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Gregori v. Market Street Management, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 28, 2018

LUCAS GREGORI and WILLIAM GOUGE Plaintiffs
v.
MARKET STREET MANAGEMENT, LLC D/B/A FAMILY MEAL FREDERICK Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          ELLEN L. HOLLANDER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Lucas Gregori and William Gouge filed suit against defendant Market Street Management, LLC, D/B/A Family Meal (Frederick) (“Market Street”), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et. seq.; the Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), Md. Code (2016 Repl. Vol.), § 3-401 et. seq. of the Labor and Employment Article (“L.E.”); and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”), L.E. § 3-501 et. seq. ECF 2 (Complaint).[2] They assert that Market Street improperly used a tip pool at the Frederick, Maryland location of its restaurant, Family Meal, where Gregori and Gouge worked as waiters from November 2014 through December 2015. ECF 2, ¶¶ 28-29.

         Now pending is Market Street's motion for summary judgment. ECF 47.[3] The motion is supported by a memorandum (ECF 47-1) (collectively, the “Motion”) and several exhibits.[4]Gregori opposes the motion (ECF 52) and has submitted several exhibits. Gouge failed to file a response after the Clerk issued a Rule 12/56 notice, dated July 25, 2018. ECF 54. Market Street has replied (ECF 53) and submitted another exhibit.

         No oral argument is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, I shall grant Market Street's Motion.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         During plaintiffs' employment, Family Meal used a “tip pool, ” under which Family Meal collected and combined the gratuities from tipped employees, such as plaintiffs, at the end of each shift and entered the tip information into a spreadsheet. ECF 47-2 at 2, Vickers Decl., ¶ 6. The tips were then allocated among tip pool participants, including plaintiffs, based on the number of hours the participants worked during the day. Id. On a weekly basis, Family Meal distributed the allocated tips to the tip pool participants as a separate line item on their paychecks. Id., ¶ 7.

         According to plaintiffs, managers improperly participated in the tip pool, in violation of the FLSA and MWHL, thereby invalidating the tip pool. They assert that because the tip pool was invalid, Market Street failed to compensate them properly, as required under the relevant law, and they are therefore owed unpaid wages.

         Plaintiffs identify four individuals employed by Family Meal who allegedly participated improperly in the tip pool: (1) James Vickers, (2) Lyndsay Rudolph, (3) Josh Cross, and (4) Elizabeth Reap. ECF 2, ¶ 39. At the relevant time, Vickers was the General Manager and Rudolph was the Assistant General Manager. Rudolph became the General Manager in February 2016. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3; ECF 47-2 at 2, Vickers Decl., ¶¶ 2-3; ECF 57-2, Rudolph Dep. at 6, Tr. 20:6-11; ECF 47-2 at 4, Rudolph Decl., ¶¶ 3-4.[5]

         At Reaps's deposition, which took place after she no longer worked for defendant, she claimed that she worked at Family Meal for five and a half years, in various capacities. These included server, bartender, trainer, shift supervisor, and opener/closer. ECF 52-6, Reap Deposition at 3-4, Tr. 9:2-11:5.

         During the relevant time, Cross and Reap were bartenders at Family Meal. ECF 47-2 at 4, Rudolph Decl., ¶ 12. As bartenders, they served food, tended bar, and otherwise interacted with customers. See, e.g., ECF 52-1, Gregori Response to Interrogatory 19; ECF 52-6, Reap Deposition at 14-15, Tr. 53:17-54:1; ECF 52-8, Gregori Deposition at 19-20, Tr. 73:17-74-10 (asserting that Reap was a manger). Neither had high-level managerial responsibilities, such as hiring or firing employees, maintaining employee records, or determining how much employees were paid. ECF 47-2 at 2, Vickers Decl., ¶ 8; ECF 47-2 at 4, Rudolph Decl., ¶ 12. Instead, their duties were more analogous to those of low-level supervisors. For example, they participated in interviews, trained new hirees, set schedules, and supervised employees. ECF 52-1, Gregori Response to Interrogatory 19; ECF 52-2, Gregori Decl. ¶¶ 18-19. Reap also once exercised discipline against Gregori by writing up Gregori for being late. ECF 52-1, Gregori Response to Interrogatory 13. Gregori claims his subsequent firing was partially based on this write-up. Id.

         It is undisputed that Vickers and Rudulph did not participate in the tip pool. See, e.g., ECF 52 (failing to dispute that Vickers and Rudolph were not tip pool participants). By contrast, Cross and Reap participated in the tip pool. But, central to this case, plaintiffs and Market Street disagree over their roles at work and whether their participation in the tip pool was proper. ECF 47-1; ECF 52.

         The suit contains three counts: (1) violation of the FLSA (Count I); (2) violation of the MWHL (Count II); and (3) violation of the MWPCL (Count III). ECF 2.[6] In sum, plaintiffs maintain that Cross and Reap were managers under the FLSA and MWHL, and therefore they improperly participated in the tip pool. Conversely, Market Street contends that Cross and Reap were not managers and thus were valid tip pool participants.

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); see also Formica v. Aylor, ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2018 WL 3120790, at *7 (4th Cir. June 25, 2018); Iraq Middle Mkt. Dev. Found. v. Harmoosh, 848 F.3d 235, 238 (4th Cir. 2017). The nonmoving party must demonstrate that there are disputes of material fact so as to preclude the award of summary judgment as a matter of law. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986); see also Gordon v. CIGNA Corp., 890 F.3d 463, 470 (4th Cir. 2018).

         The Supreme Court has clarified that not every factual dispute will defeat a summary judgment motion. “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. at 248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.; see Variety Stores, Inc. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 888 F.3d 651, 659 (4th Cir. 2018); Sharif v. United Airlines, Inc., 841 F.3d 199, 2014 (4th Cir. 2016); Raynor v. Pugh, 817 F.3d 123, 130 (4th Cir. 2016); Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013). On the other hand, summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. And, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id.

         Notably, “[a] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings,' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1042 (2004); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-24. And, the court must view all of the facts, including reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd., 475 U.S. at 587; accord Variety Stores, Inc., 888 F.3d at 659; Gordon, 890 F.3d at 470; Roland v. United States Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 850 F.3d 625, 628 (4th Cir. 2017); Lee v. Town of Seaboard, 863 F.3d 323, 327 (4th Cir. 2017); FDIC v. Cashion, 720 F.3d 169, 173 (4th Cir. 2013).

         The district court's “function” is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; accord Guessous v. Fairview Prop. Inv., LLC, 828 F.3d 208, 216 (4th Cir. 2016). Thus, in considering a summary judgment motion, the court may not make credibility determinations. Jacobs v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015); Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French, 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007). Therefore, in the face of conflicting evidence, such as competing affidavits, summary judgment ordinarily is not appropriate, because it is the function of the fact-finder to resolve factual disputes, including matters of witness credibility. See Black & Decker Corp. v. United States, 436 F.3d 431, 442 (4th Cir. 2006); Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med. Ctr., Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 644-45 (4th Cir. 2002).

         In sum, to avoid summary judgment, there must be a genuine dispute as to material fact. In Iraq Middle Mkt. Dev. Found., 848 F.3d at 238, the Court reiterated: “A court can grant summary judgment only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the case presents no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party demonstrates entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.”

         Gregori insists that this matter turns on the credibility of the parties and their witnesses. ECF 52 at 5. Therefore, he argues that summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. at 5-6. Market Street maintains that the undisputed evidence supports its position.

         III. ...


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