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Grettler v. Directv, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2016

MICHAEL GRETTLER, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
DIRECTV, LLC, ET AL., Defendants. WILLIAM AULIK, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
DIRECTV, LLC, ET AL., Defendants.

RULING AND ORDER

ROBERT N. CHATIGNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiffs bring these two cases against DIRECTV, LLC ("DIRECTV"), and MasTec North America, Inc. ("MasTec"), alleging that they were employed by defendants and that defendants violated federal and state wage-and-hour laws. Defendants have moved to dismiss (Grettler ECF No. 113; Aulik ECF No. 45) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The first amended complaints allege the following. DIRECTV maintained a nationwide corps of service technicians through an employment network comprised of Home Service Providers, Secondary Providers, subcontractors and service technicians (the "Provider Network"). Within this structure, MasTec was a Home Service Provider that performed middle-management functions between DIRECTV and technicians. Plaintiffs in these cases worked as satellite television installation technicians who were part of the Provider Network, either as "independent contractors" or direct employees of MasTec. Plaintiffs allege that they were employed by MasTec and/or DIRECTV for purposes of applying relevant federal and state employment laws.

Plaintiffs claim that while they were employed by defendants, they were compensated according to an unlawful piece-rate scheme used throughout DIRECTV's Provider Network. Under this scheme, plaintiffs were paid only for certain "productive" tasks, and were not paid for other work necessary to perform their jobs, such as assembling satellite dishes, driving to job assignments and obtaining supplies. In addition, plaintiffs were subjected to "chargebacks, " whereby defendants would reduce plaintiffs' pay in certain circumstances, such as when a customer had a question after an installation or the equipment did not function properly. Plaintiffs' wages also were reduced because they were required to purchase necessary supplies - such as screws, cable, and gas - and were not reimbursed. According to plaintiffs, the effect of these policies and practices was to compensate them in a way that violated federal and state wage-and-hour laws.

The complaints assert four counts: minimum wage and overtime claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"); minimum wage and overtime claims under Connecticut law; failure to pay wages due under Connecticut law; and unlawful wage deductions under Connecticut law. The defendants have moved to dismiss both complaints in their entirety.

II. Discussion

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests a complaint's legal sufficiency. To withstand such a motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Review under Rule 12(b)(6) occurs in two steps. First, the court must separate the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations from its legal conclusions. Well-pleaded facts are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, " must be disregarded. Id. Second, the court must determine whether the well-pleaded facts in the complaint support a plausible inference that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Id. at 678-79. This standard "is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A complaint containing facts "that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

A. Employment Relationship

Defendants argue that the complaints should be dismissed because plaintiffs have not plausibly alleged that they were employed by defendants. Plaintiffs' claims cannot succeed, defendants argue, because the complaints do not contain allegations regarding the entities that directly hired and compensated them.

The FLSA defines an employment relationship in a "broad" and "expansive" way. Zheng v. Liberty Apparel Co. Inc., 355 F.3d 61, 69 (2d Cir. 2003). Regulations promulgated under the statute "expressly recognize that a worker may be employed by more than one entity at the same time." Id. at 66. Thus, under a joint employment theory, a worker can be employed by a "primary employer" as well as a "joint employer." Id. at 67.

While defendants are correct that the complaints in these cases do not include factual allegations regarding the nature of plaintiffs' employment with non-party primary employers, the absence of such allegations is not fatal to their claims.

Defendants do not cite any authority other than Iqbal's plausibility standard for the proposition that a plaintiff must plead facts regarding his or her primary employer in order to allege an employment relationship with a joint employer. Case law suggests that no such rule exists. See Amponsah v. DIRECTV, No. 1:14-cv-03314-ODE, slip op. at 19 n.12 (N.D.Ga. Apr. 15, 2015) (rejecting similar argument, explaining that "[p]laintiffs may survive a motion to dismiss by alleging sufficient facts to make plausible their claim of employment by one joint employer without providing detailed allegations about the other"); Renteria-Camacho v. DIRECTV, Inc., No. 14-2529, 2015 WL 1399707, at *2 (D. Kan. Mar. 26, 2015) (rejecting similar argument on a motion to dismiss, holding that even though more information regarding subcontractor that employed plaintiff may be necessary later in the litigation, "such detail" was not required to survive motion to dismiss); Chao v. Westside Drywall, Inc., 709 F.Supp.2d 1037, 1062 (D. Or. 2010) (analyzing whether defendants were joint employers, even though "no subcontractor ha[d] been identified and joined to this action as the actual employer").

Whether an employment relationship exists under the FLSA depends on the "economic reality of a particular employment situation, " which courts in this Circuit analyze by looking to a series of formal and functional control factors. Barfield v. NewYork City Health & Hosps. Corp., 537 F.3d 132, 142 (2d Cir. 2008); see also Dixon v. Zabka, No. 3:11-CV-982 MPS, 2014 WL 6084351, at *3 (D. Conn. Nov. 13, 2014). Under this case law, the complaints are sufficient if plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the "economic reality" of their arrangement with the defendants constituted an employment relationship. This test focuses on the relationship between plaintiffs and defendants. Plaintiffs therefore can - and do - plead facts detailing their relationship with defendants without making any showing as to their primary employers. That information regarding primary employers may ...


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