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Iaria v. Metro Fuel Oil Corp.

January 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gold, S., United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiffs bring this action under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and under New York state law, seeking to recover unpaid overtime compensation and statutory damages in connection with defendant's alleged labor law violations. Plaintiffs allege that they were employed as dispatchers by defendant Metro Fuel, a heating oil delivery company, and that they were not compensated for working more than 40 hours per week, as required by the FLSA and New York law.

Defendant has moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that plaintiffs' job duties satisfy an exemption for administrative employees under the FLSA and New York law.*fn1 The parties consented to have me decide the motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See Docket Entry 13.

Background -- Plaintiffs' Duties as Dispatchers

In determining whether the dispatchers in this case meet the administrative exemption, I must consider the totality of plaintiffs' responsibilities. The parties dispute what the actual primary duties of plaintiffs were. Generally, defendant contends that plaintiffs were part of management, supervised Metro Fuel's drivers, and exercised significant discretion in carrying out their responsibilities. Def. R.56.1 Statement ¶¶ 14, 22-24, 38-43. At oral argument on the motion, though, defendant acknowledged that plaintiffs' primary duties were routing heating oil deliveries, tracking the drivers throughout the day, and handling calls from customers when customer service personnel were unavailable. At their depositions, plaintiffs consistently described their primary duties as monitoring drivers' deliveries, responding to drivers' problems, handling some customer service calls, routing, entering data in the computers, and checking the drivers' logs. Ricco Dep. 16-18; Foley Dep. 20, 22-23; Wiederhold Dep. 17, 34-35. Plaintiffs' supervisor, Scott Alnwick, similarly described plaintiffs' responsibilities as routing, monitoring the drivers' progress, and assisting with customer service calls. Alnwick Dep. 15-18, 23. Plaintiffs also stated that they exercised minimal discretion and authority in the performance of their duties; rather, they testified that they were closely supervised, even when making changes to delivery schedules and re-routing deliveries. Iaria Dep. 61-62; Ricco Dep. 27-28; Foley Dep. 24, 26-27; Wiederhold Dep. 31-32, 41.


A. Standards Governing Summary Judgment

When deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must assess whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried. Coach Leatherware Co. v. AnnTaylor, Inc., 933 F.2d 162, 167 (2d Cir. 1991). See also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," and the dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). The court resolves any ambiguities and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Coach Leatherware Co., 933 F.2d at 167.

B. The FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.*fn2

The FLSA requires an employer to pay overtime compensation of at least one-and-a-half the usual rate if an employee works more than forty hours in a workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). See also N.Y. LAB. LAW §§ 650 et seq.; 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 142-2.2 (requiring overtime compensation). Employees working in several categories enumerated in the FLSA, however, are exempt from the statute's overtime provisions. For example, the overtime wage requirement does not apply to any employee who works in a "bona fide administrative capacity." 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). See also N.Y. LAB. LAW § 651(5)(c). Defendant contends that plaintiffs are exempt from overtime compensation pursuant to this provision.

An employer bears the burden of establishing that an employee meets one of the FLSA's exemptions. Bilyou v. Dutchess Beer Distribs., Inc., 300 F.3d 217, 222 (2d Cir. 2002). Moreover, the FLSA exemptions are to be "narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them and their application limited to those establishments plainly and unmistakably within their terms and spirit." Arnold v. Ben Kanowsky, Inc., 361 U.S. 388, 392, 80 S.Ct. 453, 456 (1960), quoted in Bilyou, 300 F.3d at 222; see also Schaefer v. Indiana Michigan Power Co., 358 F.3d 394, 407 (6th Cir. 2004) (reversing grant of summary judgment for defendant on issue of whether employee met administrative exemption after finding that issues of fact remained concerning employee's primary duties). "Determining whether an employee is exempt from the overtime pay requirements is a fact intensive inquiry." Kahn v. Superior Chicken & Ribs, Inc., 331 F. Supp. 2d 115, 118 (E.D.N.Y. 2004). See also DOL Field Operations Handbook § 22d04 ("The exempt status of individual dispatchers will depend upon the facts in each case.").

The Department of Labor's regulations (the "regulations") set forth a "short test" for determining whether an employee qualifies for the administrative exemption. The short test has two requirements: 1) the employee must be paid at least $455 per week and 2) the employee's primary duties must include: "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 . . . the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance."

29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a).

Plaintiffs here do not dispute that they all meet the salary requirement. They contend, however, that their responsibilities as dispatchers do not meet the ...

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