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Jeffrey Cohen, On Behalf of Himself Individually and On Behalf of All Similarly Situated Employees v. Gerson Lehrman Group

September 15, 2011

JEFFREY COHEN, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL SIMILARLY SITUATED EMPLOYEES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GERSON LEHRMAN GROUP, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Castel, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Plaintiff Jeffrey Cohen alleges that defendant Gerson Lehrman Group, Inc. ("Gerson Lehrman") violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (the "FLSA"), and New York Labor Law § 663 by failing to pay overtime for work performed by Gerson Lehrman's research associates. Separately, Gerson Lehrman has asserted counterclaims against Cohen for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (the "CFAA"), and for the common law torts of conversion and trespass to chattels. The Court previously granted plaintiff's motion for preliminary certification as a collective action under the FLSA, and denied motions to dismiss his wage-and-hour claims and the defendant's counterclaims. See Cohen v. Gerson Lehrman Grp., Inc., 686 F. Supp. 2d 317 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). After the Court granted Cohen's motion for preliminary certification, plaintiffs Matthew Ronen and Ashleigh Baldwin joined the action as plaintiffs. Like Cohen, Ronen and Baldwin were employed by Gerson Lehrman as research associates. (Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 19, 24-25; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 19, 24-25.)

Discovery in this action is now closed, and three motions for summary judgment are currently pending. The plaintiffs contend that the defendant is liable as a matter of law for failing to comply with the wage-and-hour provisions of the FLSA and New York Labor Law. (Docket # 123.) Cohen also argues that, as a matter of law, he is not liable for the defendant's counterclaims. (Docket # 126.) The defendant separately moves for summary judgment in its favor as to liability under the FLSA and the New York Labor Law, contending that plaintiffs worked in an administrative capacity and therefore were exempt from overtime requirements. (Docket # 134.)

For the reasons explained, the record submitted by the parties on plaintiffs' wage-and-hour claims does not support summary judgment in favor of either party. The parties' summary judgment motions on the FLSA and New York Labor Law claims are denied. Cohen's motion for summary judgment dismissing the defendant's counterclaims also is denied.

BACKGROUND ON PLAINTIFFS' WAGE-AND-HOUR CLAIMS

Defendant Gerson Lehrman describes itself as a "global marketplace for expertise" that helps clients find and "engage" experts in various industries and disciplines.*fn1 (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 1; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 1; Def. 56.1 ¶ 2; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 2.) It maintains a database of approximately 200,000 experts. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 2; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 2; Def. 56.1 ¶ 3; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.) Clients pay Gerson Lehrman for the services provided by its experts. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 7; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 7.)

Gerson Lehrman previously employed individuals in the position of research associate. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 333; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 333.) According to the company job description, research associates were "responsible for managing and executing primary research deliverables to add value to Gerson Lehrman Group's client." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 3; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 3.) Research associates interviewed clients and matched them with appropriate experts, and performed research tasks delegated by more senior employees. (Pl. 56.1 ¶¶ 4-5; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶¶ 4-5.) Gerson Lehrman also has described research associates as "thought partners to client" and "the front line bulwark for the compliance framework." (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 7; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 7.) In 2008, Gerson Lehrman eliminated the research associate position. (Pl. 56.1 ¶ 8; Def. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 8; Def. 56.1 ¶ 334; Pl. 56.1 Resp. ¶ 334.)

According to the plaintiffs, Gerson Lehrman unlawfully categorized research associates as exempt from the FLSA's wage-and-hour requirements. They contend that they were entitled to time-and-a-half compensation for overtime hours worked during their employment at Gerson Lehrman. Gerson Lehrman, by contrast, argues that the plaintiffs fall within the FLSA's administrative exemption, and that summary judgment should be granted in its favor. See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1) (setting forth administrative exemption). On the FLSA claims, the defendant argues that the administrative exemption applies as a matter of law, and the plaintiffs argue that, as a matter of law, it does not.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment "shall" be granted "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." Rule 56(a), Fed. R. Civ. P. It is the initial burden of a movant on a summary judgment motion to come forward with evidence on each material element of his claim or defense, sufficient to demonstrate that he or she is entitled to relief as a matter of law. Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004). In raising a triable issue of fact, the non-movant carries only "a limited burden of production," but nevertheless "must 'demonstrate more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,' and come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Powell v. Nat'l Bd. of Med. Exam'rs, 364 F.3d 79, 84 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Aslanidis v. U.S. Lines, Inc., 7 F.3d 1067, 1072 (2d Cir. 1993)).

A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law," meaning that "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 (1986). The Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor, and may grant summary judgment only when no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party. Costello v. City of Burlington, 632 F.3d 41, 45 (2d Cir. 2011); accordMatsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585--88 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court may scrutinize the record, and grant or deny summary judgment as the record warrants. Rule 56(c)(3). In the absence of any disputed material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. Rule 56(a).

"A party opposing summary judgment does not show the existence of a genuine issue of fact to be tried merely by making assertions that are conclusory or based on speculation." Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. v. Salvino, Inc., 542 F.3d 290, 310 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal citation omitted); see alsoAnderson, 477 U.S. at 249--50 (summary judgment may be granted if the opposing evidence is "merely colorable" or "not significantly probative") (citations omitted). An opposing party's facts "must be material and of a substantial nature, not fanciful, frivolous, gauzy, spurious, irrelevant, gossamer inferences, conjectural, speculative, nor merely suspicions." Contemporary Mission, Inc. v. U.S. Postal Serv., 648 F.2d 97, 107 n. 14 (2d Cir. 1981) (quotation marks omitted).

Local Civil Rule 56.1 of this District requires a summary judgment movant to submit a statement with numbered paragraphs setting forth "the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried." Local Civil Rule 56.1(a). "Each numbered paragraph in the statement of material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted for purposes of the motion unless specifically controverted by a correspondingly numbered paragraph in the statement required to be served by the opposing party." Local Civil Rule 56.1(c). "Each statement by the movant or opponent pursuant to Rule 56.1(a) and (b), including each statement controverting any statement of material fact, must be followed by citation to evidence which would be admissible, set forth as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)." Local Civil Rule 56.1(d). "A party may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence." Rule 56(c)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P. ...


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