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Friedman v. National Indemnity Co.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

April 13, 2018



          John M. Gerrard United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Bruce Friedman, has sued his former employer, National Indemnity Company, for allegedly failing to pay him overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. This matter is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for partial summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant National Indemnity's motion for partial summary judgment and deny Friedman's motion for partial summary judgment.


         The following facts are not meaningfully disputed. National Indemnity is an insurance provider located in Omaha, Nebraska. Sometime in 2014, National Indemnity made the decision to move from its midtown location to its current location at 1314 Douglas Street. Filing 62 at 4. That move required National Indemnity to build a centralized and secure location for its operations (i.e., its data center). See filing 63-2 at 39. But in order to transition its IT network into the new data center, National Indemnity needed to hire a "network engineer" to design and implement the data center's network infrastructure--that is, the hardware, layout and pathways connecting National Indemnity's computers and servers. See filing 65-4 at 30; see also filing 68 at 2-3. So, in May 2015, National Indemnity hired Friedman, a network engineer with experience in electronic network infrastructure. Filing 68 at 9; see also filing 65-4 at 23-25.

         Once Friedman was hired, National Indemnity classified him as an "exempt" employee under the FLSA. Filing 68 at 14. In other words, Friedman was paid an annual salary of $95, 000.00, but was not entitled to overtime pay if and when he worked more than forty hours in a given workweek. See filing 65 at 4; filing 68 at 9; filing 63-8 at 4. According to Friedman, however, National Indemnity improperly classified his employment status. Specifically, Friedman alleges that his primary duties at National Indemnity included physically moving equipment, laying cables, and troubleshooting National Indemnity's computer network--duties which, Friedman claims, do not constitute exempt work under the FLSA. Filing 1 at 3; See also filing 65 at 1, filing 65 at 5.

         As such, Friedman alleges that he is entitled to damages for unpaid overtime, an equal amount of liquidated damages, and attorneys' fees for National Indemnity's misclassification. Filing 1 at 4. The parties have filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on Friedman's claim that National Indemnity misclassified him as an exempt employee under the FLSA.


         Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record which the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. But the nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. In order to show that disputed facts are material, the party opposing summary judgment must cite to the relevant substantive law in identifying facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could conceivably find for the nonmovant. Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 791-92 (8th Cir. 2011). Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042.


         As briefly mentioned above, the parties have filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on Friedman's overtime claim. That claim is premised on a provision of the FLSA requiring employers to pay overtime wages to employees who work more than forty hours during a given workweek. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). But that provision is also subject to numerous exemptions--three of which, National Indemnity argues, apply to Friedman. See filing 62 at 24; filing 62 at 39, filing 62 at 43. Specifically, National Indemnity claims that the computer employee, administrative exemption, and combination exemptions, see29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(17); 29 C.F.R. § 541.708, exempt Friedman from overtime payments.

         In determining whether a particular FLSA exemption applies, the amount of time devoted to exempt work presents factual questions. Reich v. Avoca Motel Corp., 82 F.3d 238, 240 (8th Cir. 1996). But, the ultimate question of whether an employee's particular activities excluded them from the overtime benefits is a question of law. Spinden v. GS Roofing Prods. Co., 94 F.3d 421, 426 (8th Cir. 1996). And as the Supreme Court has recently made clear, exemptions to the overtime requirement are to be given a "fair reading." Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 138 S.Ct. 1134, 1142 (2018). That is, those exemptions are not to be construed narrowly. Id. With that understanding in mind, the Court will consider whether Friedman qualifies for any, or all, of the overtime exemptions claimed by National Indemnity. See29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(17).

         I. Administrative exemption

         National Indemnity's first argument, that Friedman is exempt under the "administrative" exemption, is easily disposed of, so the Court will be begin there. See filing 62 at 40-41. The "administrative" exemption specifically exempts employees whose "primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers" and "includes the exercise of discretion and ...

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