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Landaeta v. New York and Presbyterian Hospital, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 4, 2014

JANET LANDAETA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW YORK AND PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JESSE M. FURMAN, District Judge.

Maria Eduarda Rocha-Waid, Ruth Washington-Cohen, and Janet Landaeta (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring suit against New York and Presbyterian Hospital, Inc. ("Defendant" or the "Hospital") under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. and the New York State Labor Law ("NYLL"), N.Y. Lab. Law §§ 650 et seq., alleging unpaid wages, unpaid overtime hours, and unlawful retaliation. (Am. Compl. (Docket No. 15)). Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all claims pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 33). For the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

The following facts, taken from the admissible materials submitted by the parties, are viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, as they are the non-moving parties. See, e.g., Gould v. Winstar Commc'ns, Inc., 692 F.3d 148, 157-58 (2d Cir. 2012).

The Hospital provides medical services at facilities in Manhattan and Westchester. (Affidavit of Evelyn Ramos ("Ramos Affidavit") (Docket No. 35) ¶ 3). It is comprised of five campuses: the Weill Cornell Medical Center, the Columbia University Medical Center, the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, the "Westchester campus, " and the Allen Hospital. ( Id. ¶ 3). The Hospital is required by law to provide interpretation services to its non-English speaking patients. (Affidavit in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Kelly Affidavit") (Docket No. 36), Attachments 11-12 ("Ramos Dep.") 22:21-23:8).

Until early 2012, the Hospital employed three types of interpreters: on-site "agency" interpreters, on-site "freelance" interpreters, [1] and telephonic interpreters. (Ramos Affidavit ¶ 4). Agency interpreters performed interpretations at the Hospital, but worked for independent agencies with whom the Hospital contracted. ( Id. ¶ 5). Freelance interpreters were similar to agency interpreters in that they performed in-person interpretations, but they worked directly for the Hospital. ( Id. ). Telephonic interpreters, as the name suggests, provided interpretation services over the telephone. ( Id. ¶ 4).

Plaintiffs were freelance interpreters. Plaintiff Rocha-Waid, who speaks English, French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese, initially worked for a translation agency that contracted with the Hospital, CP Language, Inc. ("CP"), but then, in either 2004 or 2005, began working directly for the Hospital (Kelly Affidavit, Ex. A, at 1; Kelly Affidavit, Attachment 4 ("Rocha-Waid Dep.") 18:14-19:4; Declaration of Maria Eduarda Rocha-Waid ("Rocha-Waid Decl.") (Docket No. 44) ¶ 2). Plaintiff Washington-Cohen, who speaks English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese as well, also began working at the Hospital through CP, and became a freelance interpreter in 2002. (Kelly Affidavit, Ex. B, at 1; Kelly Affidavit, Attachments 5-6 ("Washington-Cohen Dep.") 18:9-13; Declaration of Ruth Washington-Cohen ("Washington-Cohen Decl.") (Docket No. 43) ¶ 2). Plaintiff Landaeta began working at the Hospital as an intern in the financial office, but accepted a position as a freelance Spanish interpreter in 2005. (Kelly Affidavit, Attachments 7-8 ("Landaeta Dep.") 54:12-55:7; Declaration of Janet Landaeta ("Landaeta Decl.") (Docket No. 42) ¶¶ 2-3). Around that same time, Landaeta also began work as an administrator in the Hospital's Interpreter Services Office (the "ISO") under Ariel Lenarduzzi, the Hospital's Manager of Interpreter Services. (Landaeta Dep. 54:16-23; Landaeta Decl. ¶ 3). From January 2006 to January 2012, Landaeta spent approximately two-thirds of her time interpreting (typically from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) and one-third of her time performing administrative tasks in the ISO (typically from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 or 7:00 p.m.). (Landaeta Decl. ¶ 10).

