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Darowski v. Wojewoda

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 19, 2017



          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Krzysztof Darowski filed this action against Defendants Elzbieta Wojewoda, Marek Wojewoda, and Kardynal Roofing & Siding, LLC (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging that Defendants failed to pay him all required wages for his work performed for their horse-boarding and roofing businesses. Darowski brings claims for failure to pay overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 207, failure to pay overtime and minimum wages in violation of the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act (“CMWA”), Connecticut General Statutes (“Conn. Gen. Stat.”) §§ 31-58 et seq., and failure to pay wages on a weekly basis as required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-71b.

         On March 1, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on two statute of limitations issues: first, Defendants contend that the undisputed evidence in the record shows that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations and that he is not entitled to equitable tolling; second, Defendants contend that, to the extent they violated the law, there is no evidence that they did so willfully, and Plaintiff is thus not entitled to FLSA's one-year extension of the statute of limitations for willful violations. (ECF No. 88); see 29 U.S.C. § 255(a).[1]

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED, as genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether Plaintiff is entitled to equitable tolling under the FLSA and the CMWA. The Court therefore need not consider whether Defendants have met their burden on summary judgment with respect to the issue of willfulness under the FLSA.

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts, which are taken from the parties' Local Rule 56(a) Statements and the exhibits, are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         A. Defendants' Businesses

         Defendants own Huntingtown Farm, an unregistered horse-boarding business in Connecticut. (ECF No. 92-5 at 14-15.) Before owning the horse-boarding business, Ms. Wojewoda owned a commercial cleaning business, which she had registered with the Connecticut Secretary of State. (Id. at 8.) As part of the cleaning business, Ms. Wojewoda had two employees whom she paid hourly, by check. (Id. at 12.) Ms. Wojewoda paid employment taxes for the cleaning business. (Id. at 12.) Marek Wojewoda, Ms. Wojewoda's husband, assisted her in promoting the cleaning business and referring clients to her. (ECF No. 92-6 at 6.)

         Mr. Wojewoda also owns Kardynal Roofing and Siding, and has been running his own roofing and siding business for about 20 years. (Id. at 4-5.) Four or five workers typically worked for Mr. Wojewoda's roofing and siding business at any one time. (Id. at 8.) Mr. Wojewoda typically contracted with and paid the workers for each discrete job, but at times paid his workers by the hour. (Id. at 8-9.) Roofers sometimes performed landscaping work on Defendants' property, including by helping to deepen the Wojewodas' pool. (Id. at 14-15.)[2] Mr. Wojewoda denies that the roofers were his employees. (Id. at 16.)

         After purchasing Huntingtown Farm, Defendants hired two men-before hiring Plaintiff- to work at the horse-boarding business, but both had left by the time Plaintiff began working there. (ECF No. 92-5 at 16.)

         B. Plaintiff Moves to the United States from Poland and Begins Working at Huntingtown Farm in 2010

         Plaintiff moved to the United States from Poland in June 2010. (ECF No. 89-1 at 14.) He holds a degree in Plastic Arts from a Polish university. (ECF No. 93 ¶ 8.) After graduating from college, Plaintiff worked as a graphic designer for one to two years in a Polish state-owned fabric business. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff also worked as a self-employed graphic artist and owned a business in Poland for three years before moving to the United States. (ECF No. 89-1 at 14; ECF No. 93 ¶¶ 11-13.)

         Plaintiff began working at Huntingtown Farm on September 6, 2010. (ECF No. 93 ¶ 2.) Plaintiff and Ms. Wojewoda agreed that Plaintiff would be paid $550.00 per week and would be provided with a furnished apartment during his employment. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff's tasks included cleaning the horse stables and paddocks and mowing the lawn. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff agreed with Ms. Wojewoda that he would work Mondays to Saturdays, from six in the morning to five in the afternoon, and would perform some additional work in the stables on Sundays. (ECF No. 89-1 at 43-44.)

