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Jesus Hernandez, et al., Individually and On Behalf of v. Ashley Furniture Industries

August 13, 2012

JESUS HERNANDEZ, ET AL., INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ASHLEY FURNITURE INDUSTRIES, INC., ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.

MEMORANDUM

Jesus Hernandez, Raquel Marte, and Steven Wambold bring this putative class action against their former employer, Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. ("Ashley"), and Joseph Murphy, the former Director of Operations for Ashley's facility in Leesport, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs allege violations of the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law by both Defendants. Currently before the Court is Murphy's motion for summary judgment. The Court held oral argument on August 8, 2012. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Ashley is a furniture manufacturer headquartered in Arcadia, Wisconsin. (Defs.' Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. for Class Certification [Defs.' Class Certification Resp.] Ex. A [Dotta Decl.] ¶ 3.)Ashley's Leesport facility opened as a warehouse and distribution center in 2004. (Mot. for Summ. J. of Def. Joseph Murphy [Def.'s Mot.] Ex. B [Smith Dep.] at 8-9.) In 2006, Ashley started a manufacturing operation in the Leesport facility. (Dotta Decl. ¶ 3.) Brent Koslo, Ashley's Executive Vice President of Upholstery Operations, hired Murphy as Director of Operations in the Leesport facility. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. A [Koslo Dep.] at 10-12, 14-15; Def.'s Mot. Ex. C [Murphy Dep.] at 60-63.) Murphy remained in this position until November 2011. (Murphy Dep. at 21-22.)

As Director of Operations, Murphy was responsible for the manufacturing operation, but he had no involvement in the warehouse operation. (Murphy Dep. at 62.) He supervised a small group of production superintendents and assembly managers who, in turn, supervised subordinate managers and hourly-paid supervisors. (Koslo Dep. at 30-34; Def.'s Mot. Ex. D [Wade Dep.] at 26-29.) Murphy reported to Koslo, who was based in Mississippi. (Koslo Dep. at 10-12, 14-15.) There were no employees ranked higher than Murphy in the Leesport facility, and he was the only employee eligible for annual operational bonuses. (Id. at 14-15, 26, 165-66.) He had the authority to hire employees but not to fire them. (Murphy Dep. at 100.)

The Leesport facility had a finance department consisting of a staff financial employee and a payroll clerk who reported to Diana Long, the Upholstery Divisional Controller. (Koslo Dep. at 20-21; Wade Dep. at 82-83; Defs.' Class Certification Resp. Ex. D [Long Decl.] ¶¶ 2-3.) Long was located in California and reported to Koslo. (Long Decl.¶2.) Employees in Ashley's Leesport facility who had a complaint about their wages were expected to go to their supervisor, who would accompany them to speak with the payroll clerk, who would then determine whether an adjustment was necessary. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. E [Gombar Dep.] at 28-30; Murphy Dep. at 115; Wade Dep. at 81-83.) Murphy had no responsibility for payroll matters. (Murphy Dep.at 63.)

Ashley has an incentive pay system under which some assembly employees receive an hourly wage that is adjusted according to how efficiently they work as measured against Ashley's engineering standards. (Koslo Dep. at 33-34; Defs.' Class Certification Resp. Ex. F [Muller Dep.] at 23.) Murphy did not participate in the development of these engineering standards. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. F [Robbins Dep.] at 10-16, 41.) Likewise, Murphy had no responsibility for developing written employment policies, including those related to timekeeping. (Murphy Dep. at 78.) He was not always informed of changes to such policies. (Id. at 79.)

Hernandez did not know who Murphy was. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. G [Hernandez Dep.] at 46.) Wambold had no interaction with Murphy. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. H [Wambold Dep.] at 77-79.) Marte spoke with Murphy only once, to complain about missing hours, and Murphy told her to talk to her supervisor. (Def.'s Mot. Ex. I [Marte Dep.] at 117.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the movant does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if it provides evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find in its favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs assert claims against Murphy for violations of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law ("WPCL") and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act ("MWA"). Murphy argues that he cannot be held individually liable under either statute because he does not qualify as an employer.

The WPCL permits employees to recover unpaid wages and benefits owed by an employer. 43 Pa. Stat. §§260.3, 260.9a. The statute defines "employer" as "every person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, receiver or other officer of a court of this Commonwealth and any agent or officer of any of the above-mentioned classes employing any person in this Commonwealth." Id. § 260.2a.This definition "has been held to include a corporation's highest ranking officers, because they are the persons who are likely to have established and implemented the policy for the non-payment of the wages and benefits at issue." Belcufine v. Aloe, 112 F.3d 633, 635 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). The purpose of individual liability under the WPCL "is to give top corporate managers an incentive to use available corporate funds for the payment of wages and benefits rather than for some other purpose." Id. at 634. Thus, the WPCL applies "in only those contexts in which the managers have room to behave strategically." Id. at 639; see ...


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