Alston v. Directv, Inc.

Decision Date26 May 2017
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:14-cv-04093-JMC.
Citation254 F.Supp.3d 765
Parties James ALSTON, Carnell Bullock, Mark Hilton, Zachary Jenkins, James Kile, Rhett Linley, John McPherson, Jeffrey Naves, Joseph Robinson, Carl Simon, Khehadi Watkins, Corey Gleaton, Nolan Pegues, and Alan Ryman, Plaintiffs, v. DIRECTV, INC., DIRECTV, LLC, and MasTec North America, Inc., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Carolina

Milford Oliver Howard, III, Howard Law Firm, Greenville, SC, Alexander T. Ricke, Crystal R. Cook, Daniel M. Shaw, Lauren E. Luhrs, Stueve Siegel Hanson, Kansas City, MO, Sander Clay Sowers, Todd Christopher Werts, Lear Werts LLP, Columbia, MO, for Plaintiffs.

Blake Terence Williams, Sarah B. Nielsen, Sue Erwin Harper, Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough, Columbia, SC, Christina Theresa Tellado, Linda S. Husar, Thomas E. Hill, Jarryd M. Cooper, Reed Smith LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Valerie Eifert Brown, Reed Smith LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION

J. Michelle Childs, United States District Court Judge

Defendants DIRECTV, Inc., DIRECTV, LLC (together, "DirecTV") and MasTec North America, Inc. ("MasTec") (collectively, "Defendants")1 have filed 14 motions seeking summary judgment on claims arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. , asserted by Plaintiffs James Alston, Carnell Bullock, Mark Hilton, Zachary Jenkins, James Kile, Rhett Linley, John McPherson, Jeffrey Naves, Joseph Robinson, Carl Simon, Khehadi Watkins, Corey Gleaton, Nolan Pegues, and Alan Ryman (together, "Plaintiffs"). (See ECF Nos. 87 to 100.) A hearing on the motions has been scheduled. (See ECF No. 139.) In order to streamline the upcoming hearing and to ensure an expeditious disposition of the summary judgment motions, this order addresses a number of arguments raised by the parties for which the court believes argument at a hearing would not be beneficial. Accordingly, in this order, the court DENIES IN PART Defendants' motions for summary judgment and reserves decision on the remaining aspects of the motions until after the hearing.

I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 20, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their complaint in this matter, alleging that they are all technicians who worked installing and repairing satellite television service systems offered to consumers by DirecTV. (See ECF No. 1 at 2, 5.) Plaintiffs allege that DirecTV oversees a "provider network" of corporate entities called Home Service Providers ("HSPs") that provide DirecTV with its workforce of technicians. (See id. at 5.) Ostensibly, HSPs, such as MasTech, either employ technicians directly or engage technicians as independent contractors, and an HSP might also subcontract with another HSP to provide DirecTV with technicians who are designated as employees or independent contractors of the subcontracted HSP. (See id. at 5–6.) Plaintiffs allege that the HSP provider network was designed to allow DirecTV to exercise the right of control over technicians while avoiding its obligation to comply with the requirements that the FLSA imposes on employers. (See id. at 6–8.) Plaintiffs claim that, despite Defendants' designation of their employment status, Plaintiffs were jointly employed by DirecTV and by the HSPs that engaged them for purposes of the FLSA. (See id. at 8–10.)

Plaintiffs also claim that the net effect of Defendants' policies and practices was to willfully fail to pay minimum wage and overtime compensation due to Plaintiffs, and to avoid keeping accurate time records in order to save on payroll costs. (See id. at 10.) They allege that DirecTV used a computer program called SIEBEL to coordinate and assign to technicians particular work orders for installing or repairing DirecTV systems and that DirecTV used a per-task (piece-rate) payment scheme to compensate technicians for completing work orders. (See id. at 7.) Although the system accounted for some of the time during which technicians completed work orders, Plaintiffs allege that it failed to account for all of that time and that technicians were not compensated for the time needed to perform other necessary work, such as

assembling satellite dishes, driving to and between job assignments, reviewing and receiving schedules, calling customers to confirm installations, obtaining required supplies, assisting other technicians with installations, performing required customer educations, contacting [DirecTV] to report in or activate service, working on installations that were not completed, and working on "rollback" installations where Plaintiffs had to return and perform additional work on installations previously completed.

