Chellen v. John Pickle Co., Inc.

Citation434 F.Supp.2d 1069
Decision Date24 May 2006
Docket NumberNo. 02-CV-0979-CVE-FHM.,No. 02-CV-0085-CVE-FHM.,02-CV-0085-CVE-FHM.,02-CV-0979-CVE-FHM.
PartiesBabu Thanu CHELLEN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. JOHN PICKLE CO., INC., and John Pickle, Jr., Defendants. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff, v. John Pickle Company, Inc., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Oklahoma

Bill K. Felty, B. Kent Felty Law Office, Johnny Clyde Parker, Tulsa, OK, Joe W. McDoulett, Catholic Charities, Oklahoma City, OK, for Plaintiffs Babu Thanu Chellen, et al.

Jon Thomas Mason, Linda Cole McGowan, Carpenter, Mason & McGowan, Philip James McGowan, McGowan & McGowan PLLC, Tulsa, OK, for Defendants.

Michelle M. Robertson, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Oklahoma City, OK, Robert A. Canino, US Equal Employment Dallas District Office, Dallas, TX, for Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.



EAGAN, Chief Judge.

In 2001, more than fifty men left their homes in India for work in Tulsa, Oklahoma at John Pickle Company, Inc. ("JPC"). In 2002, fifty-two of these individuals1 sued JPC and John Pickle, Jr. ("John Pickle") with seven claims for relief, five of which remain: (1) violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219; (2) race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) deceit; (4) false imprisonment; and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") subsequently brought an action against JPC for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.

The Court initially planned to proceed in three phases and, after a non jury trial in the first phase, determined that the Chellen plaintiffs were employees, not trainees, under the FLSA. See Chellen v. John Pickle Co., 344 F.Supp.2d 1278 (N.D.Okla. 2004) (hereinafter "Chellen I"). With the agreement of the parties, the Court combined the second and third phases of the proceedings to determine liability as well as damages for all claims. The non-jury trial for this second and final phase was held in March 2005. The parties stipulated to representative witness testimony whereby a few individual plaintiffs testified at trial on behalf of all of the individual plaintiffs. The parties also stipulated, among other things, that all evidence of record in the Phase I proceedings could be used in support of any claim or defense presented in Phase II of the proceedings. Indeed, they presented overlapping evidence and argument affecting all issues and many of the Court's earlier Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (Dkt. # 151) apply to the merits of the entire case. Accordingly, the Court incorporates its prior findings and conclusions herein.


Any conclusion of law which is more appropriately characterized as a finding of fact is incorporated herein.


1. Phase I of the trial was directed specifically at the Chellen plaintiffs' FLSA claim. The Court set forth 57 findings of fact therein that are directly applicable to the Court's determination of liability on this claim. See Chellen I, 344 F.Supp.2d at 1280-91. Those findings need not be repeated in full, as defendants have stipulated that JPC did not pay the Chellen plaintiffs minimum wage as required by the labor and employment laws of the United States. Phase I Pretrial Order (Dkt.# 132), Stip. III(E). Defendants have not stipulated, however, to the damages recoverable by the Chellen plaintiffs or to plaintiffs' allegation that John Pickle is individually liable for any violation of the FLSA.

2. Defendants assert that the amounts reflected in Def. Ex. 101 accurately reflect the regular, overtime, and total hours worked by each Chellen plaintiff, as well as the actual wages paid to each worker, the minimum wage difference, the overtime difference and the gross total difference between the amount paid by JPC and the amounts owed under the FLSA to each Chellen plaintiff other than Mohammed "Hassan" Usman. Usman was not named as a plaintiff in Case No. 02-CV-85-CVE-FHM, but the EEOC apparently filed suit on his behalf in Case No. 02-CV-979-CVE-FHM. Usman settled a related claim for wages through the United States Department of Labor ("DOL").2 The total amount set forth in Def. Ex. 101 is $86,919.48, less $2,250.13 (owed to Usman), which equals $84,669.35.

3. Defendants contend that they are entitled to offsets for JPC's expenditures for the Chellen plaintiffs' housing, food, medical needs, and telephone calls. Defendants offered the testimony of Christina Pickle, wife of defendant John Pickle, as to the costs incurred by defendants for housing and other items for which defendants seek credit. Ph. II Tr. at 879-82. For lodging, the defendants seek $4.50 per plaintiff per day, for a total of $23,679.00. Def. Ex. 62-E-2. Defendants seek a total of $16,011.81 as an offset for food, Def. Ex. 62-D-2; $8,062.62 for medical expenses, Def. Ex. 62-F-2; and $2,177.24 for telephone expenses, Def. Ex. 62-G-2. Although defendants initially sought credits for travel and transportation costs as well as uniforms and tools, they have abandoned those requests. See Def. Prop. Findings and Conclusions, Dkt. # 199, at 3-4. Therefore, the total amount of credit sought by the defendants is $49,930.67.

