Mason v. Pathfinders for Indep., Inc.

Decision Date12 April 2022
Docket Number8:19-cv-307-WFJ-TGW
PartiesJANET MASON, Plaintiff, v. PATHFINDERS FOR INDEPENDENCE, INC., a Florida for Profit Corporation; and BERYL BROWN, individually, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

ORDER GRANTING PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

WILLIAM F. JUNG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Janet Mason's Amended Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Dkt. 78. Defendants Pathfinders for Independence, Inc. (Pathfinders) and Beryl Brown filed an amended response in opposition, Dkts. 89 & 90. Upon careful consideration, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an individual who formerly worked for Defendant Pathfinders, a Florida corporation that is solely owned and operated by its president and executive director, Defendant Brown. Dkt. 11 ¶¶ 2, 16; Dkt. 78-1 ¶ 4. Pathfinders is a licensed Medicaid waiver provider that contracts with Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities (“APD”) to offer in-home healthcare and companion services to elderly individuals and adults with disabilities. Dkt. 11 ¶¶ 12-13; Dkt. 78-1 ¶ 2.

From April 2015 to November 2018, Plaintiff worked as both a personal support staff member, i.e., live-in companion, and a support living coach for Pathfinders' consumers. Dkt. 11 ¶ 4; Dkt. 78-1 ¶¶ 4, 6. Ms Brown personally interviewed and hired Plaintiff to work in these positions. Dkt. 11 ¶ 6; Dkt. 78-1 ¶ 5. As a personal support staff member, Plaintiff lived with consumers and provided them with supportive care and daily supervision which involved helping with grocery shopping, housekeeping, cooking, and learning daily skills. Dkt. 78-1 ¶ 8. In her position as a support living coach, Plaintiff assisted consumers in, inter alia, managing money, grooming, shopping, and developing social skills. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff earned $1, 500 per month as a personal support staff member and $20 per hour as a support living coach. Id. ¶ 31.

Plaintiff states that she routinely provided around-the-clock care for Defendants' consumers and often worked eighty-four hours per week. Dkt. 11 ¶¶ 28, 30. Despite regularly working over forty hours per week, Plaintiff claims that Defendants never paid her overtime wages. Id. ¶ 32. Instead, Plaintiff contends that Defendants misclassified her as an independent contractor and paid Plaintiff her regular rate of pay for all hours worked. Id. ¶¶ 10, 33. In doing so, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants knew they were violating the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), as the Department of Labor (“DOL”) previously determined that the precise positions held by Plaintiff were employee positions subject to the FLSA's protections. Dkt. 78 at 1-2.

Based on the above factual allegations, Plaintiff filed her one-count Amended Complaint, Dkt. 11, against Defendants. In contending that she was Defendants' employee, Plaintiff claims that Defendants willfully violated the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., by failing to pay her overtime wages. Dkt. 11 ¶¶ 37-46. As a result, Plaintiff seeks to recover unpaid overtime compensation and liquidated damages. Id. ¶ 47. Plaintiff now moves for partial summary judgment against Defendants.

LEGAL STANDARD

A district court should grant summary judgment only when it determines that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). An issue of fact is “material” if it is a legal element of the claim that might affect the outcome of the case. Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997). An issue of fact is “genuine” if the record, in its entirety, could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmovant. Id. The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Id.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1280 (11th Cir. 2004). Upon doing so, the court must determine whether a rational jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Where reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising from undisputed facts, a court should deny summary judgment. Allen, 121 F.3d at 646.

ANALYSIS

In this FLSA overtime wages case, Plaintiff seeks partial summary judgment against Defendants on three issues: (1) that Plaintiff was Defendants' employee; (2) that Plaintiff is entitled to liquidated damages; and (3) that Defendants' failure to pay Plaintiff overtime wages was willful, such that damages are to be awarded under a three-year statute of limitations as opposed to the typical two-year window provided by the FLSA. Dkt. 78 at 1.

