Johnson v. Koch Foods, Inc.

Decision Date13 November 2009
Docket NumberNo. 2:07-CV-51.,2:07-CV-51.
PartiesLinda JOHNSON, Whitney McNeil, Rogelio B. Mendoza, On behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs, v. KOCH FOODS, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Tennessee

David Wilson Garrison, George E. Barrett, Gerald E. Martin, Barrett, Johnston & Parsley, Nashville, TN, Amy Weaver, Joe R. Whatley, Jr., Richard P. Rouco, Whatley Drake & Kallas, LLC, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiffs.

David Harvey, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, Johnson City, TN, Russell W. Gray, Cameron S. Hill, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, Chattanooga, TN, David Wilson Garrison, Barrett, Johnston & Parsley, Nashville, TN, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEON JORDAN, District Judge.

This civil action is before the court for consideration of the motions for summary judgment filed by the parties. Plaintiffs have filed a motion for summary judgment as to all their claims against defendant [doc. 99]. Defendant has filed two motions for summary judgment: "Koch Foods, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment on Count I (All Claims Except Plaintiffs' Claim for Compensation for Meal Period Time)" [doc. 93] and "Koch Foods, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment on Count II (Claim for Compensation for Meal Period Time)" [doc. 96]. Also before the court is "Plaintiffs' Motion for Court-Ordered Mediation" [doc. 158]. The parties have fully responded to each motion. Oral argument is not necessary, and the motions are ripe for resolution by the court.

For the reasons stated herein, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment will be denied. Koch Foods' motion for summary judgment as to Count I will be granted in part and denied in part. Koch Foods' motion for summary judgment as to Count II will be denied. Plaintiffs' motion for court-ordered mediation will be granted.

I. Background
1. Factual Background

Defendant Koch Foods, LLC ("Koch Foods")1 operates a chicken processing facility in Morristown, Tennessee. The complex contains two plants, the live processing plant ("live plant") and the de-bone plant. At the live plant, chickens are killed, processed, and packaged. At the de-bone plant, previously processed chickens are de-boned, cut into parts, and packaged; some parts are also marinated before packaging. The de-bone plant conducts no slaughter operations. The live plant has three production departments; the de-bone plant has five production departments.

Plaintiffs are current and former hourly paid production workers at both plants. Production workers at both plants are paid based on "line time."2 At the beginning of a shift, a supervisor or lead person swipes a "master badge" at the scheduled start time, when the chicken product arrives, and swipes it again at the department's end time, when the chicken product has finished being processed. Plaintiffs are expected to be at their position on the line ready to work when the chicken product arrives at their station or they are considered tardy. Workers swipe personal time cards at time clocks when they enter and leave the plants, though they are not required to clock in at a specific time. This time keeping method, the Kronos system, is largely for attendance purposes because production workers are paid based on the department's production line time, which is confirmed by the department's supervisor. In addition, Koch Foods deducts thirty minutes from plaintiffs' scheduled shift time to reflect an unpaid meal break.

Plaintiffs and any employees who enter the processing area must wear a combination of sanitary and safety gear. The protective items vary depending on particular job responsibilities. Workers in the production area of the live plant generally must wear a smock, hairnet, beardnet, ear plugs, rubber boots, and a hard hat or "bump cap." Workers in the production area of the de-bone plant are required to wear a smock, hairnet, beardnet, ear plugs, and safety glasses. Workers who use scissors or knives must wear Kevlar or mesh gloves and/or arm guards. Optional items that workers can choose to wear are plastic aprons, plastic sleeves, and cotton gloves. Any worker who touches the chicken product is required to wear rubber gloves.

A clean smock must be obtained daily before going to the production line. Dirty smocks are deposited in bins at the end of the shift. The rubber boots that workers at the live plant are required to wear are put on in the boot room and must be taken off and left in the boot room at the end of the shift. The smocks and boots are not allowed to be taken from the plant. At both plants, other items such as aprons, gloves, and plastic sleeves may be obtained weekly and exchanged if necessary. Mesh gloves and arm guards are at a worker's station if needed for his or her job. If workers leave the production floor during breaks, they need to remove their smock and, if worn, their gloves, apron, and sleeves. Other standard items like hairnets or bump caps can remain on at all times.

