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Sanchez v. State of Rhode Island Department of Labor

Superior Court of Rhode Island

May 5, 2017

LUIS SANCHEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING DIVISION OF LABOR STANDARDS, Defendant.

         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Curtis Ray Pouliot-Alvarez, Esq.

          For Defendant: Bernard Patrick Healy, Esq.

          DECISION

          TAFT-CARTER, J.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Luis Sanchez's (Plaintiff or Sanchez) appeal from an order of the State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) dismissing his claim for overtime pay. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15. For the reasons set forth herein, this Court affirms the DLT's decision.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         Plaintiff was employed as a cook at Aurora Restaurant (Aurora or restaurant) from November 10, 2014 to February 11, 2015, receiving $400 weekly. Department of Labor and Training Division of Labor Standards Claim No. LS: 15-65, October 19, 2015 Order (Order). Plaintiff asserts that he worked fifteen hours a day, seven days a week during that period. Compl. ¶¶ 2-3. On February 24, 2015, Sanchez filed a complaint with the DLT's Division of Labor Standards, alleging that he was owed $8800.[1] See id. at ¶ 5; Non-Payment of Wages Compl. Form. On October 15, 2015, pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 28-14-19, a DLT authorized representative (hearing officer) conducted a hearing on Sanchez's claim against Aurora. See Order; see also § 28-14-19(c) (setting forth hearing procedure).

         During the hearing, Sanchez received the assistance of a Spanish interpreter, the Labor Standards examiner in his case. See Tr. 3:4-7. Sanchez, representing himself, testified as to the aforementioned start and end dates, hours per day worked, and weekly pay. Id. at 4:21-6:12. He also confirmed his contention that he was owed $8800, [2] offering documentation of his hours in the form of his personal notes. See id. at 8:3-10, 9:20-10:8, 11:4-18; Pet'r's Ex. 2 (Notebook). However, Sanchez could not articulate how he calculated or arrived at that monetary figure. See Tr. 8:10-12:11. It was then that the hearing officer realized the true nature of Sanchez's claim and allowed him to amend his complaint. Id. at 12:12-14, 14:4-20. Sanchez sought overtime pay-time and one-half-for every hour per week over forty that he worked at Aurora. See id. at 23:7-10, 35:17-36:12; see also § 28-12-4.1 (providing overtime pay rates).

         The fifteen-hour days that Sanchez said he normally worked amounted to 105 hours total each week, or sixty-five hours of overtime. See Tr. 23:3-10, 31:2-17, 35:20-36:12. Sanchez also claimed to have worked twenty-four hours per day the week of December 17, 2014 to December 24, 2014. Id. at 21:10-22:8; see also Notebook. Despite first asserting that he never left the restaurant that week, Sanchez then clarified that he would go home to shower, which would take an hour at most. Tr. 22:5-23:2. Sanchez testified that he did not sleep at all for those seven days. Id. at 24:5-10.

         During cross-examination, Aurora's attorney questioned the contents of Sanchez's notes. Although Sanchez said that he included the start and end times of his work shifts in his notes, he had to clarify that he memorialized only the total hours each day. See id. at 24:23-26:5; Notebook. When Sanchez wrote the hours down in his notebook was also examined. See Tr. 24:11-22, 26:10-28:11. Furthermore, the attorney for the restaurant asked why Sanchez would go to work at 7:00 a.m. if Aurora did not open until lunch and why his notes reflect that he worked every day in December 2014 even though the restaurant was closed at least three days during a snowstorm. See id. at 28:12-29:22, 31:18-32:7; Notebook.

         The hearing officer then offered Sanchez the opportunity to testify further, which Sanchez declined. Tr. 32:19-33:1. At that point, Aurora's attorney moved for a "directed verdict, " calling into question the veracity of Sanchez's testimony and documentary evidence. See id. at 33:2-33:14. In agreement, the hearing officer found Sanchez's testimony regarding the hours he worked-especially twenty-four hours for seven straight days-"not very credible, to say the least." Id. at 36:22; see also id. at 36:23-37:7. The hearing officer also gave weight to the fact that Sanchez did not keep track of when he entered and exited the restaurant, instead offering only the blanket assertion that he generally worked fifteen hours per day. See id. at 36:12-17. After continuing to discuss the lack of credibility in Sanchez's testimony, the hearing officer concluded: "So taking everything in light at this time, I don't believe that [Sanchez] has presented a prima facie case, and for that reason, I'm going to grant the motion to dismiss this case as it stands right now, and this matter is concluded." Id. at 37:7-12.

         On October 19, 2015, the hearing officer entered an order to that effect. See Order. Stated therein, the hearing officer made the following findings:

"[Sanchez] was employed by [Aurora] for the period from November 10, 2014 through February 11, 2015 and was paid a salary of $400.00 per week. [Sanchez] was unable to demonstrate by credible evidence that he worked any overtime hours and was due any additional salary. Considering all of the evidence most favorable to [Sanchez], it is apparent that [Sanchez] failed to meet his burden of proof and present a prima faci[e] case." Id.

         Accordingly, the hearing officer dismissed Sanchez's complaint. Id.; see also § 28-14-19(c) (mandating that the hearing officer, within thirty days of the close of the hearing, enter an order which "shall dismiss the complaint or direct payment of any wages and/or benefits found to be due"). On November 19, 2015, Plaintiff appealed the Order to this Court. See Compl.

         II

         Standard of Review

         The Rhode Island Administrative Procedures Act (APA), §§ 42-35-1 et seq. governs Superior Court review of an administrative agency's decision. Rivera v. Emps.' Ret. Sys. of R.I., 70 A.3d 905, 909 (R.I. 2013). Section 42-35-15(g) of the APA provides as follows:

"The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings, or it may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are:
"(1) In violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;
"(2) In excess of the statutory authority of the agency;
"(3) Made upon unlawful procedure;
"(4) Affected by other error or law;
"(5) Clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the ...

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