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Carter v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 17, 2019



          JOYNER, J.

         This Fair Labor Standards Act case is presently before this Court on motion of the Plaintiffs for the entry of summary judgment in their favor. For the reasons outlined below, the Motion shall be granted.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiffs are a group of some ten individuals who are and have for the past three or more years been employed[1] by the City of Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health (“DBH”) in the Division of Mental Health/Disability Services' (“MHDS”) Acute Services Unit as “Mental Health Emergency Service Coordinators 2.” Specifically, in their positions, Plaintiffs provide 24hour, 7-day-a-week coverage of three mental health crisis telephone lines - a mental health “delegate” line[2], a local suicide line and a national suicide line. To accomplish this objective, Plaintiffs are required to work 8.5 hour shifts - either a day shift starting anywhere from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and ending anytime between 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., or a night shift commencing anytime from 4:30 p.m. and ending at 1 a.m.[3]

         In addition to these regular workweek shifts, Plaintiffs are required to work the “standby” overnight and/or weekend and holiday shifts which are some 7 hours in length three times per week. The standby shifts are scheduled on a rotating basis with the schedule being set on a monthly basis. Plaintiffs may trade their shifts with one another but unless they can find a volunteer to take a shift which they want to give away or trade, they must work their assigned shifts. While Plaintiffs work their regularly-scheduled day or night shifts at the Acute Services Unit's office location at 801 Market Street in Philadelphia, they are required to work their standby shifts from their homes. Plaintiffs are paid their regular hourly rate of approximately $31 for their regular, assigned day or evening shifts and some $21 per hour for their standby shifts.[4] There is no difference at all between their job duties[5] on the standby shifts and their regular day or night shifts; the only distinction is that they are required to work the standby shifts from their homes.

         In working their standby shifts from home, Plaintiffs must answer incoming calls within three rings and while they can use a Bluetooth or similar headset, they cannot move too far from the phone's base or the calls will drop off. Plaintiffs therefore all have a dedicated area within their homes for working their standby shifts. Regardless of whether they have worked an overnight standby shift until 7:30 a.m., day-shift Plaintiffs are required to report to work their regularly-assigned shift the following day at the usual time. For those plaintiffs who work day shift and are scheduled to report at 7:30 or 8 a.m., they have the option of using their vacation or compensatory leave time or of working their required eight-hours from the time they arrive to work i.e., they may choose to add the time which they missed by arriving late in the morning onto the end of their regularly-scheduled shift.

         On October 12, 2018, Plaintiffs commenced this action alleging that Defendant willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. Section 201, et. seq. by intentionally failing and refusing to pay them all of the compensation due under the Act. See, 29 U.S.C. §207(a)(1). Plaintiffs seek to recover, inter alia, liquidated damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, other monetary damages, reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses and their costs in filing and pursuing this action under 29 U.S.C. §216. Discovery in this action has now closed and, on July 15, 2019, Defendant City of Philadelphia moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs' claim fails because they meet two exemptions to the overtime compensation provisions of the FLSA. Specifically, the City asserted that the Plaintiffs' positions fall under the administrative and the learned professional exemptions and that they therefore are not entitled to overtime compensation. Plaintiffs opposed the motion and in further response, filed the motion for summary judgment which is now before us. Insofar as we denied Defendant's motion on September 26, 2019, the Plaintiff's motion is the sole matter presently pending before the Court.

         Summary Judgment Standards

         It has long been the rule that any party may move for summary judgment on any claim or defense or any part of a claim or defense and that judgment is appropriately entered “if the movant 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). “As to materiality, … [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment…; [f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). “A genuine dispute exits ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” In re Tribune Media Co., 902 F.3d 384, 392 (3d Cir. 2018) (quoting Anderson, supra.); Stone v. Troy Construction, LLC, 935 F.3d 141 (3d Cir. 2019).

         Further, a “judge's function” in evaluating a motion for summary judgment is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Salazar-Limon v. City of Houston, 137 S.Ct. 1277, 1280 (2017) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). “In so doing, the court must ‘view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.'” Id, (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) and United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)). Thus, in order to survive summary judgment, an opposing party must show that “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.