The nature of Plaintiffs' interpretation work is a matter of some dispute, but, at a basic level, it involved performing a number of pre-scheduled interpretations at the Hospital each day. Typically, a provider (such as a physician or nurse) would request an interpreter the day before an appointment by contacting the ISO, and the ISO would contact an interpreter that it deemed appropriate for the assignment. (Ramos Affidavit ¶ 5). When the ISO determined the job was appropriate for a freelance interpreter, it would contact that freelance interpreter the evening before the assignment. ( Id. ). Through this process, a freelance interpreter would procure one or more assignments for a given day and would proceed from assignment to assignment in the Hospital. ( Id.; Washington-Cohen Dep. 35:22-36:7). Before the first assignment, the interpreter would report to the ISO, and the interpreter would return to the ISO at the end of the day. (Washington-Cohen Dep. 36:17-24, 40:12-14; Landaeta Decl. ¶¶ 9, 15; Rocha-Waid Decl. ¶¶ 9, 11). Plaintiffs would also return to the ISO when they had gaps between assignments, although whether they were required to do so or simply did so by choice is in dispute. (Pls.' Opp'n to Def.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts (Docket No. 48) ¶ 55). Plaintiffs were compensated based on the number of hours they spent interpreting, multiplied by the applicable hourly rate. (Ramos Affidavit ¶ 9).

In March 2012, the Hospital ended its use of freelance interpreters. (Ramos Dep. 96:21-97:5). The reasons for this decision are also in dispute. According to Plaintiffs, the Hospital "eliminated the entire in-house medical interpreter program" ( i.e., the freelance interpreters) in response to a complaint lodged by Washington-Cohen that she was misclassified as an independent contractor. (Pls.' Mem. Law Opp'n Def.'s M. Summ. J. ("Pls.' Mem.") (Docket No. 41) 1). The Hospital, however, argues that its decision to end the use of freelance interpreters was motivated by a desire to cut costs and was part of a broader, Hospital-wide initiative. (Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem.") (Docket No. 37) 8-9, 11). In any case, Plaintiffs all stopped working at the Hospital just before it formally ended its use of freelance interpreters. (Rocha-Waid Decl. ¶ 18; Washington-Cohen Decl. ¶ 31; Landaeta Decl. ¶ 31).

Plaintiffs allege that, in the course of their work, they were not compensated for certain "off-the-clock" work, in violation of the FLSA and NYLL. Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that they were required to arrive at the ISO ten to fifteen minutes before the start of their first interpretation assignment each day, and to return to the ISO for ten to thirty minutes after their final interpretation assignment each day, but were not compensated for this time. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16, 36, 41, 60-65; Washington-Cohen Decl. ¶ 11; Rocha-Waid Decl. ¶ 11). They further allege that they were not paid overtime rates in weeks when they worked more than forty hours (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37, 42, 66-71), and were not paid for breaks of twenty minutes or less (Washington Cohen Decl. ¶ 32; Rocha-Waid Decl. ¶ 19; Landaeta Decl. ¶ 32). Finally, Plaintiffs contend that the Hospital unlawfully terminated their employment in retaliation for Washington-Cohen's exercising rights under the FLSA and NYLL. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 72-75).[2]

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence and the pleadings demonstrate "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). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed "in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, " Overton v. N.Y. State Div. of Military & Naval Affairs, 373 F.3d 83, 89 (2d Cir. 2004), and the court must "resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, " Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004). A dispute over an issue of material fact qualifies as 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 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). "In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the movant's burden will be satisfied if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Goenaga v. March of Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995); accord PepsiCo, Inc. v. Coca-Cola Co., 315 F.3d 101, 105 (2d Cir. 2002).

DISCUSSION

As noted, Defendant moves for summary judgment with respect to all of Plaintiffs' claims. Specifically, Defendant advances three arguments as to why summary judgment is warranted. First, it contends that Plaintiffs are independent contractors, and therefore not protected by the FLSA or NYLL. (Def.'s Mem. 11-20). Second, Defendant maintains that Plaintiffs' wage claims should be dismissed because any damages are de minimis. ( Id. at 20). Finally, Defendant argues that ...


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