White v. Baptist Mem'l Health Care Corp.

Decision Date06 November 2012
Docket NumberNo. 11–5717.,11–5717.
Citation699 F.3d 869
PartiesMargaret WHITE, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. BAPTIST MEMORIAL HEALTH CARE CORPORATION; Baptist Memorial Hospital–DeSoto, Inc., Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

ARGUED:Alan G. Crone, Crone & McEvoy, PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant. Paul E. Prather, Kiesewetter Wise Kaplan Prather, PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellees. ON BRIEF:Alan G. Crone, Crone & McEvoy, PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, J. Nelson Thomas, Thomas & Solomon, LLP, Rochester, New York, for Appellant. Paul E. Prather, Lisa L. Leach, Craig A. Cowart, R. Alex Boals, Kiesewetter Wise Kaplan Prather, PLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellees.

Before: SILER and MOORE, Circuit Judges; VAN TATENHOVE, District Judge.*

SILER, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which VAN TATENHOVE, D.J., joined. MOORE, J. (pp. 878–84), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

SILER, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Margaret White appeals the district court rulings that granted summary judgment for Defendant Baptist MemorialHealth Care Corp. (Baptist) and decertified her class action against Baptist. She argues the district court incorrectly held that Baptist's policy for compensating hourly employees for missed meal breaks was lawful under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. White states this ruling caused the district court to wrongfully grant Baptist's motions for summary judgment and class action decertification. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I.
A.

White was a nurse for Baptist from August 2005 to August 2007 and treated patients that came to the emergency department. She did not have a regularly scheduled meal break due to the nature of her job at the hospital. Meal breaks occurred during her shift as work demands allowed.

During her new employee orientation, White received a copy of Baptist's employee handbook. The handbook stated employees working shifts of six or more hours receive an unpaid meal break that is automatically deducted from their pay checks. The handbook also provided that if an employee's meal break was missed or interrupted because of a work related reason, the employee would be compensated for the time she worked during the meal break. Baptist employees were instructed to record all time spent performing work during meal breaks in an “exception log” whether the meal break was partially or entirely interrupted.

White signed a document that stated she understood the meal break policy and, therefore, understood that if she worked during her meal break, she had to record that time in an exception log in order to be compensated for her time.

White recorded the occasions where her meal break was partially or entirely interrupted in the exception log. She stated that when she reported missing a meal break, which her entire nurse unit missed as well, she was compensated for her time. She also states that there were occasions where she individually missed meal breaks but was not compensated. But on at least one occasion when she reported missing a meal break individually, she was compensated for her time. From time to time she told her supervisors that she was not getting a meal break and she also told Baptist's human resources department. However, she never told her supervisors or the human resources department that she was not compensated for missing her meal breaks.

Eventually, White stopped reporting her missed meal breaks in the exception log despite Baptist's instructions for employees to record their time in the log. She does not remember or have records of when her meal breaks were interrupted, either entirely or partially, and Baptist failed to compensate her.

In addition to the exception log, White knew Baptist's procedure to report and correct payroll errors. If there was an error, she could report the mistake to a nurse manager who would resolve the issue. White stated that when she used this procedure the errors were “handled immediately.” However, she did not utilize this procedure to correct the interrupted meal break errors that she failed to report because she felt it would be “an uphill battle.”

B.

White filed suit and moved for conditional class certification against Baptist in 2008, alleging violations of the FLSA for failing to compensate her for working duringher lunch breaks. The district court granted in part and denied in part White's motion for conditional class certification. After Baptist moved for summary judgment and class decertification, the district court granted Baptist's motions.

II.

We review summary judgment rulings de novo. Provenzano v. LCI Holdings, Inc., 663 F.3d 806, 811 (6th Cir.2011). Summary judgment should be granted to the moving party if there is no genuine issue of material fact and that party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. We must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Id.

Under the FLSA, we review class action certification rulings for an abuse of discretion. O'Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enterprises, Inc., 575 F.3d 567, 584 (6th Cir.2009).