4. The EEOC's expert witness testified that offsets for housing against FLSA wages are allowed to an employer where the benefit is primarily to the employee as opposed to the employer. If allowed, an offset for housing is calculated as (a) the cost of the structure divided by the number of employees; (b) the fair value of the housing; or (c) the reasonable value charged by the employer. Ph. II Tr. at 926. However, the expert concluded that the costs for housing provided by defendants to the Chellen plaintiffs should not offset the minimum and overtime wages owed. He reasoned that: living conditions in the dormitory were sub-standard; the Chellen plaintiffs did not use the facility voluntarily; and the defendants used an arbitrary "rental" cost in calculating what they argued was a fair market value for the housing. Ph. II Tr. at 924-28. The Court finds that JPC and John Pickle are not entitled to an offset for housing.

5. Plaintiffs argue that defendants' request for an offset for food is unconscionable, given the limited quantity and poor quality of the food provided by defendants to the Chellen plaintiffs. However, the Chellen plaintiffs were fed three meals per day. The Court finds that JPC and John Pickle are entitled to an offset for food. The EEOC concedes that a credit for medical treatment provided to the Chellen plaintiffs would be appropriate, and the Court finds it an appropriate offset. Finally, the Court finds that an offset for telephone expenses is appropriate.

6. The Chellen plaintiffs argue, for purposes of recovering liquidated damages, that the following facts give rise to a finding that defendants' violation of the law was willful and not in good faith: defendants sought "cheap labor," as stated by John Pickle, see Chellen I, 344 F.Supp.2d at 1280 (FOF¶ 1), 1290 (FOF¶ 2); defendants knowingly obtained improper visas for defendants, see id. at 1282 (FOF ¶ 10), 1289 (FOF ¶ 48), 1290 (FOF ¶ 52), 1291 (FOF ¶ 57); defendants misrepresented to U.S. officials that the Chellen plaintiffs would be part of a "training" program, id. at 1281 (FOF ¶ 6), 1285 (FOF ¶ 28), 1289 (FOF ¶ 49); defendants backdated employee evaluations in an effort to prove that the Chellen plaintiffs were "trainees," id. at 1284 (FOF ¶ 23), 1288 (FOF ¶ 40); and defendants routed wages to the Chellen plaintiffs through defendants' Indian recruitment agent, AL Samit International ("AL Samit"), id. at 1282-83 (FOF ¶¶ 12, 13), 1290 (FOF ¶ 52). John Pickle directly participated in the creation and execution of the plan to bring the plaintiffs to Oklahoma. Id. at 1280 (FOF ¶ 1), 1281 (FOF ¶ 7), 1287 (FOF ¶ 38), 1290 (FOF ¶ 52). The Court finds that John Pickle is personally liable for violation of FLSA. The Court further finds that an award of liquidated damage under the FLSA, equal to the amount of wages owed, is appropriate as against both defendants.

7. Given the Court's findings of fact as to the parties' wage stipulations, the Court concludes that all of the Chellen plaintiffs other than Mohammed "Hassan" Usman, who settled his wage claim through the DOL, are entitled to compensatory damages in an amount equal to the gross total difference between the amount paid by JPC and the amounts owed under the FLSA to each Chellen plaintiff (other than Usman), less offsets itemized in Jt. Ex. 2 for expenses related to food, medical needs, and telephone expenses. The total amount is $86,919.48 less $2,250.13 (owed to Usman), or $84,669.35, less $26,251.67 (offsets), for a total amount of $58,417.68, plus an equal amount of liquidated damages.

Civil Rights (Title VII and § 1981)

8. Each of the Chellen plaintiffs is a citizen of India. Defendants dispute that the Chellen plaintiffs' race differs from their own; defendants do not dispute that the Chellen plaintiffs' national origin is East Indian. The EEOC asserts that the race of the Chellen plaintiffs is Asian; defendants assert that no evidence was presented to show that the Chellen plaintiffs are of a race other than the Caucasian race. The Chellen plaintiffs do not specify their race but simply state that they are citizens of India and that "white," "American" employees at JPC received different treatment. See Pl. Proposed Findings and Conclusions, Dkt. # 200, at 32-36. The Court finds it unnecessary to make a determination...

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2 cases
  • Elat v. Ngoubene
    • United States
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    • January 21, 2014 *4 n. 3 (E.D.Va. Sept. 4, 2012); and Chellen v. John Pickle Co., 446 F.Supp.2d 1247 (N.D.Okla.2006), amending and superseding434 F.Supp.2d 1069 (N.D.Okla.2006). In Howard, a trafficking case, Ms. Burke testified that the plaintiff's severe emotional trauma was typical for someone subject......
  • Wagner v. Merit Distribution
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    ...violations are occurring." Patterson, 375 F.3d at 229. Other courts have reached similar conclusions. See Chellen v. John Pickle Co., Inc., 434 F.Supp.2d 1069, 1107 (N.D.Okla.2006) ("Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acqui......

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