(Id. at 11.) Plaintiffs also allege that the provider network resulted in many technicians being misclassified as independent contractors and that, due to this misclassification, technicians were required to purchase at their own expense the supplies necessary to perform the work and that "chargebacks" were deducted from their pay. (See id. at 12.) As a result of Defendants' failure to compensate technicians for working all the time necessary to perform their work and Defendants' failure to reimburse technicians for chargebacks and expenses necessarily incurred to perform their work, Plaintiffs allege that they were paid below the minimum wage and overtime wage rates, in violation of the FLSA. (See id. at 10–12.) Plaintiffs seek damages for unpaid minimum wages, unpaid overtime wages, and liquidated damages, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and damages from unpaid wages and compensation resulting from their misclassification as independent contractors. (See id. at 24–27.)

After discovery was completed (see ECF No. 66 at 1), Defendants filed the instant motions for summary judgment (see ECF Nos. 87 to 100). Although Defendants raise several grounds for summary judgment, each motion is specifically tailored to each of the 14 remaining Plaintiffs, such that not all of the grounds raised are applicable to each Plaintiff. (See ECF No. 131 at 52 (appendix).) Defendants assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on all or some of the claims asserted by all or some of the remaining Plaintiffs because there is no genuine dispute that (1) certain Plaintiffs were properly classified as independent contractors and were not jointly employed by Defendants; (2) Defendants lacked the requisite knowledge of the hours Plaintiffs worked; (3) certain Plaintiffs are subject to the retail or service establishment exemption for overtime wages under 29 U.S.C. § 207(i) ; (4) certain Plaintiffs were paid at least the minimum wage; (5) certain Plaintiffs are unable to make the requisite showing of damages; (6) certain Plaintiffs' claims are barred by two year statute of limitations in 29 U.S.C. § 255(a) ; and (7) certain Plaintiffs were properly paid overtime wages during their employment with MasTec. (See ECF Nos. 87–1, 88–1, 89–1, 90–1, 91–1, 92–1, 93–1, 94–1, 95–1, 96–1, 97–1, 98–1, 99–1, 100–1; see also ECF No. 131 at 52.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials in the record show that "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). "[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ‘the evidence of the nonmovant[s] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [their] favor.’ " Tolan v. Cotton , ––– U.S. ––––, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014) (per curiam) (brackets omitted) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) ). A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving part[ies]," and a fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

The parties seeking summary judgment shoulder the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the movants have made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving parties, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in their pleadings. Rather, the non-moving parties must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist which give rise to a genuine issue. See id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

III. ANALYSIS

The court addresses Defendants' grounds for summary judgment below. As indicated by the truncated recitation of the facts above, the court discusses the relevant evidence to which the parties point in each of the below subparts as needed.

A. Joint employment and designation of Plaintiffs' employment status

As Defendants correctly point out, for a defendant to be liable under the FLSA provisions at issue here, a plaintiff must prove that he was the defendant's employee, as that term is used for purposes of the FLSA. See Salinas v. Commercial Interiors, Inc. , 848 F.3d 125, 133 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing 29 U.S.C §§ 203(e)(1), 206(a), 207(a)(1) ). Under the FLSA, an individual may be jointly employed by more than one entity at the same time, with all joint employers being jointly responsible for compliance with the FLSA. See id. at 133–35. Under their theory of liability, Plaintiffs appear to argue that each Plaintiff was jointly employed by DirecTV and MasTec (see ECF No. 125 at 71–88), even though Plaintiffs Bullock and Ryman assert claims against DirecTV only, and not against MasTec (see ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 84, 147).

In their first ground for summary judgment, Defendants have asserted in their motions that Plaintiffs fail to adduce evidence sufficient to raise a genuine dispute that DirecTV and MasTec did not jointly employ Plaintiffs Alston, Hilton, Jenkins, Kile, Linley, McPherson, Naves, Robinson, Simon, and Watkins (see ECF No. 87–1 at 10–21; ECF No. 90–1 at 8–20; ECF No. 91–1 at 9–20; ECF No....

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