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Ward v. Hat World, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 30, 2019

MATTHEW WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
HAT WORLD INC., Defendant.

          ENTRY ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Matthew Ward worked as a Regional Loss Prevention Investigator (“RLPI”) for Defendant Hat World Inc. He alleges that Defendant owes him and his fellow former RLPIs unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (the “FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.[1] (Compl. ¶ 1.3, ECF No. 1-2.) The Court conditionally certified this opt-in collective action under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and six additional plaintiffs have joined. (See ECF Nos. 59, 63, 65, 66, 69, 71, 77.) Defendant moves for summary judgment, (Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 108), and Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment, (Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 110). At issue is whether Plaintiffs were employed in a bona fide administrative capacity and exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirement.

         Legal Standard

          A. Summary Judgment

         Rule 56(a) provides that “[t]he 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). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court “must construe all the facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Monroe v. Ind. Dep’t of Transp., 871 F.3d 495, 503 (7th Cir. 2017). However, the district court must also view the evidence “through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986), and does not draw “inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture, ” Singer v. Raemisch, 593 F.3d 529, 533 (7th Cir. 2010). To withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmovants “must do more than raise some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts; [they] must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, ” summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         B. FLSA

         The FLSA requires employers to pay overtime wages for any hours worked in excess of 40 per week. But employers need not pay overtime to workers “employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). Congress has delegated the Secretary of Labor to define “bona fide administrative capacity.” Id. Department of Labor regulations provide that a worker is employed in an administrative capacity only if the worker is paid more than $455 per week and his 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, ” 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a)(2), and “includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance, ” id. § 541.200(a)(3).

         The employer bears the burden to establish that an employee falls within the FLSA’s administrative exemption. Roe-Midgett v. CC Servs., Inc., 512 F.3d 865, 869 (7th Cir. 2008). Determining whether the exemption applies “requires a thorough, fact-intensive analysis of the employee’s employment duties and responsibilities.” Schaefer-LaRose v. Eli Lilly & Co., 679 F.3d 560, 572 (7th Cir. 2012). “It is those day-to-day duties on which a proper analysis under the FLSA rests, not merely the parties’ characterizations of those duties as involving discretion or not.” Id. at 580.

         Discussion

         It is undisputed here that Plaintiffs were each paid more than $455 per week. At issue in this case are the regulation’s two “primary duty” requirements. Specifically, the parties dispute whether RLPIs’ primary duty is (1) “office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations” of Defendant and (2) “includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.”

         A. Primary Duty: The Character of the RLPIs’ Job as a Whole

         Department of Labor regulations define “primary duty” as “the principal, main, major or most important duty that the employee performs.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.700(a). The inquiry is holistic, considering “all the facts in a particular case, with the major emphasis on the character of the employee’s job as a whole.” Id. Relevant factors include the relative importance of the exempt duties, the amount of time spent on exempt work, and the employee’s freedom from direct supervision. Id.

         Defendant Hat World Inc. sells hats, apparel, accessories, and novelties at more than 1, 000 “Lids” locations across the United States and Canada. (Campbell Decl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 4; see also Wagner Dep. 19:8–13, ECF No. 109-13.) In retail, “shrink” refers to the difference between the amount of cash or inventory reflected in the company’s records and the actual amount of cash or inventory on hand. (Campbell Dep. 70:2–8, 74:17–75:8, ECF No. 111-2; Marshall Dep. 196:5–14; Watson Dep. 79:11– 80:5.) The most common causes of shrink are external theft, internal theft, and administrative error. (Campbell Dep. 70:9–12.)

         Defendant’s Operations Division runs its retail stores. Its Loss Prevention Division assists the Operations Division by detecting shrink, identifying the causes of shrink, recovering as much shrink as possible, and taking corrective or preventative actions to prevent future losses. (Campbell Dep. 74:17–75:8.) As part of its Loss Prevention Division, Defendant employs 10 to 16 Regional Loss Prevention Investi- gators, (Campbell Decl. ¶ 4.), with each RLPI responsible for a ...


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