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Tarver v. Delta Tranz, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

February 22, 2018

JOHN TARVER, Plaintiff,
DELTA TRANZ, LLC, et al. Defendants.



         Plaintiff John Tarver moves for summary judgment against Defendants Delta Tranz, LLC, Edina Duric, and Eddie Duric (“Defendants”).[1] Defendants have failed to respond to Plaintiff Tarver's request for admissions or his motion for summary judgment.[2]

         For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff Tarver's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Defendants previously employed Plaintiff Tarver as a truck driver from April 4, 2017 until his termination on May 28, 2017.[3] He was compensated on a weekly basis at the rate of forty-three cents per mile.[4] He drove approximately 4, 000 miles per week for Defendants.[5]

         While working for Defendants, Tarver noticed that his truck was not in compliance with the Department of Transportation's (“DOT”) guidelines and policies.[6] The truck was also a hazard to the public at large.[7] Tarver notified Defendants via text message that his truck was unsafe and non-compliant with DOT guidelines and policies.[8]

         Despite their knowledge of the faults with Tarver's truck, Defendants instructed Tarver to continue driving the vehicle.[9] Defendants did not make any attempts to repair the truck before ordering Tarver to drive it.[10]

         Because of the truck's deficiencies, Tarver got into an accident.[11] While he was driving the truck, the truck's engine overheated, and Tarver almost drove off of a cliff as a result.[12]Immediately after the accident, Tarver informed Defendants that he refused to continue driving the vehicle.[13] Because of his experience in the trucking industry, Tarver knew that continuing to drive the truck was against the applicable trucking guidelines and regulations.[14]

         Tarver had the truck towed to a local motel, where he stayed the night.[15] When he woke up the next morning, he discovered that Defendants had the truck towed from the motel back to them.[16] Defendants fired Tarver almost immediately after this event.[17] Defendants fired Tarver because he was unwilling to continue driving the truck.[18]

         Tarver kept a number of personal belongings in the truck at the time of the accident.[19] He has not been able to collect these belongings after Defendants had the truck towed, and Defendants have refused to return them.[20]

         After firing Tarver, Defendants refused to pay him for his previous weeks of work.[21]As of this date, he has still not been paid for his final two-and-a-half weeks of driving for Defendants.[22]

         During his employment, the mirror on a truck that Tarver drove for Defendants became damaged.[23] Tarver states that this mirror was damaged in the course of his employment with Defendants.[24] Defendants deducted $900.00 from Plaintiff Tarver's pay to repair this mirror.[25]Defendants never informed Tarver that he was responsible for the cost of repairs to his vehicle.[26]Tarver estimated the repair should cost only $20.00.[27] Because of the $900.00 deduction from his pay, Tarver was paid below the minimum wage for his work during that pay period.[28]

         II. Legal Standard

         A party is entitled to summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to the interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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.”[29] The moving party bears an initial burden of pointing to facts in the record that entitle it to summary judgment. Once the moving party has met this burden, the non-moving party “must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.”[30]

         If a motion for summary judgment goes unopposed, a reviewing court is not required to “conduct its own probing investigation of the record” and may properly rely on the facts provided by the moving party.[31] A court is only required to “intelligently and carefully review the legitimacy of such an unresponded-to motion” in order to determine whether the movant has met their initial burden.[32]

         Similarly, if a party fails to respond to a request for admissions within thirty days of being properly served, those matters are deemed admitted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a)(3).

         III. Analysis

         Tarver brings claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), [33] the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act (“Ohio Wage Act”), [34] and the Ohio whistleblower statute, [35] as well as claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy and unjust enrichment. Tarver bases his motion for summary judgment on these claims on several affidavits, his complaint, and unanswered requests for admissions.[36] The Court addresses each claim in turn.

         A. FLSA and Ohio Wage Act Claims

         Tarver is entitled to summary judgment on his FLSA and Ohio Wage Act claims. Both acts require employers to pay their employees a minimum wage for each hour worked.[37]Defendants have admitted that they employed Plaintiff Tarver, and that they failed to compensate him at or above the minimum wage for the period of time in question.[38]

         Tarver alleges that Defendants did not pay him at all for his final two weeks of work. Tarver's entitlement to pay for those final two weeks of work is clear, as Defendants admit that they have not paid him at all for that work.[39]

         Tarver also presented evidence that Defendants deducted the repair cost of his truck's mirror from his check, which caused him to receive less than the minimum wage. Both the Sixth Circuit and the Department of Labor have found an FLSA violation where a deduction taken from an employee's paycheck for equipment required for the employee to complete their work decreases the employee's pay below the minimum wage.[40] Tarver is therefore entitled to summary judgment on this claim as well.

         As such, Plaintiff Tarver is entitled to summary judgment on his FLSA and Ohio Wage Act claims relating to both Defendants' failure to pay him for his final two weeks of work and Defendants' impermissible deduction for a broken mirror. The Court GRANTS Tarver's motion for summary judgment on both of these claims.

         B. Ohio Whistleblower Claim

         Tarver's Ohio Whistleblower claim fails. “For an employee to be afforded protection as a ‘whistle blower, ' he or she must strictly comply with the requirements of [Ohio Revised Code §] 4113.52. An employee who fails to do so is barred from claiming the protections of the statute.”[41]

         The Ohio Whistleblower Statute requires an employee to fulfill three requirements. First, the employee may either orally notify their employer of a violation and follow that oral notification with a sufficiently detailed written report, or the employee may simply file the written report.[42] Next, the employee must give the employer twenty-four hours to make a good-faith effort to resolve the issue.[43] Third and finally, if, after twenty-four hours, the employer has not taken good-faith steps to fix the problem, the employee must report the employer's violation to a relevant outside authority.[44]

         As an initial matter, Tarver has not provided a copy of the text messages that he alleges satisfied the statute's written report requirement, and no other piece of evidence details what these text messages actually said. This lack of evidence could preclude summary judgment on its own.[45]

         Even assuming, however, that the text messages do satisfy the written report requirement, there is no evidence that Tarver ever made a report to one of the outside authorities listed in the statute.[46] This failure is also fatal to his whistleblower claim.[47]

         The Court DENIES Tarver's motion for summary judgment on his Ohio Whistleblower Act claim.

         C. Wrongful Termination in Violation of Public Policy

         Tarver alleges that Defendants' terminated him in violation of public policy. He states that Defendants' violated the public policy of public safety because his truck violated DOT regulations and was unsafe to the public at large.

In order to support a claim for discharge in violation of public policy, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) the existence of a clear public policy sufficient to justify an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine that is manifested in a state or federal constitution, statute, administrative regulation, or common law (the “clarity” element); (2) that the dismissal of employees under circumstances like those involved in the plaintiff's dismissal would jeopardize the public policy (the “jeopardy” element); (3) that the plaintiff's dismissal was motivated by conduct related to the public policy (the “causation” element); and (4) that the employer lacked overriding legitimate business justification for the dismissal (the “overriding justification” element).[48]

         The first element of this test, the clarity element, is a determination of law that the Court must make.[49] The Court finds that Plaintiff Tarver's claim fails on this element as a matter of law: he has not identified a sufficiently clear public policy.

         Although Tarver argues that the truck he drove violated DOT regulations, he never identifies any specific regulation or regulations that Defendants violated.[50] Similarly, although Tarver argues that his truck was unsafe to the public at large, merely hand-waving in the direction of a danger to the public does not sufficiently identify a specific violated public policy. This is especially so ...

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