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Simpson v. Prince Telecom, LLC

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 31, 2017



          Sherry R. Fallon United States Magistrate Judge


         Presently before the court in this employment action alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and racial discrimination, is defendant Prince Telecom LLC ("Prince") motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 64) For the following reasons, I recommend that the court grant Prince's motion for summary judgment.


         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Wayne Simpson ("Plaintiff) filed this action against Prince on September 9, 2014, asserting claims for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. ("FLSA"), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000, et seq. ("Title VII"). (D.I. 1) Plaintiff alleges that Prince violated the FLSA by misclassifying him as exempt from the wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA. (Id. at ¶¶ 41, 45) Accordingly, Plaintiff asserts that Prince failed to pay wages for all hours worked, and overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-47) Plaintiff also alleges that Prince unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of his race. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-50)

         Prince filed the pending motion for summary judgment on May 16, 2016. (D.I. 64) The briefing schedule was extended to allow for additional limited discovery. (D.I. 71) Briefing was completed on August 9, 2016. (D.I. 74)

         B. Facts

         Prince is a national telecommunications customer-service fulfillment company. (D.I. 65 at 2) Prince provides services for multi-service operators ("MSO") such as Comcast, Cablevision, Charter, Time Warner, and WOW. (D.I. 72 at 2) Prince works exclusively with Comcast in the New Castle County, Delaware region. (Id.) Prince hired Plaintiff as a technician for the New Castle facility in August 2006. (Id.; D.I. 65 at 2-3)

         Plaintiff was paid hourly as a technician. (D.I. 72 at 2) His duties included installing cable, cable boxes, phone, and internet. (Id.) Prince promoted Plaintiff to Supervisor in December 2007. (D.I. 65 at 2) As a supervisor, Plaintiff began to receive a salary instead of the hourly pay he received as a technician. (D.I. 72 at 2) Prince promoted Plaintiff to Project Manager on June 6, 2010, with an associated $56, 000 annual salary. (D.I. 65 at 2-3) He held the position of Project Manager through the date of his termination on October 28, 2013. (D.I. 68 at A755-76) Plaintiffs FLSA claims relate only to the period for which he claims that he was mischaracterized as exempt while holding the title of Project Manager. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 14-24)

         1. Plaintiffs duties as Project Manager

         Prince originally posted a vacancy announcement for the Project Manager position. (D.I. 66 at ¶ 25) The job responsibilities listed on the announcement were as follows:

• Direct liaison between Prince Telecom and our MSO
• Maintain positive MSO relationships
• Maintain profitable daily MSO workload within all MSO time frame requirements and installation specifications.
• Screen applicants, interview, hire or retain, train, supervise, discipline, evaluate field technicians, office support personnel, and supervisors.
• Ensure and maintain all billing and payroll integrity, as well as corporate paperwork requirements.
• Ensure and maintain all MSO and company quality control and safety requirements.
• Maintain and control all company assets and MSO inventory.
• Analyze operations, identify performance issues and recommend and implement corrective action.
• Hold regular staff meetings for timely communications of MSO and corporate directives and or changes.
• Complete Weekly Report which summarizes all operational concerns i.e. converter reconciliation, quality control, work load, system and personnel needs, etc.

(Id.) The announcement also listed the position as "Exempt" under the FLSA. (Id.) Prince's Human Resources Director, Anitha N. Verghese, clarified through deposition testimony that the position fell under the administrative exemption, which covers employees with management duties. (D.I. 72 at 83)

         As Project Manager, Plaintiff had anywhere from fifteen to fifty technicians working under him. (D.I. 68 at A770) He went to unemployment hearings on Prince's behalf, issued technician discipline and performance evaluations, signed off on termination forms, issued company policy notices, and signed technicians' weekly time sheets. (D.I. 66 at ¶ 27-63; D.I. 67 at ¶ 336-40; D.I. 68 at A769-71, A788-89) He also dispatched technicians to work sites, performed installations, viewed DriveCam[1] history videos, and placed orders for equipment. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 15)