III.
A.

[A]n FLSA plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she performed work for which he or she was not properly compensated.” Myers v. Copper Cellar Corp., 192 F.3d 546, 551 (6th Cir.1999) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Work not requested but suffered or permitted is work time.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.11.

An automatic meal deduction system is lawful under the FLSA. See generally Hill v. United States, 751 F.2d 810 (6th Cir.1984) (The U.S. Postal Service's automatic 30 minute lunch deduction system was upheld against a FLSA suit brought by a postman plaintiff where he claimed that he was continuously on duty during his mealtime and should be compensated for his mealtime.). “Time spent predominantly for the employer's benefit during a period, although designated as a lunch period or under any other designation, nevertheless constitutes working time compensable under the provisions of the [FLSA].” F.W. Stock & Sons, Inc. v. Thompson, 194 F.2d 493, 496–97 (6th Cir.1952) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “As long as the employee can pursue his or her mealtime adequately and comfortably, is not engaged in the performance of any substantial duties, and does not spend time predominantly for the employer's benefit, the employee is relieved of duty and is not entitled to compensation under the FLSA.” Hill, 751 F.2d at 814. A de minimis rule applies when “the matter in issue concerns only a few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours.” Id. at 815. Compensation is necessary “only when an employee is required to give up a substantial measure of his time.” Id.

If an “employer knows or has reason to believe that [a worker] is continuing to work [then] the time is working time.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.11. Therefore, the issue is whether Baptist knew or had reason to know it was not compensating White for working during her meal breaks.

1.

There is a dearth of case law on compensation for missed meal breaks under the FLSA as compared to the case law on unpaid overtime. But [a] claim for non-payment of work during an established mealtime is analytically similar to an unpaid overtime claim.” Hertz v. Woodbury County, 566 F.3d 775, 783 (8th Cir.2009) (citation omitted). Since [t]he gravamen of [White's] complaint is that [she] performed ‘work’ during mealtimes, [she is essentially arguing] that the work amounted to overtime because it was in addition to their already-scheduled, eight-hour shift, and the work during these mealtimes went uncompensated.” Id.

In Hertz, police officers sued under the FLSA for unpaid overtime compensation and for work performed during mealtimes. 566 F.3d at 777–78. The County tracked the duty-status of an officer through a program called the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), which recorded when an officer radioed that he was on active duty and when he radioed that he had completed his shift. Id. at 779. Officers were required to submit paperwork to their supervisors to be paid overtime and “requests were ‘rarely denied.’ Id. The police officers argued that the County had constructive knowledge of the amount of overtime worked because of its access to the CAD records and, therefore, “the County knew or should have known that they were working overtime.” Id. at 781.

The Eighth Circuit held, “Access to records indicating that employees were working overtime, however, is not necessarily sufficient to establish constructive knowledge.” Id. at 781–82 (citing Newton v. City of Henderson, 47 F.3d 746, 749 (5th Cir.1995)). The court ruled, “The FLSA's standard for constructive knowledge in the overtime context is whether the County ‘should have known,’ not whether it could have known.” Id. at 782 (citation omitted). It went on to say, “It would not be reasonable to require that the County weed through non-payroll CAD records to determine whether or not its employees were working beyond their scheduled hours. This is particularly true given the fact that the County has an established procedure for overtime claims that Plaintiffs regularly used.” Id. (citing Newton, 47 F.3d at 749).

Turning to the issue of unpaid work during meal times, the court held the officers were “in the best position[ ] to prove that they were working during their mealtimes and [t]o require ... the County [to] prove a negative—that an employee was not performing ‘work’ during a time reserved for meals—would perversely incentivize employers to keep closer tabs on employees....” Id. at 784. The court concluded that “under the FLSA, the employee bears the burden to show that his or her mealtimes were compensable work.” Id.

In Newton, a city police officer was assigned to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Task Force, which had the authority to control his daily duties, but he...

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