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Saunders v. Lincoln Manufacturing, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 15, 2019




         William Saunders sued Lincoln Manufacturing, Inc., alleging that Lincoln failed to compensate him for overtime work as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(2). Lincoln moved for summary judgment, arguing that because Saunders worked for Lincoln in an executive capacity, he was exempt from the FLSA's overtime pay requirement. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); (Docket Entry No. 16). Saunders responded, submitting declarations from individuals who worked under him, and Lincoln replied and moved to strike the declarations. (Docket Entry Nos. 17-18). After a careful review of the motions, responses, and replies; the record evidence; and the applicable law, the court grants in part and denies in part the motion to strike and grants summary judgment for Lincoln. Final judgment is separately entered. The reasons are explained in detail below.

         I. Background

         Lincoln, based in Magnolia, Texas, manufactures products for the oil and gas industry. (Docket Entry No. 16-1 at 1). Lincoln has four manufacturing facilities, including one in Magnolia that fabricates couplings, pipe threading, and other components. (Id.). The Magnolia facility runs “continuously.” (Id.). The day and night shifts have separate Production Supervisors who direct operations during the shift. (Id.). Beneath the Production Supervisor are Inspectors, Machine Operators, Pipeyard Forklift Operators, Process Technicians, Saw Operators, Leadmen, and Janitors, for each shift. (Id.). The Production Supervisors report to the Plant Manager, who is the Magnolia Facility's final decisionmaker. (Id.).

         In October 2015, Lincoln hired Saunders to be the night-shift Production Supervisor. (Docket Entry No. 16-2). His employment offer stated: “You will be classified as an exempt employee. Your initial compensation package includes an annual salary of $60, 000 ($1153.85 payable weekly on Fridays).” (Id.). After about a year, Lincoln increased Saunders's “to $63, 120.20 per year, equating to approximately $1, 213.85 per week.” (Docket Entry No. 16-1 at 2). Saunders “earned more than the second shift employees that reported to him.” (Id. at 3). “For example, the average Forklift Operator earned between $15.50 and $17.50 per hour.” (Id.).

         Saunders directed the night-shift production at the Magnolia facility, working between 5:00 p.m. and 3:45 a.m. (Docket Entry No. 16-4 at 16-17). No. one was “ranked higher” at the facility between those hours. (Id. at 17). Chris Ritter, the Magnolia Plant Manager, did not work night shifts. (Id. at 16). Saunders called Chris Ritter “[m]aybe seven or eight times” during night shifts to tell him about accidents or machines malfunctioning. (Id.). The only other night-shift supervisor was Oscar Gonzalez, a Quality Supervisor, who monitored “the inspectors and everything.” (Id. at 17). Saunders considered himself equal in authority to Gonzalez, and they often discussed “problems and stuff.” (Id.). Saunders was responsible for setting the night-shift schedule. (Id. at 17-18). He would get to work early to “see what was happening, what was running, what [he] needed to do, ” given that “[t]here wasn't really a set schedule.” (Id. at 18).

         Saunders understood his “main job” as supervising the night shift. (Id. at 9). Saunders initially supervised “around 15” employees, but over time he supervised “close to 60.” (Id. at 13). Saunders described his duties as “to manage the floor, make sure machines were running, to make sure the employees were working safe, to oversee things.” (Id.). He would “[w]alk around, make sure all the machines were running, check, make sure they got the proper heats at the machines . . . . [, ] make sure that it was the right size that they were supposed to have been running.” (Id. at 14). Saunders made sure that employees “weren't out goofing off” and “helped set up machines in some cases.” (Id.). According to Saunders, “I wasn't there to let them do whatever they wanted to do. . . . I was there to supervise.” (Id. at 22).

         Saunders spent “probably 85 to 90 percent of [his] day walking around making sure everything was running properly.” (Id. at 23). If employees made mistakes, Saunders “would spend time there with them, try[ing] to go over things.” (Id. at 24). At the beginning of each night shift, Saunders held a safety meeting for “10 or 15 minutes, ” to “go over safe start, balance, traction, grip, find the fire, lifting things, pinching points[, the] whole works, to make sure [that the employees were] working properly.” (Id. at 23). Saunders gave his employees the night-shift schedule after the safety instructions. (Id.). His supervisory duties included getting orders completed, “processed[, ] and ready to go.” (Id. at 17). To make sure their orders were shipped on time, Saunders “stayed on the floor . . . and made sure all the machines were running, monitored people, making sure they were hitting their quota.” (Id.).

         Saunders could “write up” employees for violating Lincoln policies. (Id. at 14). “Writing up” required Saunders to complete and sign a form and send it to the “front office for approval.” (Id. at 14, 23). If employees wanted time off, had to come in late, or needed to see a doctor, they went to Saunders, who would fill out and sign a form to send to Human Resources “for approval.” (Id. at 15, 23). Employees went to Saunders other requests as well, such as transfer requests, which he would sign off on and forward to Human Resources. (Id. at 18-20). During his time at Lincoln, Saunders recommended that the company hire “a couple of guys.” (Id. at 15). Lincoln interviewed these candidates; but Saunders was not involved. (Id.). Saunders was responsible for approving employees' time cards, including for overtime. (Id. at 17, 20). The cards were sent to Human Resources for approval. (Id.). Saunders dealt with and relayed employee complaints, submitted incident reports, and signed employee evaluations and pay raises. (Id.). Saunders could also recommend that Lincoln fire an employee. (Id. at 20-21, 24).

