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Barturen v. Wild Edibles

December 18, 2007

CESAR A. BARTUREN, JASON BORGES, RAUL LARA MOLINA, RAYMUNDO LARA MOLINA, MIGUEL EDUARDO TAVARA, MARCO ANTONIO CORONA, JUAN CARLOS MOLINA, JULIO CESAR MORENO GONZALEZ, PEDRO HERNANDEZ HERNANDEZ, JULIO ANTONIO, JULIO CARBONEL, EUSEBIO SANTOS FERROSQULLO, LINO MARTINEZ, JUAN JOSE PENA FARFAN, JOSE FERNANDEZ, AND JORGE LEGIS CUYATE INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WILD EDIBLES, INC., 535 THIRD AVENUE LLC D/B/A WILD EDIBLES, RICHARD MARTIN, AND JONATHAN MEYER, DEFENDANTS.



OPINION, ORDER, AND INJUNCTION

Plaintiffs, who are current or former employees*fn1 of defendant Wild Edibles, Inc. ("Wild"), complain that Wild*fn2 failed to pay them overtime and spread-of-hours wages and retaliated against several named plaintiffs for complaining about Wild's failure to pay those wages, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. ("FLSA"), the New York Labor Law § 190 et seq. ("Labor Law"), the New York "spread-of- hours" regulation, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 12, § 142-2.4, and New York contract law.

Plaintiffs move to convert into a preliminary injunction the temporary retraining order forbidding retaliation against them or Wild employees for bringing this action or asserting a claim under the FLSA.

Wild seeks an evidentiary hearing on that motion and cross-moves to dismiss plaintiffs' claims that Wild retaliated against them in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), and Labor Law § 215.1.

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.

BACKGROUND

The August 20, 2007 Demonstration

Wild is a wholesale and retail fish purveyor with approximately fifty-five employees. Wild maintains a warehouse facility, main office, and refrigeration unit for seafood storage and processing at 21-51 Borden Avenue in Long Island City and three retail stores. Its warehouse employees start work at about two o'clock each morning to prepare, pick, and pack seafood orders which are then delivered by Wild's drivers to restaurants, hotels and gourmet groceries.

Last summer a union representative of the Industrial Workers of the World - Industrial Union 460-640 ("IWW"), Billy J. Randel, began a drive to recruit new members and organize Wild's warehouse facility. From June until September 2007, Randel and other IWW union representatives regularly stood outside of the warehouse facility, approached Wild employees, and spoke with them about their working conditions. Several of those employees stated to Randel that Wild was not paying them overtime wages.

On August 11, 2007 the IWW held a meeting attended by plaintiff Raymundo Lara Molina to discuss plans for demanding that Wild pay them overtime wages. On August 17, Wild fired Raymundo Molina. The parties dispute the basis of that action: plaintiffs claim it was in retaliation for organizing Wild employees to demand payment of overtime wages, Compl. ¶ 45; Wild claims it was because Molina "was late 20 out of 30 days in one month." Martin Aff. ¶ 8, Sept. 20, 2007.

From about 2:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m. on August 20, 2007, a group of Wild employees, its former employee Raymundo Molina, and several IWW representatives staged a demonstration at the warehouse facility to demand payment of overtime wages and the reinstatement of Raymundo Molina, and to notify Wild that several employees had joined the IWW. The group included plaintiffs Jason Borges, Julio Cesar Moreno Gonzalez, Marco Antonio Corona, Raul Lara Molina, Lino Alberto Martinez, and Jose Antonio Fernandez Tavara. The group marched in front of the warehouse facility, chanted their demands, carried and displayed signs, and held up an IWW banner.

Wild's owner and chief executive officer, defendant Richard Martin, arrived at the warehouse facility at about 2:45 a.m. shortly after receiving a phone call from its night manager notifying him that there was a picket line in front of the warehouse. Martin Aff. ¶ 20, Oct. 18, 2007. Upon arriving, he immediately entered the warehouse building. At about 5:30 a.m., Martin went outside the warehouse with Wild's general manager to see if the crowd of pickets and their signs blocked the drivers' access to the building. Id. ¶ 21. According to Martin, "The pickets moved towards us and began to surround us." Id. ¶ 22. With Martin encircled, IWW representative Randel directly expressed to Martin the employees' demands, including payment of overtime wages. Randel Aff. ¶ 7, Sept. 15, 2007; Eduardo Tabara Aff. ¶ 6, Sept. 15, 2007.

Alleged Post-Demonstration Retaliation

Plaintiffs have submitted affidavits asserting that (1) Wild discharged Borges on August 20, 2007, Raul Molina on or about August 30, 2007, and Gonzalez in the last week of August 2007 or the first week of September 2007, in retaliation for complaining at the August 20, 2007 demonstration that Wild failed to pay them overtime wages,*fn3 and (2) Wild constructively discharged Corona on or about September 15, 2007 in retaliation for making the same complaint.*fn4

Wild does not dispute that the employment of those plaintiffs ended on or about those dates. But, in its affidavits opposing plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, Wild denies ordering any retaliatory discharges. Martin swears: "We have taken no actions in retaliation. Everything we have done has been for bona fide business reasons consistent with our regular practices and procedures." Martin Aff. ¶ 6, Oct. 18, 2007. Martin agrees that "Julio Cesar Moreno Gonzalez was discharged", Martin Aff. ¶ 8, Sept. 20, 2007, but claims that was proper because "he failed to appear for work and failed to advise us he would not be appearing for work (commonly called 'no call, no show')." Id. Martin contends that Borges voluntarily quit, that ...


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