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Harbourt v. Ppe Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 21, 2015

CLAUDIA HARBOURT, et al.
v.
PPE CASINO RESORTS MARYLAND, LLC

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Claudia Harbourt, Michael Lukoski, and Ursula Pocknett bring this putative class action against PPE Casino Resorts Maryland, LLC ("PPE"), owner and operator of a casino called Maryland Live! ("the Casino"). The plaintiffs allege that they all attended at least part of the Casino's 12-week "dealer school" training course for table games such as blackjack, craps, roulette, and baccarat. They say they were the Casino's employees, and their attendance at the training constituted compensable work under state and federal law. Because the Casino did not pay them for the vast majority of the time they attended the training, they sued to recover what they believe are unlawfully withheld wages. Now before the court is PPE's motion to dismiss their complaint. The motion has been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On November 6, 2012, [1] Maryland's Question 7 authorized the state's casinos to begin operating table games on April 11, 2013, at 12:01 a.m. (Compl. ¶ 15, ECF No. 1.)[2] Following Question 7's passage, the Casino sought to recruit and train more than 800 people to staff the 150 table games it planned to operate. ( Id. ¶ 16.) The Casino advertised its new dealer positions as well as a free, 12-week "dealer school" it planned to run in conjunction with Anne Arundel Community College ("AACC"). ( Id. at 3, ¶¶ 17, 23.) The Casino also conducted "informational sessions" at Maryland hotels to "provide potential employees with details regarding the dealer positions at [the Casino], and the training program potential employees would need to complete in order to procure the skills needed to operate table games" there. ( Id. ¶ 17.)

The plaintiffs were among approximately 10, 000 individuals who applied for these positions. ( Id. ¶¶ 18, 21.) Casino employees interviewed the plaintiffs at Marley Station Mall, a strip mall in Glen Burnie, Maryland, around December 2012. ( Id. at 4, ¶ 18.) These interviews included "a congeniality test, in which a [Casino] employee asked... questions in order to assess their personality, " as well as "mathematical testing" to see if they could perform basic math "on their feet." ( Id. ¶ 19.) Following the interviews, the Casino's "agents" asked the plaintiffs "if they would like to attend a course to become a dealer" at the Casino. ( Id. ¶ 20.) The plaintiffs were told the course would last 12 weeks and would teach them how to conduct table games for the Casino. ( Id. )

Approximately 831 individuals (including the plaintiffs) were selected to attend the course, ( id. ¶¶ 21, 22), which began on January 7, 2013, and ended on April 1, 2013, ( id. ¶ 24).[3] The course was held at Marley Station Mall. ( Id. at 4, ¶ 18.) It consisted of four hours of daily instruction Monday through Friday, and was offered in four time slots: 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and 8 p.m. to midnight. ( Id. ¶ 25.) Though the course was scheduled for 20 hours per week, it extended beyond that because of "numerous delays" attributable to Casino staff. ( Id. ¶ 26.) The course centered on blackjack, craps, roulette, and baccarat. ( Id. ¶ 27.)

The plaintiffs allege that the "course was specific to the manner in which" Casino employees were to run these games. ( Id. ) They further allege that all course materials were authored by the Casino, and those attending the course "had absolutely no contact with professors, or any staff, from AACC" because all instructors were Casino employees (who even wore the Casino's uniforms). ( Id. at 4, ¶ 27.) At various times throughout the course, the Casino "demanded" that the attendees complete forms concerning their employment as dealers, including "direct deposit" and W-2 forms. ( Id. ¶ 28.) To facilitate the completion of this paperwork the Casino kept a human resources department adjacent to the classrooms at Marley Station Mall. ( Id. ¶ 30.) The Casino also required attendees to pay $24 for the Casino to obtain their driving records, authorize the Casino to perform criminal and financial background checks, provide their fingerprints and social security numbers, provide confirmation of the highest level of education they had attained, and subject themselves to a drug test. ( Id. ¶ 29.) All trainees, even those who failed to complete the training program, were given certificates of completion. ( Id. at 4.)

Ms. Harbourt attended the course for eight weeks but stopped on approximately March 1, 2013, ( id. ¶ 31), and Ms. Pocknett attended the course for eleven weeks but stopped on approximately March 22, 2013, ( id. ¶ 33). Mr. Lukoski completed the course and worked at the Casino until approximately May 1, 2013. ( Id. ¶ 32.) The Casino did not pay Ms. Harbourt or Ms. Pocknett for any of the time they attended the training, but did pay Mr. Lukoski the minimum hourly wage of $7.25 for the final two days he attended the training. ( Id. ¶¶ 38, 39.)

The plaintiffs filed suit in this court on October 14, 2014. Their three-count complaint asserts violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. § 3-401 et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), Md. Code, Lab. & Empl. § 3-501 et seq. PPE moved to dismiss on November 11, 2014, and the plaintiffs responded.

ANALYSIS

When ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, " and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). "Even though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). "The mere recital of elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish those elements." Walters, 684 F.3d at 439 (citation omitted). "Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate in a complaint that the right to relief is probable, ' the complaint must advance the plaintiff's claim across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

PPE argues the plaintiffs have failed to state a claim because they have not pled facts showing they were employees or performed compensable work. The plaintiffs disagree, and argue their attendance at the training primarily benefited the Casino. As explained below, the plaintiffs' allegations, construed in their favor, fail to show that the primary beneficiary of their attendance at the training was the Casino rather than themselves.

The central issue presently before the court is whether the plaintiffs allege facts sufficient to plausibly demonstrate that they were the Casino's employees within the meaning of the FLSA. "The FLSA provides that employers shall pay employees a minimum hourly wage for all hours worked.'" Perez v. Mountaire Farms, Inc., 650 F.3d 350, 363 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207). "The term work' is not defined in the FLSA, and courts are left to determine the meaning of the term." Id. The FLSA does, however, define "employee" as "any individual employed by an employer, " 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1), and "employ" as "to suffer or permit to work, " id. § 203(g). "Individuals seeking compensation pursuant to the FLSA bear the initial burden of proving that an employer-employee relationship exists and that the activities in question constitute employment for purposes of the Act.'" Purdham v. Fairfax Cnty. Sch. Bd., 637 F.3d 421, 427 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Benshoff v. City of Virginia Beach, 180 F.3d 136, 140 (4th Cir. 1999)). At the same time, however, "[t]he FLSA should be broadly interpreted and applied to effectuate its goals." Id.

The seminal case addressing whether a trainee qualifies as an "employee" is Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., 330 U.S. 148 (1947). In Portland Terminal, a railroad company required applicants for the position of "yard brakeman" to complete seven or eight days of training. Id. at 149. Under the supervision of a "yard crew, " trainees "learn[ed] the routine activities by observation, and [were] then gradually permitted to do actual work under close scrutiny." Id. The applicants' work did "not displace any of the regular employees, who d[id] most of the work themselves, and [had to] stand immediately by to supervise whatever the trainees d[id]." Id. at 150. ...


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