         Based on his pre-employment interview with Ritter, Saunders thought that he had to work 40 hours a week and that he would “get time off” if he worked overtime. (Id. at 12). Because the night shift was understaffed when Saunders began his employment, he “had to bring the parts in, move parts, empty hoppers, the whole works.” (Id. at 13). Saunders “walked the floors, empt[ie]d hoppers, drove the forklift, moved parts, brought in parts, took parts to processing, managed the floor, made sure all the employees were working properly, ma[d]e sure nobody had problems.” (Id. at 16-17). Even when Saunders was operating the forklift, he continued to monitor his employees “[t]he best [he] could.” (Id. at 17). When Lincoln hired a forklift driver for the night shift, Saunders spent “more time on the floor monitoring people trying to improve their productivity.” (Id. at 26).

         During his employment, Saunders complained “all the time” to Chris Ritter, the Magnolia Plant Manager, about “all the overtime [he] was working, and about the job duties [he] was having to perform.” (Id. at 8).

         In March 2018, Lincoln fired Saunders, stating as the reason that he was “[u]nable to meet performance standards and expectations.” (Docket Entry No. 16-3). Saunders's Employment Termination Notice was signed by Chris Ritter and by Mabel Olivas, Lincoln's Human Resources Manager. (Docket Entry No. 16-1 at 2).

         Saunders's complaint alleged that Lincoln misclassified him as exempt because “[h]is duties did not differ materially from those whom he supervised.” (Docket Entry No. 1 at 2-3). The complaint alleged that he lacked the “authority to hire or fire” and “discretion or independent judgment . . . as to matters of overarching importance to the business.” (Id. at 3). The complaint alleged that he “operated equipment and machinery like the employees who were supposedly his subordinates, but who in fact made more money than Saunders doing the same work he did-because they were paid overtime.” (Id.).

         The discovery that followed included Saunders's deposition, in which he testified as follows:

I'm pretty much upset because I-for the past two and a half years when I was at Lincoln all I done [was] work and sleep, work and sleep. And everybody else was doing the same, you know, working, running machines and stuff, making more than I was. And I was even having to drive the forklift, empty hoppers. I done that over a year. I kept asking for help and never got it until after a year and a half. . . . I constantly complained about not having a maintenance man or nothing else. On day shift they had several forklift drivers. They had all the maintenance people. On night shift we didn't have nothing. I didn't have nothing.

(Docket Entry No. 16-4 at 8). Saunders finally contacted a lawyer to “see if [he] can get compensated for all the, the things that [he did that he] really shouldn't of had-have to do.” (Id. at 9).

         Lincoln moved for summary judgment, arguing that Saunders worked in an executive capacity and was not entitled to overtime pay. (Docket Entry No. 16). Lincoln points to a declaration from Lincoln's Human Resources Manager, Saunders's deposition, and two emails that Saunders sent, arguing that the undisputed facts shown by the record support that, as a matter of law, Saunders's primary duty was management and that his recommendations about employees were given particular weight. (Id. at 14-20). Lincoln contends that Saunders has not identified any properly considered evidence showing factual disputes material to these issues. (Id.).

         Saunders responded by submitting declarations from two people who worked under him on the night shift. He argued that those declarations and his deposition support a reasonable inference that he “spent most of his time driving a forklift, loading hoppers, and operating machinery, ” work that is not managerial. (Docket Entry No. 17 at 2). Saunders argues that he had no “say in hiring, firing, discipline, or such other managerial responsibilities, ” and that the employees who worked under him “made more money than he did, when accounting for their overtime pay.” (Id.). Saunders's point is that the primary-duty issue presents “a hotly disputed issue of material fact” that precludes summary judgment. (Id.).

         Lincoln replied and moved to strike parts of the declarations Saunders submitted. (Docket Entry No. 18). Lincoln identifies statements that it argues are speculative, conclusory, and contradict statements in Saunders's earlier deposition. (Id. at 2-4). Lincoln also argues that even if these statements are considered, they do not support a reasonable inference that Saunders's primary duty was not management, or that his recommendations as to employee status were not given weight. (Id. at 5-10). Lincoln argues that even considering the declarations in their entirety, the undisputed facts show that, as a matter of law, it properly classified Saunders as exempt. (Id.).

         Saunders responded to the motion to strike, contending that the individuals' statements were based on the declarants' personal observations of the Magnolia facility night shift. (Docket Entry No. 20 at 1-2). Saunders argues that the statements were neither conclusory nor inconsistent with his deposition testimony. (Id.).

         Lincoln argues that Saunders has not carried his burden of showing that the declaration statements are admissible. (Docket Entry No. 23 at 3-5).

         The parties' arguments are considered in detail below.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment

         “Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Vann v. City of Southaven, Miss., 884 F.3d 307, 309 (5th Cir. 2018) (quotation omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). “A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the ‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Burrell v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 820 F.3d 132, 136 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Savant v. APM Terminals, 776 F.3d 285, 288 (5th Cir. 2014)). The moving party “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and ...

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