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Melton v. Tippecanoe County

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

March 24, 2014

JAMES MELTON, Plaintiff,
v.
TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Melton has sued his former employer, Tippecanoe County, for failing to pay him a proper wage for all hours he worked in his non-exempt salaried position from July 2009 to September 2010. The Plaintiff asserts that the Defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when it failed to pay overtime for hours worked in excess of forty in a workweek, and violated the Indiana Wage Claim Statute when it failed to pay for all hours he worked up to forty.

The Defendant has moved for summary judgment on both claims. (Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 31.) The Defendant maintains that it is entitled to summary judgment on the FLSA claim because the Plaintiff was paid for all hours that he certified he worked in accordance with the Defendant's time keeping procedures. For the claim for unpaid wages under the Indiana Wage Claim Act, the Defendant submits that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Indiana Department of Labor did not complete the administrative process that is in place for such claims. Additionally, the Defendant maintains that it overpaid the Plaintiff $5, 774 in unemployment benefits, and that when this amount is offset, the remaining amount on the allegedly unpaid wages is negative or de minimis.

In response, the Plaintiff asserts that the Defendant is liable to pay for all hours that the Defendant knew or could infer that the Plaintiff was working, which exceeded the 37.5 hours it paid him for. The Plaintiff does not agree with the Defendant's assessment of the administrative process followed for the Indiana Wage Claim, and leaves the Court to decide whether the $5, 774 in overpaid unemployment benefits may be offset.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is warranted when "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). To survive summary judgment, a nonmovant must be able to show that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor; if she is unable to "establish the existence of an element essential to [his] case, and on which [he] will bear the burden of proof at trial, " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986), summary judgment must be granted.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

A. The Plaintiff's Employment and Compensation

The Plaintiff worked as a field technician in the office of the Tippecanoe County Surveyor from July 2009 to September 2010. He was paid about $30, 000 per year based on a work week of 37.5 hours. The Plaintiff's regular work period was from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an hour off for lunch. Non-exempt employees in the Surveyor's office, like the Plaintiff, were paid on a semi-monthly basis and earned compensatory time for hours worked above 37.5 in a week.

During the period of the Plaintiff's employment, the Defendant's process for submitting compensable time required employees to sign a Tippecanoe County Employee Attendance Report, which contained the employee's certification that the Report was correct. The Plaintiff submitted 28 such Reports, and was paid for the time that was claimed on the Reports. In May 2010, the Defendant also began using a software program to track data related to pay, including hours worked, but did not consider the computerized time keeping program the official means of reporting time.

The Plaintiff's first pay period covered July 6 to July 15, 2009. According to the Plaintiff, he worked "several hours" more than 37.5 hours per week during the first week (Pl.'s Dep. 51, ECF No. 31-1 at 4) because he was following the directive from his supervisor, Zach Beasley, to come to work early so that the field crew would be ready to go out the door by 8:00 a.m. However, when he recorded his actual hours on his Attendance Report, the office secretary, Brenda Garrison, returned the Report to him with reduced hours and told the Plaintiff he would not be paid for hours exceeding 37.5 in a workweek. (Pl.'s Dep. 23-24, ECF No. 37-1 at 2-3.) The Plaintiff signed and submitted the inaccurate Report. The Plaintiff spoke to Beasley three times during the first three months about getting paid for his early arrival. Beasley responded by telling the Plaintiff to talk to Garrison. The Plaintiff continued to come to work about 20 minutes early to collect the field maps and equipment that the crew needed at the worksite, and he continued to receive pay for the 37.5 hours he recorded. The Plaintiff claims that Garrison would provide him a "corrected" Report any time that he recorded more than 37.5 hours.

B. The Plaintiff's Termination from Employment and Unemployment Insurance

On May 13, 2010, the Plaintiff sent an email to Beasley asking if he could take a class beginning in August which would take place during work hours. In the e-mail, he proposed to make up the work time missed for class by working through lunch and coming in early. Beasley told him he was welcome to take the class and miss work time but that he could not make up the time by coming in early or working through lunch because tracking time and supervising work would be too difficult. The Plaintiff indicated that he understood. The class began on August 23, 2010, and despite his supervisor's instructions not to do so, the Defendant believed that the Plaintiff attempted to make up the time by working through lunch and coming in early. The Plaintiff put notes in the computerized time keeping program that he "worked through lunch" on August 23, 25, 26, and 30. The Attendance Report was the official time document, but the software helped employees and the Defendant track time worked. The Defendant terminated the Plaintiff's employment on September 1. The Plaintiff sought unemployment benefits. At various steps throughout the administrative process and judicial review, it appeared that the Plaintiff was entitlement to benefits, and the Defendant paid $5, 774 in unemployment benefits. The Indiana Supreme Court, on October 17, 2012, decided that the Plaintiff was terminated for just cause and was not entitled to benefits. Throughout the process, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development issued Statements of Benefit Charges. The Statement for January 2011 advises the Defendant that charges for the Plaintiff are potential credits to the Defendant's account. The Statement further provided:

A determination was made and you were found not liable for these charges. But because you have chosen to make payment in lieu of contributions for Unemployment Insurance, your account cannot be credited for these charges unless or until the claimant(s) refund the overpayment. Your Account will be ...

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