may not presume that the employer intended to be bound
legally by distributing the handbook nor that the employee believed that
the handbook was a legally binding instrument. Luteran, 688 A.2d at 215.
Generally, explicit disclaimers of contract formation in an employee
handbook preclude a breach of contract claim. Landmesser v. United
Airlines, Inc., 102 F. Supp.2d 273, 280 (E.D.Pa. 2000) ("This explicit
disclaimer of the formation of a contract nullifies plaintiff's claim for
breach of contract.").
Notwithstanding this, provisions in a handbook or manual can constitute
a unilateral offer of employment which the employee accepts by the
continuing performance of his or her duties. Bauer, 758 A.2d at 1269. A
unilateral contract is a contract wherein one party makes a promissory
offer which calls for the other party to accept by rendering a
performance. Id. In the employment context, the communication to employees
of certain rights, policies and procedures may constitute an offer of an
employment contract with those terms. Id. The employee signifies
acceptance of the terms and conditions by continuing to perform the
duties of his or her job; no additional or special consideration is
required. Id. Thus, the provisions comprising the unilateral contract may
be viewed as "a contract incidental or collateral to at-will employment."
Pilkington v. CGU Ins. Co., No. Civ.A.00-2495, 2001 WL 33159253, at *6
(E.D.Pa. Feb. 9, 2001). An employer who offers various rewards to
employees who achieve a particular result or work a certain amount of
overtime, for example, may be obligated to provide those awards to
qualifying employees, although retaining the right to terminate them for
any or no reason. Id. (citing Darlington v. General Electric, 504 A.2d 306,
320 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1986).
Defendant submits a document that it claims is a disclaimer applicable
to the Handbook that was purportedly signed by Plaintiff on November 11,
1997. At this stage of the proceedings, however, the Court cannot
determine the applicability of the purported waiver or conclude that
Plaintiff can prove no set of facts under which the Handbook could
constitute an enforceable contract for all or part of his claimed
overtime. The Court, therefore, rejects Defendant's argument at this
The Handbook provides overtime pay for "[a]ll employees who do not
qualify as overtime exempt." (Compl. Ex. B.) Defendant argues that
Plaintiff was an exempt employee after January 1, 1997, and therefore not
qualified for overtime pay. If Defendant's argument were accepted, then
the breach of contract claim would be limited to overtime wages accruing
until January 1, 1997. Actions for breach of employment contracts are
subject to a four-year statute of limitations. Parker Society Hill Travel
Agency v. Presbyterian Univ. of Pa. Med. Ctr. 635 A.2d 649, 652
(Pa.Super.Ct. 1993); see 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5525(8) (West
2001). Since the Complaint was not filed until January 26, 2001,
Plaintiff's claims would be barred.
The Amended Complaint states that Plaintiff was classified as a
non-exempt employee from August 1993 until January 1, 1997. (Am. Compl.
¶¶ 7, 11, 14.) On January 1, 1997, Plaintiff became an exempt
employee receiving a salary. (Id. ¶ 14.) In August 1997, Defendant
asked Plaintiff to perform overtime shifts in return for hourly wages.
(Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that by asking him to perform overtime
work, Defendant effectively considered him a non-exempt employee. (Id.
¶ 15.) Under the standard for deciding motions pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6), the Court must assume the truth of the allegations in the
Amended Complaint. Given Plaintiff's allegations, the Court cannot
conclude that Plaintiff can prove no set of facts that survive the
statute of limitations and state a claim for which relief could be
granted. Accordingly, the Court rejects Defendant's argument at this
Defendant alternatively argues that Plaintiff's claim is preempted by
the PMWA or FLSA. This argument falls on its misconstrual of the language
of the Handbook. According to Defendant, the Handbook merely promises to
comply with federal and state wage laws. The Handbook, however, facially
provides for overtime pay independently of federal and state laws for
Time worked in excess of forty hours per week will be
paid time and one-half or as required by federal
and/or state law.
(Compl. Ex. B) (emphasis added). Should the Handbook provision constitute
an enforceable contract that is applicable to Plaintiff, a claim for its
breach could be premised on an independent promise to pay time and
one-half. This case, therefore is distinguishable from cases where the
plaintiff bases a state law claim on public policy embodied in other
statutes. See, e.g., McKiernan v. Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Co., No.
Civ.A.95-1175, 1995 WL 311393, at *5 (E.D.Pa. May 17, 1995). The Court
also notes that the necessary implication of Defendant's argument is that
employers can never contract to provide more remuneration or benefits
than are minimally required under federal or state laws. The Court cannot
hold that federal and state laws mandate a ceiling for wages and
benefits. For these reasons, the Court rejects Defendant's argument.
The Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Motion. Count
Two of the Amended Complaint is dismissed. An appropriate Order follows.