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Gonzalez v. Prince George's County, MD

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 5, 2017




         Plaintiff Maria Gonzalez worked for Defendant Prince George's County, Maryland (the “County”) as an Administrative Aide II from October 1, 2007 until at least September 20, 2016.[1]Compl. ¶¶ 4, 8, ECF No. 2. Throughout her employment, her workday was 8.5 hours long but the County paid her for only 8 hours of work each day, because it designated half an hour each day as a “lunch break.” Id. ¶ 20. Yet, according to Gonzalez, she “was not permitted to take a lunch break each and every day.” Id. ¶ 21. Rather, she worked at least two lunch breaks per week from May 29, 2014 through March 9, 2016, and she worked three lunch breaks per week beginning July 5, 2016. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24. She claims that, as a result, she worked in excess of forty hours per week but the County failed to pay her overtime wages (or even minimum wage) for the additional hours she worked, id. ¶¶ 20-26, and thereby violated the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 - 219; the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”), Md. Code Ann, Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 - 3-509; and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 - 3-431. Compl. 1.

         Pending is the County's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 19.[2] The County insists that the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“Agreement” or “CBA”) that it entered into with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipality Employees, Local Number 3389 (the “Union”), of which Plaintiff was a member, governs the disputes raised in this litigation, and therefore Gonzalez's failure to exhaust contractual remedies pursuant to the grievance and arbitration procedures described in the CBA bars this suit. Id. at 2. Gonzalez agrees that her “position and job are consistent with being governed by the CBA, ” that “[t]he Copy of the CBA that is attached to the Motion is authentic, ” and that she signed the Acknowledgement Form, acknowledging receipt of the CBA. Pl.'s Opp'n 3. But, she contends that the grievance and arbitration provision does not apply to her claims in this Court because, inter alia, she challenges compliance with federal and state statutes, not the CBA. Id. at 4. Because I find that, on the record before me and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Gonzalez, the Agreement does not cover statutory claims such as those Gonzalez brings, I will deny the County's Motion, treated as one for summary judgment, and order the County to respond to Gonzalez's Complaint.

         Standard of Review

         The County moves to dismiss or for summary judgment. Def.'s Mot. 1-2. On a motion to dismiss, the Court only may consider attached documents that are “integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint, ” and only when “the plaintiffs do not challenge [their] authenticity. Phillips v. LCI Int'l, Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999). While Gonzalez concedes the authenticity of the Agreement that the County attached to its Motion, she clearly does not rely on it in her Complaint and it is not integral to the Complaint, given that Gonzalez does not believe that the issues she raises fall within its ambit. Therefore, I will treat the County's Motion as one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d); Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir. 1998) (parties have sufficient notice that court may treat motion as one for summary judgment where, as here, defendant titles its motion in the alternative as one for summary judgment and attaches materials that are not integral to complaint); Ridgell v. Astrue, DKC-10-3280, 2012 WL 707008, at *7 (D. Md. Mar. 2, 2012) (same).

         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” 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), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 & n.10 (1986). The existence of only a “scintilla of evidence” is not enough to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). Instead, the evidentiary materials submitted must show facts from which the finder of fact reasonably could find for the party opposing summary judgment. Id. The Court considers the undisputed facts, and to the extent there is a genuine dispute of material fact, “this Court reviews the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Downing v. Balt. City Bd. of Sch. Comm'rs, No. RDB-12-1047, 2015 WL 1186430, at *1 (D. Md. Mar. 13, 2015) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007)).

         The Collective Bargaining Agreement

         The Collective Bargaining Agreement provides, with exceptions not relevant here, that “employees shall have a regular workweek of (8) consecutive hours, excluding an unpaid meal period, within a twenty-four hour (24) hour period, and the normal workweek shall consist of five (5) consecutive days, Monday through Friday.” CBA art. 13(A), at 9. Article 15, “Premium Pay, ” provides that “[e]mployees will be compensated at the rate of one and one-half (1.5) times their regular rate of pay for time they are required to work in excess of forty (40) hours in a workweek.” CBA art. 15(A)(1), at 11.

         The Agreement also provides that “[a] complaint or dispute between . . . the County and an employee, including a complaint or dispute involving the application, meaning or interpretation of the provisions of this Agreement shall be considered a grievance and subject to resolution under the . . . procedures” set forth in Article 45 of the CBA. CBA art. 45, at 38, ECF No. 19-3. First, at Step 1 of the grievance procedures, the employee, through a Union representative, gives written notice of the grievance to the employee's department within ten days of its occurrence; the representative then meets with the employee's supervisor to “endeavor to adjust the matter”; and the department responds to the grievance after that meeting. Id. If the matter is not resolved, at Step 2, a Union representative meets with the employee's department head to “attempt[] to resolve the grievance.” Id. at 39. Next, at Step 3, if the matter remains unresolved, the employee files a written appeal, after which, at Step 4, the matter is submitted to arbitration if it still is not resolved. Id. The Agreement states that “[o]nly grievances arising as a result of disputes concerning the meaning, interpretation or application of this Agreement shall be subject to Step 4 (Arbitration).” Id.


         It is undisputed that the CBA governs Gonzalez's “position and job, ” that it includes grievance and arbitration procedures, and that Gonzalez acknowledged receipt of a copy of it. Def.'s Mot. 2; Pl.'s Opp'n 3.

In general, union members with a grievance under the CBA “must attempt to use the contract grievance procedure agreed upon by employer and union as the mode of redress.” Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 652 (1965). Thus, if an employee “resorts to the courts before the grievance procedures have been fully exhausted, the employer may well defend on the ground that the exclusive remedies provided by such a contract have not been exhausted.” Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 184 (1967).

Windsor v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cty., No. TDC-14-2287, 2016 WL 4939294, at *14 (D. Md. Sept. 13, 2016). On this basis, the County moves to dismiss. Def.'s Mot. 2. In Gonzalez's view, she did not have to arbitrate the statutory claims she raises in this lawsuit because they are outside the scope of arbitration, which is limited to “disputes concerning the meaning, interpretation or application of th[e] Agreement.” Pl.'s Opp'n 4. According to the County, “[t]he Fourth Circuit has held that FLSA claims can be resolved in mandatory arbitration proceedings.” Def.'s Mot. 6 (citing Adkins v. Labor Ready, Inc., 303 F.3d 496 (4th Cir. 2002)).

         The pivotal issue here, however, is whether Gonzalez had to follow the grievance process for her statutory claims. The answer is no. While an employee may agree by contract to follow grievance procedures, including arbitration, for statutory claims instead of pursuing them in court, an employee is not required to do so unless the waiver of litigation is “clear and unmistakable” in the agreement between the party or his or her union and the employer. Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp.,525 U.S. 70, 79 (1998); see also Carson v. Giant Food, Inc.,175 F.3d 325, 331-32 (4th Cir. 1999); Birch v. The Pepsi Bottling Grp., Inc., 207 F.Supp.2d 376, 380-81 (D. Md. 2002). Under the Wright standard, a collective bargaining agreement binds an employee to arbitrate a federal statutory claim if it includes “an explicit arbitration clause . . . under which the employees agree to submit to arbitration all federal causes of action arising out of their employment.” Birch, 207 F.Supp.2d at 381 (quoting Carson, 175 F.3d at 331-32). But, when it simply refers “to ‘all disputes' or ‘all ...

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