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Jones v. Town of Whitehall

United States District Court, N.D. New York

July 30, 2015

KATHLEEN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF WHITEHALL, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Kathleen Jones ("Plaintiff") commenced this employment action on July 9, 2013, against Defendants Town of Whitehall (the "Town"), George Armstrong ("Armstrong"), and Louis D. Pratt II ("Pratt") (collectively, "Defendants"). Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 22 ("Motion"); 22-20 ("Memorandum"). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Employment with the Town

Plaintiff was employed as a Clerk to the Town Supervisor, Clerk to the Highway Superintendent, and Budget Officer for the Town from April 2010 until her termination on January 9, 2013. Dkt. Nos. 22-19 ("Defendants' Statement of Material Facts") ¶¶ 7-8, 23; 22-6 ("Jones Deposition") at 24:07-28:02.[1] Plaintiff held these positions simultaneously. Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff was appointed to these positions by Town Highway Superintendent Pratt and Town Supervisor Richard Gordon ("Gordon"). Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 4-5; 11; Jones Dep. at 28:03-07. Armstrong replaced Gordon as Town Supervisor in January 2012. Defs.' SMF ¶ 2.

B. Plaintiff's Entitlement to Overtime Compensation

Plaintiff's scheduled hours were from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, which coincided with her daughter's school schedule. Defs.' SMF ¶ 15. Plaintiff admits that she was expected to work thirty-five hours per week, and that there was no express agreement stating that she was entitled to overtime. Dkt. Nos. 28 ("Plaintiff's Response to Statement of Material Facts") ¶ 9; 28-1 ("Jones Declaration") ¶ 52. On June 29, 2011, Plaintiff signed a "notice and acknowledgment of pay rate and pay day, " acknowledging that she would receive a salary of $30, 306.00 per year for thirty-five hours of work per week. See Dkt. No. 22-10 ("Agreement"); Jones Dep. at 30:01-22. When prompted to fill in the overtime pay rate on the form, Plaintiff wrote "N/A" (not applicable). Agreement. Plaintiff confirmed that she understood that she was not entitled to overtime during her deposition. Jones Dep. at 31:02-32:08.

Defendants state that Plaintiff rarely worked more than thirty-five hours per week, and often took time off during the work day to take her daughter to school events and appointments. Defs.' SMF ¶ 15. Plaintiff contends that she worked an average of forty-eight hours per week, thereby entitling her to overtime compensation. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 15; Jones Decl. ¶ 59. Plaintiff further argues that Defendants violated her rights by failing to provide an uninterrupted thirty minute lunch break, which is required for non-exempt employees. Compl. ¶¶ 69-71. Defendants deny ever advising or directing Plaintiff to forego a lunch break. Defs.' SMF ¶ 25. Armstrong stated that Plaintiff did not have a specified lunch time, but rather, he expected her to take a lunch break whenever her duties allowed. Dkt. No. 22-7 ("Armstrong Deposition") at 31:03-21.

C. Plaintiff's Exempt Status

Defendants assert that Plaintiff's positions were classified as exempt under the civil service classifications for the Town of Whitehall, and therefore Plaintiff was not entitled to receive overtime compensation. Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 9-10; Dkt. No. 22-11 ("Washington County Civil Service Rules") (listing "Clerk to Supervisor" and "Budget Officer" as exempt positions, but silent as to "Clerk to Highway Superintendent"). Plaintiff admits that her positions were exempt under civil service law, but denies that her positions were exempt from overtime compensation. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 10; Jones Decl. ¶ 51. Armstrong stated that he relied on the Washington County Civil Service Rules when determining that Plaintiff was an exempt employee. Armstrong Dep. at 26:01-24. Plaintiff argues that her positions were misclassified as exempt, and that she should have been entitled to overtime compensation because she was expected to work more than forty hours per week. Jones Dep. at 32:19-33:11. Plaintiff admits that she never requested to have her positions reclassified from "exempt" to "nonexempt." Id. at 34:20-35:02. In the Spring of 2012, however, Plaintiff asked Armstrong to change her job title to comptroller, which Plaintiff believed better suited her actual duties. Id. at 34:20-36:02. Plaintiff does not recall submitting any formal or written request to have her job reclassified as comptroller. Id. at 40:15-20.

D. Compensatory Time Arrangement

When Plaintiff began serving as Budget Officer, she was asked by Gordon to assist in preparing for a state audit of the Town's finances. Id. at 32:19-33:11. This project often required Plaintiff to work more than thirty-five hours per week. Id. Gordon agreed to compensate Plaintiff for these hours by providing "comp time" for any hours Plaintiff worked in excess of thirty-five hours per week. Defs.' SMF ¶ 12; Jones Dep. at 33:06-11. Plaintiff kept track of the comp time she earned and Gordon signed off on the comp time every month. Jones Dep. at 33:12-16. At some point in 2010 or 2011, Gordon became concerned that Plaintiff had accrued too much comp time and advised her to use her comp time by the end of the year. Id. at 34:07-18.

Armstrong replaced Gordon as Town Supervisor in January 2012. Defs.' SMF ¶ 2. Plaintiff was reappointed to her positions during the Town's annual organization meeting on January 2, 2012. Id. ¶ 13. When Armstrong took office, he advised Plaintiff that he would honor any comp time she had accrued pursuant to her agreement with former Supervisor Gordon, but that he would not continue the policy of providing Plaintiff comp time for any hours she worked in excess of thirty five. Id. ¶ 12; Armstrong Dep. at 22:02-16. Plaintiff used all but fourteen hours of the comp time she had accrued under Gordon's tenure. Armstrong Dep. at 22:19-20.

E. Plaintiff's Concerns Over Highway Budgeting Practices

In August 2012, Plaintiff spoke with Pratt about what she perceived to be improper budgeting practices within the Town Highway Department. Jones Dep. at 62:06-14. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Pratt intentionally overbudgeted for personnel, and then used the excess money to purchase equipment. Id. at 73:04-10. Although Plaintiff was aware of these budgeting practices during 2010 and 2011, she felt uncomfortable confronting Pratt about them because she was relatively new to her position. Id. at 63:04-12. In 2012, Plaintiff confronted Pratt about these budgeting practices, to which Pratt responded, "[t]hen they're going to take away my money, " slammed the door, and left. Id. at 63:13-65:09. When Plaintiff told a coworker that she had reported this activity to both Pratt and Armstrong, the coworker warned "[t]hey'll have your job." Id. at 64:21-25.

On October 9, 2012, Plaintiff sent a letter to Armstrong, stating that she had accrued twenty-one hours of compensation time under Supervisor Gordon's tenure that she had not yet used. Defs.' SMF ¶ 16; Dkt. No. 22-12 ("Letter"). In the Letter, Plaintiff also requested raises for herself and Pratt. Letter. Plaintiff also reiterated her concerns over the Highway Department's budgeting practices. Id.; Defs.' SMF ¶ 18; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 18. Defendants state that there have been at least three independent audits of the Town's budget since 2008, and none of these audits revealed any budgetary improprieties. Defs.' SMF ¶ 19. Plaintiff counters that the audits did not necessarily investigate the propriety of the Highway Department's budgeting practices. Pl.'s SMF ¶ 19. Armstrong recalls receiving Plaintiff's Letter, but stated that he just filed it ...


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