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Ozawa v. Orsini Design Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 11, 2015

NORIKO OZAWA, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
ORSINI DESIGN ASSOCIATES, INC., and SUSAN F. ORSINI, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

In this suit, Plaintiff Noriko Ozawa ("Ozawa" or "Plaintiff") asserts claims under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the New York Labor Law ("NYLL") stemming from her employment by Defendant Orsini Design Associates, Inc. ("ODA"), and its principal, Defendant Susan F. Orsini ("Orsini"; collectively with ODA, "Defendants"). Defendants have interposed a counterclaim against Ozawa under New York state law for unjust enrichment. Now before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, as well as Ozawa's motion to strike a paragraph of an affidavit by Orsini. For the reasons that follow, Ozawa's motion for partial summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Ozawa's motion to strike is denied.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[1]

ODA is an interior design company whose president and sole owner is Susan Orsini. (Dkt. No. 110 ("Pl. 56.1 Response") ¶¶ 1, 4.) Ozawa was responsible to Orsini, who had "ultimate authority" over all of ODA's employees. (Dkt. No. 108 ("Def. 56.1 Response") ¶¶ 3-4.) Ozawa was an employee of ODA between June 21, 2010, and October 30, 2012. (Pl. 56.1 Response ¶ 6.) Ozawa's starting salary was $60, 000 per year. ( Id. ¶ 14.) From June 30, 2012, until the end of Ozawa's employment, her salary was reduced to $50, 000 per year. (Def. 56.1 Response ¶ 15.) Timesheets prepared during Ozawa's employment reflect that she worked more than 40 hours during a number of weeks of her employment, but she was not paid overtime for this time. ( Id. ¶¶ 12, 16.)

According to Ozawa, her main function was as an administrative assistant to Orsini, carrying out tasks like scheduling, printing, shipping packages, making restaurant and travel reservations, handling aspects of Orsini's wedding preparations, and performing other tasks to assist Orsini. ( Id. ¶¶ 21-39.) Defendants, on the other hand, assert that Ozawa's responsibilities were those of the "chief administrator/office manager, " and that she took on significant responsibility to oversee ODA personnel, technology systems, and policymaking. (Pl. 56.1 Response ¶¶ 18-23.) As a result, Defendants argue, Ozawa was exempt from the requirements of the FLSA and the NYLL, and therefore was not entitled to overtime pay. As further detailed below, each side contests the other's characterization of facts in the record, and the parties dispute certain key facts.

B. Procedural History

Ozawa filed this suit on February 26, 2013, asserting claims for violation of state and federal wage and hour laws. (Dkt. No. 1.) Defendants answered the complaint and asserted a counterclaim against Ozawa for unjust enrichment. (Dkt. No. 6.) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which adds a claim for retaliation arising out of Defendants' filing of a counterclaim. (Dkt. No. 10.)

While Ozawa initially filed the suit as a putative Rule 23 class action and as a putative collective action under the FLSA, she later indicated that she would not seek class certification. ( See Dkt. No. 81.) On August 15, 2014, Ozawa and Defendants filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 91, 97.) On September 8, 2014, Ozawa also moved to strike a paragraph of an affidavit filed by Orsini in support of Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 109.)

II. Discussion

A. Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper when "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). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and a dispute is genuine if, considering the record as a whole, a rational jury could find in favor of the non-moving party, Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

On a motion for summary judgment, the party bearing the burden of proof at trial must come forward with evidence on each element of its claim or defense illustrating its entitlement to relief. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). It cannot rely upon mere "conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation" to meet its burden. Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996). If the party with the burden of proof makes the requisite initial showing, the burden shifts to the opposing party to identify specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial, i.e., that reasonable jurors could differ about the evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250-51. The court should view all evidence "in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor, " and a motion for summary judgment may be granted only if "no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted).

1. FLSA and NYLL Wage and Hour Claims

"Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938 to eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers.'" Reiseck v. Universal Commc'ns of Miami, Inc., 591 F.3d 101, 104 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 202(a)). "Among other requirements, the FLSA obligates employers to compensate employees for hours in excess of 40 per week at a rate of 11/2 times the employees' regular wages." Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 132 S.Ct. 2156, 2162 (2012) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)). New York law contains analogous provisions that also mandate the payment of overtime. See Reiseck, 591 F.3d at 105.

The wage and hour laws contain exemptions for certain categories of employees, including for "any employee employed in a bona fide... administrative... capacity." 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).[2] "[A]dministrative employees, inter alia, are exempt from the overtime pay provision of the FLSA." Reiseck, 591 F.3d at 104-05. The FLSA itself does not define the term "administrative"; instead, it delegates the interpretation of the term to the Secretary of Labor. See Reich v. New York, 3 F.3d 581, 587 (2d Cir. 1993), overruled by implication on other grounds by Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996). "[B]ecause the FLSA is a remedial act, its exemptions... are to be narrowly construed." Martin v. Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., 949 F.2d 611, 614 (2d Cir. 1991) (citing Arnold v. Ben Kanowsky, Inc., 361 U.S. 388, 392 (1960)). The employer bears the burden of establishing that its employee falls within a FLSA exemption. See Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188, 196-97 (1974). Whether an exemption applies to a particular employee "is a mixed question of law and fact" that depends upon "the [employee's] actual job characteristics and duties" and requires consideration of "all the facts in a particular case." Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537, 548 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Because "[w]hether an employee is exempt from the overtime pay provisions is a fact intensive inquiry, " Schwind v. EW & Assocs., Inc., 357 F.Supp.2d 691, 703 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted), "[e]ven where there has been full discovery, courts are often reluctant to grant summary judgment based on [a FLSA] exemption...." Indergit v. Rite Aid Corp., Nos. 08 Civ. 9361 (PGG), 08 Civ. 11364 (PGG), 2010 WL 1327242, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010).

The administrative exemption applies to "those employees who (1) are compensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate no less than $455 per week; (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 of significance.'" Indergit v. Rite Aid Corp., 293 F.R.D. 632, 637-38 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a)(1)-(3)) (brackets omitted). "A job title alone is insufficient to establish the exempt status of an employee. The exempt or nonexempt status of any particular employee must be determined on the basis of whether the employee's salary and duties meet the requirements of the regulations...." 29 C.F.R. § 541.2. An employee's "primary duty" depends on such factors as "the relative importance of the exempt duties as compared with other types of duties; the amount of time spent performing exempt work; the employee's relative freedom from direct supervision; and the relationship between the employee's salary and the wages paid to other employees for the kind of nonexempt work performed by the employee." 29 C.F.R. § 541.700(a). The amount of time an employee spends performing exempt work, as opposed to nonexempt work, is a "useful guide in determining whether exempt work is the primary duty of the employee, " but "[t]ime alone... is not the sole test." Id. § 541.700(b).

a. Salary requirement

It is undisputed that Ozawa's salary satisfies the first prong of the administrative exemption: her salary, which ranged from $50, 000 to $60, 000 per year during the course of her employment at ODA, well exceeds the minimum of $455 ...


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