Workers who enter production areas are required to wash their hands, including washing their hands while wearing their gloves. They must wash their hands before the start of their shift and after returning from breaks. Hand washing is also required when leaving the processing area.

The line-time payment system does not capture the time for acquiring, donning, doffing, and washing. Plaintiffs are expected to have all their sanitary and protective gear on and to have done the required washing by the time they take their position on the production line. They are paid only for the time the production line is in operation.

Since April 13, 2006, there has been in effect a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between Koch Foods and the workers' representative union. The parties have entered into a stipulation concerning the CBA, which will be addressed in the court's legal analysis section.

Plaintiffs have brought this collective action under § 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., claiming that Koch Foods' method of compensating hourly production workers, "line time," does not compensate them for: (1) retrieving, donning and doffing required and necessary sanitary and protective gear and equipment; (2) sanitizing and washing required protective gear and equipment and washing hands; and (3) walking to and from the supply room area, washing stations, and work stations. Plaintiffs also claim that they do not receive a bona fide thirty minute lunch period because they have to perform washing, walking, doffing and donning during the uncompensated meal period and are not completely relieved from duty for the entire 30 minutes. Plaintiffs seek unpaid wages, overtime, and liquidated damages. They have moved for summary judgment on all their claims.

Koch Foods in its motion for summary judgment contends that: (1) plaintiffs' donning, doffing, and washing claims are precluded under § 203(o) of the FLSA; (2) the Portal-to-Portal Act precludes plaintiffs' claims; and (3) the donning, doffing, and washing at issue is not "work" as contemplated by the FLSA. Further, Koch Foods argues that even if an activity is considered "work" and outside the Portal-to-Portal Act, the de minimis doctrine precludes plaintiffs from recovering on their claims. Koch Foods also argues that the pre- and post-production walking time claimed by plaintiffs is not compensable pursuant to the Portal-to-Portal Act.

In a separate motion for summary judgment, Koch Foods contends that plaintiffs cannot recover on their meal period claim. Koch Foods contends that plaintiffs cannot show that: (1) they are not "substantially relieved" of their duties during their meal periods; and (2) they spend their meal period "predominately" for the benefit of Koch Foods.

2. Procedural Background

On February 22, 2007, plaintiffs filed their single-count complaint against defendant on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated current and former employees of Koch Foods [doc. 1]. The complaint alleges violations of the FLSA and was brought as a collective action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). On December 11, 2007, the court entered an agreed order conditionally certifying a class of plaintiffs and ordering notice be sent in both English and Spanish [doc. 30]. Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file an amended collective action complaint [doc. 70] on February 3, 2009. Plaintiffs sought to add a second count specifically seeking compensation for failure to provide them with a bona fide meal period. The court granted plaintiffs' motion [doc. 84], and plaintiffs filed their amended collective action complaint [doc. 85] on March 17, 2009. Koch Foods filed a motion for decertification on May 22, 2009, seeking to decertify the conditional class and alternatively to have separate trials [doc. 104]. In a memorandum opinion and order entered September 25, 2009, 657 F.Supp.2d 951 (E.D.Tenn. 2009) [docs. 164, 165], the court denied defendant's motion. This case is now before the court on the parties' timely filed motions for summary judgment.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party may discharge its burden by demonstrating that the non-moving party has failed to establish an essential element of that party's case for which he or she bears the ultimate burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The moving party need not support its motion with affidavits or other materials negating the opponent's claim. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Although the moving party has the...

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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Kansas
    • 16 Septiembre 2010
    ...1063, 1071 (D.Minn.2007) (referring to section 203( o ) as a "defense" that must be established by defendant); Johnson v. Koch Foods, Inc., 670 F.Supp.2d 657, 664 (E.D.Tenn.2009) (same); Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., 2009 WL 3430222, at *4 (N.D.Ind. Oct. 15, 2009) (placing burden on defenda......
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