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Castillo v. Urquhart

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 30, 2019

NOHELIA M. CASTILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
JOANN URQUHART, M.D., P.C., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Pending before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 67) and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. ECF No. 70. The motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         From August 2012 through May 2017, Plaintiff Nohelia Castillo was employed as a Medical Assistant (“MA”) by Defendant Joann Urquhart, M.D., P.C., and the private cardiology practice of Defendant Dr. Joann Urquhart. ECF No. 67-4 at 2. As one of two MAs in the office, Castillo's duties included taking patient vitals, assisting with stress tests, triaging patients in the office, making referrals, communicating with insurance providers, answering the phone, and filing patient charts. Id.; ECF No. 67-3 at 17-22 (Castillo Dep.). Castillo was also responsible for training new MAs about Dr. Urquhart's preferences and procedures. ECF No. 67-3 at 10-11; ECF No. 67-7 at 3, 6. Defendants paid Castillo 20 dollars per hour when she joined the practice in 2012 and increased her pay annually by one dollar an hour. ECF No. 67-6 at 13 (Urquhart Dep.).

         During Castillo's employment, the office was generally open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. ECF No. 67-3 at 6. Castillo was not required to punch in and out during the work day, and Defendants did not keep records of the hours that she worked. ECF No. 67-6 at 15-16. According to Castillo, she regularly worked nine to nine-and-a-half hours a day, totaling roughly 47 hours per week. ECF No. 67-3 at 8. Castillo asserts she would arrive to work by 7:45 a.m. at the latest and often leave around 5:45 p.m. ECF No. 70-6 at 5-6. Further, Castillo did not take a lunch break. Id. at 7.

         Defendants contend, however, that while Castillo may have been in the office before and after hours, she worked from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Defendants further do not seriously dispute that Castillo skipped lunch, but maintain that she took other breaks in the afternoon to pick up lunch and make personal calls which equated to her half-hour lunch break. ECF No. 67-3 at 26, 30-31. Further, the staff, including Castillo, often worked shortened days when Dr. Urquhart was out of town, ECF No. 67-3 at 23-24, and on the occasion where staff had to stay late to handle a medical emergency, Urquhart would ensure they would leave early another day to make up for that time. ECF No. 67-6 at 13; ECF No. 67-7 at 8.

         By May of 2017, Dr. Urquhart sensed that Castillo no longer enjoyed her job. Urquhart also concluded that Castillo “was not performing her tasks the way she should have.” ECF No. 67-6 at 12. Ultimately, on May 8, 2017, Dr. Urquhart terminated Castillo. Id.

         After Castillo was fired, she retained counsel to pursue claims against Defendants for unpaid wages. On June 9, 2017, Castillo, through her attorney, Michael Amster, demanded from Defendants $114, 073 for unpaid overtime wages and seven days of accrued vacation time, plus treble damages and attorneys' fees. ECF No. 70-13 at 2. Dr. Urquhart, in response called Amster on June 13, 2017. ECF No. 70-14 at 4; ECF No. 67-6 at 14. According to Amster, Dr. Urquhart threatened that if Castillo pursued her wage litigation, Urquhart would sue her and Amster “for libel and slander.” Urquhart further warned that she would “make sure that [Castillo] never worked around here again.” ECF No. 70-14 at 4 (Amster Dep.). Urquhart maintains that she made no threats but rather stated, “Oh, my God. She won't get a job if she sues me.” ECF No. 67-6 at 14. About a week after the call, Dr. Urquhart wrote a check to Castillo for five unpaid vacation days. ECF No. 67-19 at 3.

         On June 30, 2017, Castillo filed this action against Defendants, asserting overtime wage violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Maryland Wage and Hour Law (“MWHL”), as well as unpaid vacation time under the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”). ECF No. 1. In response, on September 11, 2017, Defendant Joann Urquhart, M.D., P.C. (the “Practice”) filed two counterclaims against Castillo, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud. ECF No. 4 at 11-12. In support of constructive fraud claim, the Practice alleges that Castillo submitted a letter to immigration officials purportedly signed by Dr. Urquhart without Urquhart's knowledge or consent. Id. at 10. Castillo moved to dismiss the counterclaims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the Court granted as to Count II, the constructive fraud claim. ECF Nos. 5, 16. Castillo amended the Complaint to add two counts of unlawful retaliation, in violation of the FLSA and MWHL, based on the Practice's counterclaims. ECF No. 17 at 8-10.

