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Hansberger v. L'Italia Restaurant, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

September 7, 2017

TONYA HANSBERGER, Plaintiff,
v.
L'ITALIA RESTAURANT, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELIZABETH K. DILLON ELIZABETH K. DILLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the court on plaintiff Tonya Hansberger's (Hansberger) and defendant L'Italia Restaurant, LLC's (L'Italia) joint motion for summary adjudication (Dkt. No. 36).[1] The parties request that the court determine whether L'Italia's deduction of $100 from Hansberger's pay on January 23, 2016, when L'Italia closed due to inclement weather, defeats L'Italia's affirmative defense that Hansberger was an exempt employee. The court will resolve the joint motion in L'Italia's favor because, even construing the undisputed facts in the light most favorable to Hansberger, the applicable legal principles show that the one-time improper deduction from Hansberger's pay does not destroy the possibility of Hansberger being an exempt employee. This opinion briefly sets forth the reasons for the court's ruling.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Hansberger alleges that L'Italia, her former employer, misclassified her as exempt from overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. In order to qualify under the executive exemption, Hansberger must have been paid on a salary basis and her job duties must have fallen within one of the exemptions. The parties disagree over both of these issues, but the instant motion involves only the salary requirement.

         There are five undisputed facts for purposes of this motion that are relevant to whether L'Italia's deduction defeats its affirmative defense: (1) Hansberger was docked a day's pay when L'Italia closed the restaurant on January 23, 2016, due to inclement weather; (2) this was L'Italia's only deduction from Hansberger's pay; (3) the deduction was improper; (4) L'Italia has no written policy regarding deductions; and (5) Hansberger was not reimbursed for the deduction.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment may be granted if the moving party “shows 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). When considering 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.” Defs. of Wildlife v. N.C. DOT, 762 F.3d 374, 392 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bacon v. City of Richmond, Va., 475 F.3d 633, 638 (4th Cir. 2007)). For each motion, “the court must take care to ‘resolve all factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences in the light most favorable' to the party opposing that motion.” Id. (quoting Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry. Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)). “The party who bears the burden of proof on an issue at trial, however, cannot survive summary judgment without forecasting evidence sufficient to sustain his or her burden of proof on that point.” McIntyre v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 581 F.Supp.2d 749, 756 (W.D. Va. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986)).

         B. Analysis

         The parties rely on two primary regulations in their analysis of whether this improper deduction means that Hansberger was not paid on a salary basis and thus loses the exemption. The first is 29 C.F.R. § 541.602. Pursuant to this regulation, an employee is considered to be paid on a “salary basis” if she regularly receives each pay period “a predetermined amount” that is “not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of the work performed.” Subsections (1) and (2) make clear that an exempt employee must receive her full salary “without regard to the number of days or hours worked” and without deductions for “absences occasioned by the employer or by the operating requirements of the business.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.602(1)-(2).

Under the second regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 541.603(a),
[a]n employer who makes improper deductions from salary shall lose the exemption if the facts demonstrate that the employer did not intend to pay employees on a salary basis. An actual practice of making improper deductions demonstrates that the employer did not intend to pay employees on a salary basis.

         In determining whether an “actual practice” exists, the court is to consider a number of factors, including the number of improper deductions and the time period in which they were made, the number of employees whose salary was improperly reduced, and whether the employer has a clearly communicated policy regarding improper deductions. 29 C.F.R. § 541.603(a).

         To the extent that Hansberger is arguing that any improper deduction means that the employer cannot meet the “salary basis” requirement for that employee or class of employees, that interpretation of § 541.602 renders § 541.603 meaningless. So, the court does not read § 541.602 as effectively a threshold barrier to even reaching § 541.603. Instead, the court must determine whether the facts demonstrate that L'Italia did not intend to pay employees on a salary basis and, relatedly, whether it had an “actual practice” of making improper deductions, ...


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