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Nasrallah v. Lakefront Lines, Inc.

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

May 25, 2017

Tamara N. Nasrallah, Plaintiff,
v.
Lakefront Lines, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

          PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         This case is before the Court on Defendant Lakefront Lines, Inc.'s Combined Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Dismiss in Response to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 20) and Defendant Lakefront Lines, Inc.'s Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 24). This case arises under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act (“OMFWSA”). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's combined motion is DENIED and its motion for sanctions is DENIED.

         FACTS

         Plaintiff Tamara Nasrallah was employed by Defendant Lakefront Lines as an accounts payable clerk from January of 2013 to July of 2015. Nasrallah filed a charge of discrimination against Lakefront with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, asserting Title VII claims for national origin discrimination and retaliation. On April 26, 2016, the parties executed a Settlement Agreement and General Release regarding Nasrallah's claims. In the Agreement, Nasrallah executed a general release “of and from any claims...and expenses (including attorneys' fees and costs) of any nature whatsoever, whether known or unknown, against [Lakefront] which Nasrallah ever had, now has or asserts or which she...shall or may have or may assert, for any reason whatsoever from the beginning of the world to the date hereof.” The release states that it is “unrestricted in any way by the nature of the claim including, ...all matters which were asserted or could have been asserted in the Charge, including, but not limited to, matters arising out of Nasrallah's employment with the company, and any other state or federal statutory...claims, including, ...all statutory claims under federal [and] state laws regulating employment, including...the Fair Labor Standards Act [and] any and all Ohio Wage and Hour Laws.” In exchange for the release, Lakefront agreed to pay Nasrallah $40, 000.

         In Section 7 of the Agreement, entitled “Acknowledgement [sic] of Payment, ” Nasrallah acknowledged that the $40, 000 paid by Lakefront “is the total amount due and owing her.” The provision further states that Nasrallah “waives any claims for additional compensation and acknowledges that she has been appropriately compensated for all hours worked, ” that Lakefront has “paid all sums owed to [her] as a result of her employment with the Company (including all wages), ” and that “she is not entitled to anything separate from this Agreement.” Finally, this provision states that “Nasrallah hereby waives any and all relief not explicitly provided for herein.” In Section 9, entitled “No Action, ” Nasrallah agreed that “she shall not institute any further actions, complaints, suits, claims, or grievances in any forum against [Lakefront] with regard to any claims, known or unknown, as of the date of the execution of this Agreement.” During the negotiation and execution of the Settlement Agreement, Nasrallah was represented by attorney David M. Benson, the same attorney who represents her in the current matter before this Court. Mr. Benson stated in an April 25, 2016 email to Lakefront that “the settlement agreement is fine. Please send the final draft and we'll sign immediately.”

         Thereafter, on December 12, 2016, Nasrallah filed suit against Lakefront in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that it had violated the FLSA and OMFWSA by failing to pay her wages she was entitled to as a nonexempt employee. Lakefront timely removed the case to this Court. In this lawsuit, Nasrallah asserts that Lakefront paid her on an hourly basis and that it did not pay her at an overtime rate of one and one-half times her regular rate for all of the hours that she worked. (Nasrallah Dec. ¶ 3). She states that she “was told things such as ‘you don't deserve overtime.'” (Id. ¶ 4). According to Nasrallah, she worked approximately 50 hours per week, but Lakefront fraudulently altered her timecards to understate the actual hours that she worked. As a result, she claims that she often received incomplete or no pay for her ten hours of overtime per week. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7). With respect to the Settlement Agreement, Nasrallah states:

I signed the Settlement Agreement based on my understanding it was unlawful to compromise my overtime claims without Department of Labor or court approval in any manner and that any attempt to do so-including by any “representations” made therein-was legally null and void. Thus, when I entered the Settlement Agreement and made the “representations” therein, I believed my representations about being paid in full and being owed no wages were ONLY representation for purposes of my non-overtime claims (e.g., contract claims for claims for discriminatory pay).

(Id. ¶ 9).

         Nasrallah amended her complaint on February 28, 2017, to add a claim for retaliation under FLSA and OMWFSA. She claims that the retaliation occurred through a series of letters that Lakefront sent to Mr. Benson threatening to sue Nasrallah for breach of the agreement and to file for Rule 11 sanctions if she did not drop this lawsuit. She also claims that Lakefront retaliated against her “by filing unfounded Counterclaims for breach of contract and declaratory judgment.”

         Lakefront now moves for summary judgment on all of Nasrallah's FLSA and OMWFSA claims and for dismissal of her retaliation claim. Nasrallah opposes the motion.

         LAKEFRONT'S SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended on December 1, 2010, provides in relevant part that:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment 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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

         Rule 56(e) provides in relevant part that “[i]f a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may ... consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion ... [and] grant summary judgment if the motion and supporting materials-including the facts considered undisputed-show that the movant is entitled to it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         Although Congress amended the summary judgment rule, the “standard for granting summary judgment remain unchanged” and the amendment “will not affect continuing development of the decisional law construing and ...


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