         After the Court dismissed the Practice's constructive fraud counterclaim, Defendants refiled the claim in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. See ECF No. 70-15. Defendants also added the claim for invasion of privacy based on Castillo's misappropriation of Dr. Urquhart's name in the immigration letter. ECF No. 70-16 at 8-9. On July 17, 2018, Castillo sought to amend her Complaint again to augment her retaliation as based on the Practice's state court suit, which this Court granted. ECF No. 35 at 9-11.

         Defendants now move for summary judgment on all of Castillo's claims. ECF No. 67 at 1-2. Castillo, in turn, cross-moves for partial summary judgment on several of her claims as well as the remaining counterclaim. ECF No. 70 at 1-2.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the Court, construing all evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, finds no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact, thereby entitling the movant to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see In re Family Dollar FLSA Litig., 637 F.3d 508, 512 (4th Cir. 2011). Summary judgment must be granted “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         “In responding to a proper motion for summary judgment, ” the opposing party “must present evidence of specific facts from which the finder of fact could reasonably find for him or her.” Venugopal v. Shire Labs., 334 F.Supp.2d 835, 840 (D. Md. 2004), aff'd sub nom. Venugopal v. Shire Labs., Inc., 134 Fed.Appx. 627 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23)). Genuine disputes of material fact are not created “through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Othentec Ltd. v. Phelan, 526 F.3d 135, 140 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985)). Where a party's statement of a fact is “blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, ” the Court credits the record. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         The parties cross-move for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claims for unpaid overtime wages and accrued vacation leave. When faced with cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court must consider “each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law.” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court must deny both motions if it finds a genuine issue of material fact precludes resolution, “[b]ut if there is no genuine dispute and one or the other party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law, the court will render judgment.” 10A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2720 (4th ed. 2019).

         III. Discussion

         A. Castillo's Affidavit

         As a threshold matter, Defendants move to strike Castillo's affidavit submitted as part of the record evidence. ECF No. 74 at 6; see also ECF No. 73-1. Defendants contend that much of the affidavit amounts to legal conclusions or contradicts Castillo's deposition testimony. ECF No. 74 at 7. Castillo disagrees, maintaining that the paragraphs Defendants describe as conclusory, such as the statement that Castillo did not exercise “supervisory authority over other employees” (ECF No. 73-1 ¶ 4), are either statements of fact or are supported by facts elsewhere in the affidavit. ECF No. 77 at 15-16. Castillo further addresses the specific paragraphs noted as contradictory, asserting her affidavit is consistent with her prior deposition testimony. Id. at 17-18.

         “[A] plaintiff cannot contradict their deposition testimony and, thus, create a dispute of fact in the face of a summary judgment motion through their own self-serving affidavit.” Godbolt v. Trinity Prot. Servs., Inc., No. GJH-14-3546, 2017 WL 2579020, at *1 n.2 (D. Md. June 12, 2017); see also Jones v. Puffenbarger, No. CCB-15-3137, 2017 WL 1020819, at *15 (D. Md. Mar. 15, 2017) (citing National Enterprises, Inc. v. Barnes, 201 F.3d 331, 335 (4th Cir. 2000)) (“A plaintiff's self-serving affidavit is not sufficient to withstand summary judgment.”). While parts of the affidavit are certainly conclusory, the Court agrees with Castillo that Defendants take some of her deposition testimony out of context. However, to the extent Castillo's affidavit contradicts her prior testimony or provides no more than a legal conclusion, such evidence cannot create a genuine issue of fact to survive summary judgment. Although the Court will not strike the affidavit in total, it likewise will not consider those portions which clearly contradict Castillo's deposition testimony or otherwise espouse purely legal conclusions.

         B. Overtime Claims (Counts I and II)

         In Counts I and II, Castillo asserts claims for unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA and MWHL, maintaining that she routinely worked 47 hours per week for three years prior to her termination on May 5, 2017. ECF No. 35 ¶¶ 30, 36. The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees overtime pay of at least one and one-half times the regular wage for hours worked that exceed 40 hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a). Certain employees are exempt from the FLSA's overtime ...


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