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Watts v. Carroll County Fiscal Court

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

August 25, 2017

BENJAMIN WATTS, Plaintiff,
v.
CARROLL COUNTY FISCAL COURT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge.

         Officers from the Carroll County Fiscal Court fired Benjamin Watts from his position as Carroll County Director of Parks and Recreation. Watts then sued Carroll County Fiscal Court and County Judge-Executive Bobby Lee Westrick for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Kentucky Wage and Hour Act. The Defendants seek summary judgment, but because a genuine issue of material fact remains on a number of Watts's claims, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART the Defendants' motion.

         I

         A

         On January 5, 2015, Benjamin Watts was hired as the Carroll County Director of Parks and Recreation by County Judge-Executive Bobby Lee Westrick[1]. Although Watts was never given a formal job description, Judge-Executive Westrick stated that Watts's role as director would be to “oversee the Park & Recs of the Carroll County Park, completely.” [R. 23-1 at 8; R. 23-5 at 2.] Despite this articulation of Watts's role, Westrick also later informed Watts that he should not question or second-guess the ways Westrick handled issues regarding other park employees. [R. 24 at 4.] When asked to personally describe his duties as director, Watts stated that they included supervising and training park employees, even though he never “technically supervise[d] anyone”, as well as pursuing new Parks and Recreation programs. [Id. at 3-6.]

         Watts experienced confusion over his wages a number of times during his tenure as Carroll County Parks and Recreation Director. When Watts was initially hired at the start of January 2015, he was told the position was a $30, 000.00 per year salaried role. Nevertheless, Watts was required to submit a time sheet every week indicating how many hours he worked. [Id. at 2.] Watts believed that, as a salary employee, he would receive fifty-two equal paychecks over the course of the year. But when he received his first paycheck on Friday, January 9, 2015, it was for an amount less than he expected, and he did not understand why. [Id. at 2-3.] Carroll County Fiscal Court now explains that Watts's first paycheck was simply pro-rated to reflect the fact that he started his employment halfway through the week. [See R. 25 at 7 (explaining the mathematics behind Watts's weekly paycheck calculations).] Beyond that incident, Watts received the amount of money he expected per week going forward, and he continued as a salary employee for the duration of 2015. [See R. 23-8.]

         At the turn of the new year, though, things changed. On January 4, 2016, County Judge-Executive Westrick approached Watts and asked him why he was reporting more than forty hours per week on his time sheets. [R. 24 at 5.] Watts informed Westrick that he was merely documenting the hours he worked every week as originally instructed. [Id.] According to Watts, Westrick then instructed him to keep track of any hours in excess of forty “in his head” and to use those hours as “comp time” rather than reporting it on a time sheet. [Id.] This confused Watts, so he asked both Judge-Executive Westrick and his personal lawyer to further explain the matter.

         After Watts sought clarification from Westrick, Westrick sent Watts a memorandum imposing new conditions of employment on his Parks and Recreation position. The memorandum informed Watts “that he had no supervisory authority and, thus, could no longer work over forty hours per week without [Westrick's] prior approval.” [Id.] The new conditions also confined Watts to his office between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., to ensure he worked only forty hours per week. This posed a problem for Watts, as his schedule was previously flexible enough to allow him to attend to certain personal tasks like picking up his child from school. [Id.] Watts was also classified as an hourly employee, rather than a salaried one, going forward. [Id. at 6.] According to Westrick, these new conditions were imposed because of Watts's lackluster performance as Parks and Recreation Director. [Id. at 5-6.]

         Not long after the new conditions were imposed, Watts was terminated from his employment with Carroll County. [Id. at 7.] Carroll County Fiscal Court officers informed Watts that his position was no longer needed and that “several issues” led to his discharge. [Id.] Following his termination, Watts filed this civil action alleging various violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Kentucky Wage and Hour Act from the time he served as Director of Carroll County Parks and Recreation, during which he frequently worked in excess of forty hours per week but was never paid overtime compensation. [See R. 1.] The Defendants Carroll County Fiscal Court and Judge Executive Westrick, in his official capacity, seek summary judgment on all of Watts's claims. [R. 23.]

         B

         According to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A fact's materiality is determined by the substantive law, and a dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Summary judgment is inappropriate where there is a genuine conflict “in the evidence, with affirmative support on both sides, and where the question is which witness to believe.” Dawson v. Dorman, 528 F. App'x 450, 452 (6th Cir. 2013). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Morales v. Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 71 F.3d 531, 535 (6th Cir. 1995) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 455 U.S. at 255). Further, the Court must view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” See, e.g., Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         II

         Carroll County Fiscal Court moves for summary judgment on all of Watts's claims. Specifically, Carroll County claims that (A) Watts was not an “employee” for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and, thus, not entitled to overtime compensation; (B) if Watts was an “employee” under the FLSA, he was an exempt employee who still was not entitled to overtime compensation; and (C) Watts is not entitled to any relief under the Kentucky Wage and Hour Act. The Court addresses each of these arguments in turn.

         A

         First, Carroll County contends Watts was not an “employee” under the FLSA. In general, the FLSA requires employers to pay a minimum wage to all employees and also requires employers to pay an overtime wage to employees who work more than forty hours per workweek. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 206(a), 207(a). The FLSA excludes from these requirements, however, certain individuals employed by a state or political subdivision of a state, including any individual:

(i) who is not subject to the civil service laws of the State, political subdivision, or agency which ...

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