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Peters v. Early Healthcare Giver, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 13, 2014

MURIEL PETERS
v.
EARLY HEALTHCARE GIVER, INC

Page 622

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County pursuant to certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals Case No. 331908. Argued: April 29, 2014. Nelson W. Rupp, Jr., JUDGE.

ARGUED BY: Ilana Gelfman (Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr., Debra Gardner, Appellate Advocacy Fellow Public Justice Center of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR APPELLANT.

ARGUED BY: Jennifer L. Katz, Assistant Attorney General (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR AMICUS.

AMICI CURIAE:

Brief of Amici Curiae Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, Casa De Maryland, Employment Justice Center, Maryland Employment Lawyers Association, Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association and the National Employment Law Project.

Daniel A. Katz, Esquire, Law Office of Gary M. Gilbert & Associates, Silver Spring, MD; Sarah Martinez, Esquire, CASA De Maryland, Hyattsville, MD; Brian J. Markovitz, Esquire, Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A., Greenbelt, MD; C. Shawn Boehringer, Esquire, Nathaniel Norton, Esquire, Maryland Legal Aid, Baltimore, MD FOR APPELLANT.

Brief of Commissioner of Labor and Industry as Amicus Curiae.

Douglas F. Gansler, Esquire, Attorney General of Maryland, Jennifer L. Katz, Esquire, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Baltimore, MD FOR APPELLEE.

ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ.

OPINION

Page 623

[439 Md. 650] Adkins, J.

In this case we are asked to answer three questions concerning the Wage Payment and Collection Law (" WPCL" ), Md. Code (1991, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2013 Cum. Supp.), § 3-501 et seq. of the Labor and Employment Article (" LE" ), a cause of action frequently litigated in the appellate courts. In answering these questions we are treading new ground on some, but not all of them.

FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

Appellant Muriel Peters worked as a certified nursing assistant for Early Healthcare Giver, Inc. (" EHCG" ) from April 2008 to April 2009. Peters provided in-home care for an elderly patient throughout her employment with EHCG. She consistently worked 119 hours in every two-week pay period. EHCG paid Peters $12 per hour for all of her work, including the hours she worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

Following her departure from EHCG, Peters sued EHCG in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, claiming that [439 Md. 651] EHCG wrongfully withheld her overtime wages. At trial, EHCG's President, Esther Guy, conceded that she did not pay Peters overtime. Guy explained that she did not think that Peters was owed overtime because Peters exercised during work hours. Regarding the nature of Peters's employment, Guy explained that Peters was paid under a federal program under which Medicaid would pay EHCG $16 per hour under the contract--EHCG would pay Peters $12 per hour and EHCG kept $4. See Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395k(a)(2)(A) (2012). EHCG's counsel

Page 624

argued that because the company operated under a federal program, federal law governed EHCG's payment of home healthcare workers. Under that theory, Peters's work fell under the Fair Labor Standards Act's (the " FLSA" ) " companionship services" exemption label,[1] thus, she was not entitled to overtime pay. See 29 U.S.C. 213(a)(15). The trial court denied Peters's claim for overtime wages. Though the court rejected Guy's claim that overtime was withheld because Peters exercised at work, the court explained that federal law preempted Maryland law, and exempted the employer from paying overtime.

Peters appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. The intermediate appellate court held that the trial court erred in concluding that federal law preempted state wage laws.[2] Because the Court of Special Appeals held that the FLSA exemption did not apply, the case was remanded " for the [trial] court to consider whether Peters is entitled to recover [overtime wages] under the Maryland Wage and Hour Law and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law as well as other issues raised in her complaint."

On remand to the Circuit Court, Peters filed an unopposed memorandum asserting a claim under the Wage and Hour Law (" WHL" ) and the WPCL, requesting unpaid overtime [439 Md. 652] and treble damages under LE § 3-507.2(b).[3] She did not offer any additional evidence. On March 28, 2013, the Circuit Court awarded Peters $6,201 in unpaid overtime wages, but denied her request for enhanced damages.

Peters appealed the order to the Court of Special Appeals and filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to this Court. Before the Court of Special Appeals could hear the case, we granted Peters's petition to consider the following questions, which we have rephrased for clarity:

1. Are overtime wages recoverable under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law?
2. Is it an abuse of discretion for a trier of fact to fail to award enhanced damages under § 3-507.2(b) of the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law when there is no claim of a bona fide dispute?
3. Should any award of up to treble damages under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law be made in addition to the award of unpaid wages?

For the following reasons, we answer the first question in the affirmative and answer the second and third in the negative. Yet, because the trial court failed to make a required predicate finding, and there was no evidence to support a finding of ...


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