         As noted, Plaintiffs brought this action for Defendant's alleged violation of the overtime provision of Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §207, subsection (a) of which reads as follows in pertinent part:

(a) Employees engaged in interstate commerce; additional applicability to employees pursuant to subsequent amendatory provisions.
(1) Except as otherwise provided in this section, no employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or is employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.

         However, notwithstanding this general rule and as Defendant correctly asserts, there are a number of “exemptions” to and from the overtime requirements set forth in the Act. Generally speaking, “[w]hen an employee brings a claim under the FLSA, he ordinarily bears ‘the burden of proving that he performed work for which he was not properly compensated.'” Rosano v. Township of Teaneck, 754 F.3d 177, 188 (3d Cir. 2014). “Because the FLSA gives no ‘textual indication' that its exemptions should be construed narrowly, ” the Supreme Court recently held that “there is no reason to give them anything other than a fair … interpretation, ” one that is “neither narrow nor broad.” Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 138 S.Ct. 1134, 1142, 200 L.Ed.2d 433, 442 (2018); Secretary United States Department of Labor v. Bristol Excavating, Inc., 935 F.3d 122, 135 (3d Cir. 2019). The question whether an employee is exempt is a mixed question of law and fact. Pignataro v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010); Levitt v. Technical Education Services, Civ. A. No. 10-CV-6823, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111195, *9 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 7, 2012). The burden of proving these exemptions is upon the employer, and if the record is unclear as to some exemption requirement, the employer will be held not to have satisfied its burden. Idaho Sheet Metal Works, Inc. v. Wirtz, 383 U.S. 190, 206, 86 S.Ct. 737, 15 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966); Friedrich v. U.S. Computer Services, 974 F.2d 409, 412 (3d Cir. 1992); Martin v. Cooper Electric Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896, 900 (3d Cir. 1991); Southerton v. Borough of Honesdale, No. 3:17-CV-0165, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 189493 at *25 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 6, 2018).

         In determining the employer's burden of proof, the Department of Labor Regulations are given “considerable and in some cases decisive weight.” Brooks v. Village of Ridgefield Park, 185 F.3d 130, 138, n.7 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Skidmore v. Swift, 323 U.S. 134, 140, 65 S.Ct. 161, 89 L.Ed.2d 124 (1944)). In this case, the Defendant city is invoking the so-called “learned professional” and “administrative” exemptions both of which require that the employee be “[c]ompensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week, … exclusive of board, lodging or other facilities.” See, 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.200(a)(1), 541.300(a)(1). Given that the parties here agree that Plaintiffs meet this primary threshold for both exemptions, this Court need not analyze this element any further. Instead, we turn now to more closely scrutinize the other requirements of each of the claimed exemptions.

         Administrative Exemption

         The “bona fide executive, administrative or professional capacity” exemption is outlined in 29 U.S.C. §213(a)(1), which states:

(a) Minimum wage and maximum hour requirements. The provisions of sections 6 (except section 6(d) in the case of paragraph (1) of this subsection) and 7 [29 U.S.C. §§206, 207] shall not apply with respect to -
(1) Any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity (including any employee employed in the capacity of academic administrative personnel or teacher in elementary or secondary schools), or in the capacity of outside salesman (as such terms are defined and delimited from time to time by regulations of the Secretary, subject to the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act [5 U.S.C. §551 et. seq.] except that an employee of a retail or service establishment shall not be excluded from the definition of employee employed in a bona fide executive or administrative capacity because of the number of hours in his workweek which he devotes to activities not directly or closely related to the performance of executive or administrative activities, if less than 40 per centum of his hours worked in the workweek are devoted to such activities;

         Further explanation of this exemption is offered in the Code of Federal Regulations. 29 C.F.R. §541.200 sets forth the general rule for administrative employees. Under subsection (a)[6], the term “employee employed in a bona fide administrative capacity” in section 13(a)(1) is said to mean “any employee:

(1) Compensated on a salary or fee basis pursuant to §541.600 at a rate per week of not less than the 40thpercentile of weekly earnings of full-time non-hourly workers in the lowest-wage Census Region …, exclusive of board, lodging or other facilities…
(2) Whose primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers; and
(3) Whose primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters ...

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