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Harmon v. YWCA of Greater Cleveland

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 9, 2017

SHARON HARMON, Plaintiff,
v.
YWCA OF GREATER CLEVELAND, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant YWCA of Greater Cleveland's (“YWCA”) Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF # 18). For the following reasons, the Court grants, in part and denies, in part Defendant's Motion.

         According to her Complaint, Plaintiff Sharon Harmon (“Harmon”) was hired for the position of UPK Coordinator/Lead Teacher with YWCA on November 5, 2012. Harmon worked in an administrative capacity as support staff for the Administrator. Because she lacked any decision making authority, Harmon contends she was entitled to overtime pay at the rate of one and one-half times her weekly pay for any hours worked over forty hours in a given week. Harmon alleges YWCA misclassified her as “exempt” to avoid paying her the statutory rate of overtime pay as mandated by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

         In June of 2014, the Administrator resigned, leaving the facility without anyone in charge with the appropriate State Licensure. YWCA approached Harmon about acting as the Interim Administrator because Harmon had the appropriate State Licensure for the facility. YWCA placed Harmon's name on the State of Ohio's records as its primary licenced agent for the YWCA facility, however, Harmon retained her administrative duties and was never given the duties of the Administrator nor was she given additional compensation. In September 2014, YWCA hired a new Administrator but the newly hired Administrator lacked the appropriate State Licensure so YWCA kept Harmon's name on the State Licensure. Plaintiff orally complained to her immediate supervisor that she thought YWCA was acting fraudulently by hiring an Administrator who lacked the appropriate licensure while keeping Harmon's name on the State Licensure as Administrator. When her immediate supervisor failed to respond to Plaintiff's concerns, she inquired of others as to what she should do. The following day, Harmon was issued a written reprimand for her activities, including: spreading malicious gossip, creating discord, interfering with another employee on the job, restricting work output and encouraging others to do the same. Shortly thereafter, YWCA terminated Harmon's employment for allegedly falsifying information on a scholarship application.

         Plaintiff alleges claims for violations of the FLSA for unpaid overtime, Retaliatory Discharge in violation of the Ohio Whistleblower Statute and Wrongful Termination in Violation of Ohio Public Policy.

         YWCA moves for summary judgment on all Harmon's claims. According to YWCA, Harmon was added to the State Licensure as Administrator because Harmon agreed and because Harmon had the requisite license. However, merely being added to the State Licensure as Administrator does not, according to YWCA, mean Harmon was a director, administrator or that she was qualified as such. After being added to the State Licensure, Harmon continued in her administrative duties, although she took on additional responsibilities over the course of her employment.

         In August of 2014, Harmon's title was changed to Compliance Coordinator. Sometime in November 2014, YWCA's Vice-President of Programs and Operations learned Harmon had provided false and/or inaccurate information on her scholarship application. Harmon represented on the scholarship application that she was the Assistant Director of the YWCA Early Learning Center (“ELC”). No such position existed at the YWCA. Upon discovering this, YWCA terminated Harmon's employment.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issue of material fact exists, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994); and the court must view the facts and all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Once the movant presents evidence to meet its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings, but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Lansing Dairy, 39 F.3d at 1347. This Court does not have the responsibility to search the record sua sponte for genuine issues of material fact. Betkerur v. Aultman Hosp. Ass'n., 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1996); Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trs., 980 F.2d 399, 404-06 (6th Cir. 1992). The burden falls upon the nonmoving party to “designate specific facts or evidence in dispute, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); and if the nonmoving party fails to make the necessary showing on an element upon which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Whether summary judgment is appropriate depends upon “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Amway Distribs. Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).

         FLSA violations

         Under the FLSA, an employee who works more than forty hours in a work week must receive overtime compensation at a rate of not less than one and one-half times the regular rate. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Section 13(a) of the FLSA exempts certain positions from the overtime pay requirements, including executive, administrative, or professional positions. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). “Congress did not define these exemptions, but delegated authority to the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue regulations to define and delimit these terms.” Foster v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 710 F.3d 640, 642 (6th Cir. 2013). “The current regulations, reissued and streamlined with minor amendments in 2004, provide that the administrative exemption covers employees: (1) Compensated ... at a rate of not less than $455 per week ...; (2) Whose primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers; and (3) Whose primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a).

         “The exemption is to be narrowly construed against the employer, and the employer bears the burden of proving each element by a preponderance of the evidence.” Foster at 642 citing Renfro v. Indiana Mich. Power Co. (Renfro II), 497 F.3d 573, 575-7 (6th Cir.2007).

         The administrative exemption is further defined in 29 CFR § 541.201, which reads:

(a) To qualify for the administrative exemption, an employee's primary duty must be the performance of work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers. The phrase “directly related to the management or general business operations” refers to the type of work performed by the employee. To meet this requirement, an employee must perform work directly related to assisting with the running or servicing of the business, as distinguished, for example, from working on a manufacturing production line or selling a product in a retail or service establishment.
(b) Work directly related to management or general business operations includes, but is not limited to, work in functional areas such as tax; finance; accounting; budgeting; auditing; insurance; quality control; purchasing; procurement; advertising; marketing; research; safety and health; personnel management; human resources; employee benefits; labor relations; public relations, government relations; computer network, internet and database administration; legal and regulatory compliance; and similar activities. Some of these activities may be performed by employees who also would qualify for another exemption.
(c) An employee may qualify for the administrative exemption if the employee's primary duty is the performance of work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer's customers. Thus, for example, employees acting as advisers or consultants to their employer's clients or customers (as tax experts or financial consultants, for example) may be exempt.

29 CFR § 541.202 lists a number of factors for the Court to consider when determining whether an employee is an exempt employee under the administrative exemption to the FLSA overtime pay requirement.

(a) To qualify for the administrative exemption, an employee's primary duty must include the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. In general, the exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves the comparison and the evaluation of possible courses of conduct, and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered. The term “matters of significance” refers to the level of importance or consequence of the work performed.
(b) The phrase “discretion and independent judgment” must be applied in the light of all the facts involved in the particular employment situation in which the question arises. Factors to consider when determining whether an employee exercises discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance include, but are not limited to: whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices; whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee's assignments are related to operation of a particular segment of the business; whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact; whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters; whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; whether the employee investigates and resolves matters of significance on behalf of management; and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes or resolving grievances.
(c) The exercise of discretion and independent judgment implies that the employee has authority to make an independent choice, free from immediate direction or supervision. However, employees can exercise discretion and independent judgment even if their decisions or recommendations are reviewed at a higher level. Thus, the term “discretion and independent judgment” does not require that the decisions made by an employee have a finality that goes with unlimited authority and a complete absence of review. The decisions made as a result of the exercise of discretion and independent judgment may consist of recommendations for action rather than the actual taking of action. The fact that an employee's decision may be subject to review and that upon occasion the decisions are revised or reversed after review does not mean that the employee is not exercising discretion and independent judgment. For example, the policies formulated by the credit manager of a large corporation may be subject to review by higher company officials who may approve or disapprove these policies. The management consultant who has made a study of the operations of a business and who has drawn a proposed change in organization may have the plan reviewed or revised by superiors before it is submitted to the client.
(d) An employer's volume of business may make it necessary to employ a number of employees to perform the same or similar work. The fact that many employees perform identical work or work of the same relative importance does not mean that the work of each such employee does not involve the exercise of ...

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