Though Plaintiff frames her first issue for summary judgment as whether she was Defendants' employee, this issue briefed by the parties is more accurately described as whether Plaintiff has proven the two elements of an FLSA overtime wage claim: an employer-employee relationship and coverage under the FLSA. Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1298 (11th Cir. 2011). The parties go beyond the question of whether Plaintiff has satisfied the former element by also extensively addressing the latter. Accordingly, the Court construes Plaintiff's first issue as one seeking summary judgment on both elements of her claim.[1]

The Court begins its analysis with the threshold issue of whether Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on her FLSA overtime wages claim.

I. Plaintiff's FLSA Claim

The FLSA requires employers who meet its preconditions to provide overtime pay where employees work over forty hours per week. Polycarpe v. E&S Landscaping Serv., Inc., 616 F.3d 1217, 1220 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)). Pursuant to the FLSA, overtime wages must be paid at a rate of one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours in one work week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). To trigger the FLSA's overtime provisions, a plaintiff must show (1) an employer-employee relationship and (2) that she is “covered” by the FLSA. Josendis, 662 F.3d at 1298. Independent contractors are not protected by the FLSA and are, therefore, not entitled to overtime wages under the Act. See Rutherford Food Corp. v. McComb, 331 U.S. 722, 729 (1947).

A. Employer-Employee Relationship

Concerning the first element, the FLSA defines “employer” and “employee” broadly. Josendis, 662 F.3d at 1298. An “employer” is “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee[.] 29 U.S.C. § 203(d). This includes both the company for which an employee works and “any person who (1) acts on behalf of that employer and (2) asserts control over conditions of the employee's employment.” Josendis, 662 F.3d at 1298. In determining whether a corporate officer is an employer, the Eleventh Circuit has considered whether that officer was involved in day-to-day operations of the company and the direct supervision of employees. Alvarez Perez v. Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club, Inc., 515 F.3d 1150, 1161-62 (11th Cir. 2008). An “employee” is “any individual employed by an employer.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1). The labels used by the parties to describe their working relationship are not controlling. Scantland v. Jeffry Knight, Inc., 721 F.3d 1308, 1311 (11th Cir. 2013).

Determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists under the FLSA requires a consideration of the “economic realities” of the parties' relationship. Kaplan v. Code Blue Billing & Coding, Inc., 504 Fed.Appx. 831, 834 (11th Cir. 2013). The following six factors guide the economic realities inquiry: (1) the nature and degree of the alleged employer's control over the alleged employee's work; (2) the alleged employee's opportunity for profit or loss depending on her managerial skill; (3) the alleged employee's investment in equipment or materials and employment of other workers; (4) whether the alleged employee's services required a special skill; (5) the permanency and duration of the working relationship; and (6) the extent to which the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer's business. Scantland, 721 F.3d at 1311-12.

The Eleventh Circuit has explained that the “overarching focus” of the economic realities test is economic dependence. Id. at 1312. In other words, a court must consider whether the alleged employee is “in business for [herself] or is “dependent upon finding employment in the business of others.” Id. (quoting Mednick v. Albert Enters., Inc., 508 F.2d 297, 301-02 (5th Cir. 1975)). With this focus in mind, the Court addresses each factor in turn.

1. Control

The first factor considers the nature and degree of the alleged employer's control over the work performed by the alleged employee. Id. at 1313. Stated another way, this factor is only significant when the facts show that the alleged employee exerted such control over a meaningful part of the alleged employer's business that she stood as a separate economic entity. Id. (quoting Usery v. Pilgrim Equip. Co., 527 F.2d 1312-13 (5th Cir. 1976)).

Defendants contend that they did not control Plaintiff's work, as an employee of the Florida Department of Children and Families was responsible for drafting the support plans[2] that Plaintiff followed when working with consumers. Dkt. 89 at 9-10. However, even if Defendants had no role in drafting these support plans, the undisputed facts show that Defendants exercised significant control...

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