         Stephen Carpenter was a supervisor who reported to Plaintiff when he held the Project Manager title. (D.I. 68 at A794) Mr. Carpenter sat in on conference calls with management, where Plaintiff discussed "trouble technicians" and financials. (Id. at A802-03) Mr. Carpenter and Plaintiff also participated in weekly technician meetings, where Plaintiff discussed DriveCam videos, service calls, and safety. (Id. at A803) Mr. Carpenter testified that Plaintiff was involved in technician hiring, discipline, and firing. (Id. at A794-95) Mr. Carpenter referred technician discipline to Plaintiff. (Id. at A801) Plaintiff regularly sat down with technicians to discuss lateness, absences, and poor DriveCam performance. (Id. at A801-02)

         Plaintiff asserts that his position was mischaracterized as exempt, as he was actually doing the job of a technician. Because of the workload, Plaintiff testified that he spent ninety percent of his time in the field like a technician, performing installations, changing services, and responding to service calls. (Id. at A761-62) He claims he spent one percent of his time sending work out for technicians. (Id. at A758) He spent less than five percent of his time viewing DriveCam history videos. (Id. at A759) Plaintiff also testified that he did not feel he had discretion in hiring or discipline, as these decisions were made by his superiors. (D.I. 73 at 41)

         Plaintiff testified that, as Project Manager, he worked every day Monday through Saturday from 6:00AM until midnight. (Id. at 43-46) He also worked half days on Sunday. (Id.)

         2. Events underlying Plaintiffs alleged discrimination and termination

         In 2012, Plaintiff complained to Ms. Verghese that his supervisor, Bruce Schaefer, was not treating African American employees fairly. (Id. at 100) Plaintiff testified that Mr. Schaefer tore up disciplinary documents for white technicians, but allowed discipline for African American technicians for the same conduct. (Id. at 53-54) Plaintiff testified that Ms. Verghese dismissed his complaints. (Id. at 54-55)

         Mr. Schaefer testified that in April and May of 2012, Plaintiff failed to properly enforce the DriveCam safety policy. (D.I. 68 at A705) Specifically, Plaintiff failed to discipline seven drivers. (Id.) On September 28, 2012, Prince issued Plaintiff a Performance Improvement Plan outlining concerns regarding Plaintiffs failure to meet expectations. (Id. at A711) The warning outlined the following transgressions, which occurred on September 18, 2012:

• Work Orders for Restart/Reconnect at the pole were being marked as completed and submitted to Comcast as completed even though they were not.
• These work orders were placed under a Supervisors [sic] Tech Number. The Supervisor coded the job and signed off as completed when that was not the case.
• The incomplete work orders were submitted to [redacted] with fictitious meter readings documented by your supervisors.
• These work orders were then handed to the Technicians within a few days to be completed, with the techs paid hourly codes including training wages.
• Trainees were used to complete this work and paid training wages costing the company more money than the normal payout for the job.

(Id.) The warning also outlined areas requiring immediate improvement. (Id.) As a result, Plaintiff received a one week suspension from the company. (Id.)

         On July 29, 2013, Prince asked Plaintiff to consider stepping down from Project Manager to Project Supervisor based on several incidents, including failure to check and approve salaried timecards, a complaint that Plaintiff was late and uninterested in a technician job interview, and failure to respond to Dispatch regarding a technician who needed equipment. (Id. at A710) Plaintiff was permitted to keep his job based on the assurance that he would improve his performance. (Id. at A734)

         On August 23, 2013, Plaintiff received an additional warning for failing to discipline a technician who had multiple DriveCam violations. (Id. at A706, A713)

         In September 2013, Ben Herson, a Caucasian male, became Plaintiffs direct supervisor. (D.I. 73 at 100) Plaintiff testified that during a phone conversation with Mr. Herson in early September, "Mr. Herson made insensitive and stereotypical remarks relating to African Americans." (Id.) Mr. ...

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