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Lee v. JLN Construction Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 14, 2018

CHRISTOPHER LEE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JLN CONSTRUCTION SERVICES, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Christopher Lee (“Lee”) and Ladrian Taylor (“Taylor”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated employees, bring this action against their former employer Defendant JLN Construction Services, LLC (“JLN”), owned by Defendant Nnamdi C. Iwuoha (“Iwuoha”) (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging failure to pay overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401, et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl., §§ 3-501, et seq. (“MWPCL”). (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Currently pending before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification to Facilitate Identification and Notification of Similarly Situated Employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. (ECF No. 9.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification to Facilitate Identification and Notification of Similarly Situated Employees (ECF No. 9) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant JLN Construction Services, LLC (“JLN”) is a general contractor that provides construction services for both private and public construction projects throughout Maryland.[1] (Iwuoha Aff., ECF No. 14-1 at ¶ 4.) Defendant Nnamdi C. Iwuoha is the president of JLN. (Id. at ¶ 2.) In order to complete its projects, JLN employs laborers and foremen to perform masonry, finishing, demolition and installation work. (Compl., ECF No. 1 at ¶ 6.) Both laborers and foremen are responsible for manual labor including “remodeling, plumbing, masonry, painting and carpentry work, ” “remov[ing] and/or install[ing] windows, ” “digging and covering manholes for sewers and drainage outlets on some jobs, ” and “repairing walls and ceilings, installing HVAC equipment and the removal of snow and debris.” (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42.) Foremen are also frequently tasked with supervising crews at various work sites. (Id. at ¶ 45.) If a foreman is absent, however, a laborer is responsible for supervising the crews. (Id.)

         JLN's laborers' and foremen's salaries vary depending on a few factors. First, laborers and foremen who work on public projects are subject to prevailing wage laws[2] while those who work on private projects are paid under a different, established rate. (ECF No. 14-1 at ¶¶ 8, 12.) Second, salaries for employees subject to prevailing wage laws depend on the employees' specific laborer subcategories, which can vary from project to project or even within a single project. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Because an employee's overtime pay rate is based on the employee's regular pay rate, an employee's overtime pay rate also depends on whether an employee is on a public or private project, and if on a public project, his or her laborer category.

         Christopher Lee began working for JLN on May 7, 2016 as a laborer. (Lee Aff., ECF No. 9-2 at ¶ 5.) Ladrian Taylor began working for JNC also as a laborer in July of 2016, and was promoted to a foreman in December of 2016. (Taylor Aff., ECF No. 9-3 at ¶ 5.) Their regular hourly rates ranged from sixteen dollars ($16.00) to thirty dollars ($30.00) per hour depending on the above described factors. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶ 9, 9-3 at ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees were assigned to specific projects primarily by project managers. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 49.) The projects lasted from a few days to several months, and different projects required different shifts during the day or night. (Id. at ¶¶ 50, 65.) An average day shift was from 5:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and an average night shift was from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶ 10, 9-3 at ¶ 10.) Plaintiffs claim that they and other similarly situated employees regularly worked as many as fifty (50) to sixty-five (65) hours per week, and sometimes more. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶ 10, 9-3 at ¶ 10.) They kept track of their hours on timesheets kept at the specific job sites. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶ 19, 9-3 at ¶ 19.)

         Plaintiffs assert that they worked over forty hours per week for several reasons. First, they assert that Defendants “regularly understaffed” projects and accordingly Plaintiffs had to work overtime to ensure projects were completed on time. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶¶ 11-12, 9-3 at ¶¶ 11-12.) Second, laborers and foremen had to put away materials and equipment at the end of the day and sometimes also ensure that the worksites were cleared of debris. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶¶ 14, 17, 9-3 at ¶¶ 14, 17.) Third, Plaintiffs assert that they were often required to work through lunch and, if there was a shortage of any necessary supplies, purchase additional materials throughout the day. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶¶ 15, 18, 9-3 at ¶¶ 15, 18.)

         Plaintiffs also claim that they worked over forty hours per week because they were required to perform work prior to arriving on the job site. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶¶ 19, 20, 9-3 at ¶¶ 19, 20.) They assert that almost daily they were required to purchase and pickup materials and supplies from vendors, which could take between two and three hours a day. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶ 20, 9-3 at ¶ 20.) They further assert, however, that Defendants had a “company-wide policy” of instructing employees to only record work that occurred once they arrived at the jobsite on their timesheets. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶ 21, 9-3 at ¶ 21.) Accordingly, they claim that Defendants refused to compensate laborers and foremen for time spent purchasing supplies and materials.

         On September 18, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a three-count Complaint alleging failure to pay overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401, et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl., §§ 3-501, et seq. (“MWPCL”). (ECF No. 1.) They assert that despite working over forty hours per week, both as reflected on their timesheets and as described above with respect to unrecorded offsite work, Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees were not always paid time and a half for hours worked over forty. Rather, Defendants either completely denied overtime pay, would only pay overtime rates for some hours worked over forty, or would pay the wrong overtime rate. (ECF Nos. 9-2 at ¶¶ 22-24, 9-3 at ¶¶ 22-24.) On December 12, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Conditional Certification. (ECF No. 9.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., “requires employers to pay overtime to covered employees who work more than 40 hours per week.” Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, ___ U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 1134, 1138 (2018) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)). Under the FLSA, a plaintiff may bring an action for violations of the statute on behalf of himself or herself and other employees so long as the other employees are “similarly situated” to the plaintiff. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see also Quinteros v. Sparkle Cleaning, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 762, 771 (D. Md. 2008). Section 216 of the FLSA “establishes an ‘opt-in' scheme, whereby potential plaintiffs must affirmatively notify the court of their intentions to be a party to the suit.” Quinteros, 532 F.Supp.2d at 771 (citing Camper v. Home Quality Mgmt., Inc., 200 F.R.D. 516, 519 (D. Md. 2000)). Section 216(b) provides, in relevant part, that:

An action . . . may be maintained against any employer . . . in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and on behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.

29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         Whether to grant conditional certification is left to this Court's discretion. Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682, 686 (D. Md. 2010) (stating that “[d]eterminations of the appropriateness of conditional collective action certification . . . are left to the court's discretion”); see also Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling,493 U.S. 165, 169 (1989). This Court employs a two-step inquiry when deciding whether to certify a collective action under the FLSA. Banks v. Wet Dog, Inc., No. RDB-13-2294, 2015 WL 433631, at *2 (D. Md. 2015) (citing Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686); Butler v. DirectSAT USA, LLC, 876 F.Supp.2d 560, 566 (D. Md. 2012). In the first stage, sometimes referred to as the “notice stage, ” this Court “makes a ‘threshold determination of whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential class members are similarly situated, such that court-facilitated notice to putative class members would be appropriate.'” Butler, 876 F.Supp.2d at 566 (quoting Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686). A plaintiff's allegations must consist of “more than ‘vague allegations' with ‘meager factual support, ' but [they] need not enable the court to reach a conclusive determination whether a class of similarly situated plaintiffs exists.” Randolph v. PowerComm Const., Inc., 7 F.Supp.3d 561, 576 (D. Md. 2014) (quoting Mancia v. Mayflower Textile Services Co., No. CCB-08-273, 2008 WL 4735344, at *2 (D. Md. Oct. 14, 2008)). Plaintiffs may rely on ...


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