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Garcia v. Divine Healers, Inc.

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

August 9, 2019

VICTOR GARCIA Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
DIVINE HEALERS, INC. d/b/a HEALING HANDS HEALTHCARE, et al, Defendants.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          ANDREW S. HANEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         After considering the evidence presented at trial, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law. The following recitation of facts should be considered as findings of facts and recitation of the application of the law to the facts as conclusions of law.

         I. Introduction

         This is a suit for unpaid overtime brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Plaintiffs, who are home healthcare workers, have sued Divine Healers Inc ("Divine Healers") and its owners, Steven Ayodele and Afolake Ayodele (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants paid Plaintiffs straight time for all hours worked, meaning Defendants did not pay Plaintiffs time and one half for any hours worked over 40 hours per week. The Court previously granted summary judgment on liability against Divine Healers, finding that Divine Healers violated the FLSA with respect to Plaintiffs through this pay practice [Doc. No. 81].

         The parties conceded that Divine Healers was an "employer" and each Plaintiff was an "employee" of Divine Healers as defined by the FLSA. The Court held a bench trial in order to decide four sets of remaining, disputed questions: (1) whether the individual Defendants, Steven Ayodele and Afolake Ayodele, are employers and therefore liable for the FLSA violations; (2) whether Defendants' violation was willful; (3) the amount of damages in the form of unpaid overtime compensation due to each of Plaintiffs, which also includes the question as to whether liquidated damages are appropriate; and (4) the amount of Plaintiffs' costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees.

         II. Applicable Law

         1. Under the FLSA, employers must pay non-exempt employees overtime compensation equal to no less than one and one half their regular rates of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).

         2. "Under the FLSA, any employer who violates ... the FLSA maximum hours statute, 29 U.S.C. § 207," is liable. Martin v. Spring Break '83 Prods., L.L.C., 688 F.3d 247, 250 n.3 (5th Cir. 2012); see also Donovan v. Grim Hotel Co., 747 F.2d 966, 972 (5th Cir. 1984) ("The overwhelming weight of authority is that a corporate officer with operational control of a corporation's covered enterprise is an employer along with the corporation, jointly and severally liable under the FLSA for unpaid wages.").

         3. The general statute of limitations for FLSA claims is two years. 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). This case was filed on August 8, 2017.

         4. The statute of limitations for willful violations of the FLSA is three years. 29 U.S.C. § 255(a).

         5. "The FLSA provides that liquidated damages be awarded for FLSA violations in an amount equal to the actual damages." Dacar v. Saybolt, L.P., 914 F.3d 917, 931 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)). "A district court may, 'in its sound discretion,' refuse to award liquidated damages if the employer demonstrates good faith and reasonable grounds for believing it was not in violation." Id. (citing 29 U.S.C. § 260). "Whereas the burden is on the plaintiffs to show willfulness, [the defendant] bears the 'substantial burden' of proving the reasonableness of its conduct." Id.

         6. "A willful violation occurs when the 'employer either knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited.'" Id. at 926 (quoting Mclaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co., 486 U.S. 128, 133 (1988)).

         7. "Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing a defendant's willfulness." Id.

         8. An award of attorneys' fees to a prevailing plaintiff is mandatory. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("The court . . . shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action."); Owens v. Marstek, L.L.C., 548 Fed.Appx. 966, 973 (5th Cir. 2013).

         9. "The general rule establishes that FLSA claims . . . cannot be waived." Bodle v. TXL Mortg. Corp., 788 F.3d 159, 164 (5th Cir. 2015).

         10. The FLSA defines "Employer" to include "any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee." 29 U.S.C. § 203(d).

         11. "To determine whether an individual or entity is an employer, the court considers whether the alleged employer: (1) possessed the power to hire and fire the employees, (2) supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of employment, (3) determined the rate and method of payment, and (4) maintained employment records." Gray v. Powers, 673 F.3d 352, 355 (5th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

         1. Divine Healers employed Victor Garcia, Monica Garcia, Garmai Kalaplee, Catherine Kleinhans, Solange Ngolindjoli, Shikira Williams, Rosaelia Espinoza, Kila Wilson, and Christian Catalan ("Plaintiffs") during some time period between August 8, 2014, and the present.

         2. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been required to comply with provisions of the FLSA regarding wage and overtime payment to Plaintiffs.

         3. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been required to comply with United States Department of Labor regulations regarding wage and overtime payments to Plaintiffs.

         4. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Plaintiffs were individual "employees" (as defined in 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1)) who were engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.

         5. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been an "employer" in relation to Plaintiffs, within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 203(d).

         6. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been engaged in an "enterprise" within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 203(r).

         7. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)(1).

         8. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has had an annual gross volume of sales made or business done of not less than $500, 000 (exclusive of excise taxes at the retail level).

         9. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been familiar with provisions of the FLSA regarding wage and overtime payment of employees.

         10. From August 8, 2014, until the present, Divine Healers has been familiar with United States Department of Labor regulations ...


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