         Plaintiff often worked in the evenings in addition to the hours he agreed to work with Ms. Wojewoda. (Id. at 44.) He would sometimes perform farm maintenance work as late as ten o'clock at night. (Id. at 47.) Plaintiff testified that he believed Ms. Wojewoda was aware of his additional evening work because she saw video footage of him working recorded by cameras in the stables. (Id. at 44.)

         The number of hours Plaintiff worked varied. (Id. at 57.) Plaintiff testified that he worked a minimum of ten hours a day on Mondays to Saturdays, plus six hours on Sundays, totaling 66 hours per week, not including the days in which he worked additional hours in the evenings. (ECF No. 89-1 at 57; ECF No. 93 ¶ 47.) Plaintiff neither reported nor kept track of the number of hours he worked each night, but stated that he “kn[ew] how much [he] worked at night, give or take average.” (ECF No. 89-1 at 56; ECF No. 93 ¶ 46.)

         Plaintiff had a cell phone, computer, and access to the Internet while working for Defendants. (ECF No. 93 ¶ 14.) He kept in touch with family members and friends via cell phone and Skype during his employment. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) Plaintiff used a Polish/English translator on his phone to communicate with horse boarders at the farm and his friend and later girlfriend Karen Rosa, and relied on family members or friends who spoke both Polish and English to help him communicate with other Americans. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff was also free to leave the farm after work and to have visitors. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff's brother and friends visited him at Huntingtown Farm, and one of Plaintiff's friends stayed overnight with him for two nights in 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 17-19, 22.)

         Plaintiff was not paid between January and April 2011, and had not been paid back wages for that time period as of June 2011. (ECF No. 92-1 ¶ 3; ECF No. 93 ¶ 4) In June 2011, Plaintiff called a New York attorney whose ad he had seen in a Polish-language newspaper. (ECF No. 92-1 ¶ 4.) He called the attorney “to inquire whether, in light of [his] lack of legal immigration status, [he] should demand payment of money owed to [him] by” Ms. Wojewoda. (Id. ¶ 5.) In a conversation that “lasted less than five minutes, ” the attorney told Plaintiff that he “should demand the money.” (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) The attorney did not advise him about his rights to minimum wage or overtime pay. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff denies that this call was “as to his hours and wages, ” although Ms. Rosa testified that it was her understanding that Plaintiff “consulted a Polish-speaking lawyer about his wages and hours sometime in 2012.” (ECF No. 92-4 at 5; ECF No. 93 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff had no other contact with the attorney and does not remember the attorney's name. (ECF No. 92-1 ¶ 9.)

         At one point during his employment Plaintiff required dental care. (ECF No. 89-1 at 49.) Ms. Wojewoda refused to take him to see a dentist. (Id. at 49-50.) Ms. Wojewoda had previously driven him to the grocery store to buy food, but after Plaintiff asked about getting paid, around the time his pay was withheld, Ms. Wojewoda told him that he would have to walk to the store from then on. (Id. at 51-52.) Plaintiff was able to get to the store in order to buy groceries, as Ms. Rosa and other horse boarders began to organize to provide him with rides. (Id. at 52-53, 60.)

         Ms. Wojewoda testified that she was not aware of any state requirements for running a horse-boarding business or state regulations regarding employer recordkeeping. (ECF No. 92-5 at 15-17.) She did not contact the federal or state Departments of Labor to learn what was required of her as an employer and took no other steps to learn the requirements. (Id. at 18-19.) Defendants did not have a poster advising Plaintiff of his rights under state or federal wage payment laws because Ms. Wojewoda “didn't know that by hiring one helper on [her] property, [she] needed to have such a poster.” (Id. at 19.) She further testified that she “didn't talk to him about” the information that would have been in such a poster or provide the information to Plaintiff by other means, as Plaintiff “had access to the [I]nternet, so he ...

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