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Franco v. Roman's Commercial Cleaning And Property Maintenance, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 31, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendants' Roman's Commercial Cleaning and Property Maintenance, Inc. (“Roman's”), and Roman Drozdowski (“Drozdowski”) (collectively “Defendants”)[1] Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 42). Plaintiffs Maximiliano Franco (“Franco”), Baudilio Navarro (“Navarro”), and Walter Salazar (“Salazar”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”) assert claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Rhode Island Minimum Wage Act (“RIMWA”), R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-12-1, et seq., for Defendants' failure to pay Plaintiffs minimum wage and overtime pay. (See generally Compl., ECF No. 1.) Defendants' Motion concerns whether Roman's constitutes a “joint employer” for purposes of Plaintiffs' action. (See Defs.' Mem. of L. in Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J. (“Defs.' Mem.”) 2-3, ECF No. 42-1.) For the reasons set forth below, the answer is no, and Defendants' Motion is therefore GRANTED.

         I. Background[2]

         Roman's, owned by Defendant Drozdowski, is a cleaning company in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which has been in the commercial cleaning business for approximately thirty years. (Drozdowski Dep. 9:8-9, 15:3-7, 14-16, 16:9-14, 15-22, 17:5-14, 23:23-24:2, ECF No. 42-12.) Roman contracts with customers to clean commercial properties. (Id. at 21:9-17.) Rather than clean its customers' properties itself, however, Roman's subcontracts the cleaning work out to other cleaning companies. (Id. at 21:17-19.) Roman's, meanwhile, employs only a small office staff and two supervisors, Andrzej Skura and Marian Boda, who liaise with the subcontractors. (Id. at 21:20-22:13, 30:4-31:8; Boda Dep. 6:11-15, ECF No. 42-9; Skura Dep. 8:19-9:1, ECF No. 42-10.)

         Eagle was one such cleaning company to which Roman's farmed out cleaning work. (Drozdowski Dep. 66:3-6.) Eagle, incorporated in July 2015, [3] was located in Revere, Massachusetts, and owned by Davi Souza. (See Company Resume & Portfolio 1, ECF No. 42-3; Business Entity Summ. 1, ECF No. 43-8.) Eagle contracted with Roman's to clean Stop & Shop stores in Bristol and Middletown, Rhode Island; Savers stores in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and in Saugus, Danvers, and Framingham, Massachusetts; and Not Your Average Joe's restaurants in Waltham, Acton, and Westboro, Massachusetts. (Master Cleaning Services Agreement ¶¶ 1-2(A), ECF No. 42-4; Statement of Services 1, ECF No. 42-5.) The contract directed that Roman's pay Eagle for cleaning services at set rates, usually weekly. (Master Cleaning Services Agreement ¶ 3(B); Statement of Services 1.)

         Davi Souza hired Plaintiffs to clean some of the stores that Eagle contracted to clean for Roman's. (See, e.g., Franco, Navarro, Salazar Deps. (“Pls.' Deps.”) 7:16-8:1, 10:13-14, 22:5- 6, ECF No. 42-11; see also Pls.' Statement of Disputed Facts (“Pls.' SDF”) ¶ 7, ECF No. 43-1.) Franco and Navarro aver that they each “worked as a Cleaner at the Stop & Shop grocery store in Bristol and Newport, Rhode Island from August 2015 until December 24, 2015.” (Franco Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 43-7; Navarro Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 43-7.) Salazar states that he “worked as a Cleaner at Stop & Shop grocery stores in Attleboro, Massachusetts and Bristol and Newport, Rhode Island as well as Savers thrift stores in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and Framingham, Massachusetts from January 2015 until December 30, 2015.” (Salazar Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 43-7.) Plaintiffs each attest that, during these periods, they believed that they worked for Roman's. (See Franco Aff. ¶ 8; Navarro Aff. ¶ 8; Salazar Aff. ¶ 11.) Plaintiffs stopped working at these stores because they were only compensated partially for their services[4] by Davi Souza, whom Roman's paid. (See Franco Aff. ¶¶ 4-7; Navarro Aff. ¶¶ 4-7; Salazar Aff. ¶¶ 4-10; Pls.' Deps. 6:16-7:5, 13-15, 22:17-20; Pls.' SDF ¶¶ 8, 11-12.)

         Around the same time that Plaintiffs stopped working, Roman's lost the contracts to clean Stop & Shop and Savers stores because of the poor quality of Eagle's cleaning and the failure of Eagle's employees to report to the stores when scheduled, which Eagle failed to remedy after frequent complaints. (See, e.g., Boda Dep. 14:20-16:6; Skura Dep. 33:22-35:21; Drozdowski Dep. 89:8-91:19, 126:18-128:15; see generally Ex. J to Pls.' Obj. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 43-12 (no-show emails); Ex. K to Pls.' Obj. to Defs' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 43-13 (complaint emails).) Soon after, in May 2016, Eagle dissolved its business. (Business Entity Summ. 1.) Plaintiffs commenced the present action only days before Eagle's dissolution.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary Judgment requires the Court to “tak[e] all the facts in the light most flattering to the nonmoving party, resolv[e] any evidentiary conflicts in that party's favor, and draw[] all reasonable inferences therefrom to his behoof.” Gomez v. Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., 670 F.3d 395, 396 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing Kuperman v. Wrenn, 645 F.3d 69, 73 (1st Cir. 2011)). “Summary judgment is appropriate when ‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'” Packgen v. BP Expl., Inc., 754 F.3d 61, 66 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). In this context, however, the Court “will not ‘draw unreasonable inferences or credit bald assertions, empty conclusions, rank conjecture, or vitriolic invective.'” Garmon v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 844 F.3d 307, 312 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Pina v. Children's Place, 740 F.3d 785, 795 (1st Cir. 2014)).

         III. Discussion

         Under the FLSA, an “employee” is defined as “any individual employed by an employer.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1). An “employer” is defined as “any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” Id. § 203(d). Furthermore, “employ” is defined as “to suffer or permit to work.” Id. § 203(g). These definitions are to be construed broadly. See Baystate Alt. Staffing, Inc. v. Herman, 163 F.3d 668, 675 (1st Cir. 1998). Moreover, the FLSA “contemplates several simultaneous employers, each responsible for compliance with the Act.” Id. (citations omitted).[5]

         “[T]o determine whether an employment relationship exists . . . courts look not to the common law conceptions of that relationship, but rather to the ‘economic reality' of the totality of the circumstances bearing on whether the putative employee is economically dependent on the alleged employer.” Id. (citing Aimable v. Long & Scott Farms, 20 F.3d 434, 439 (11th Cir. 1994)). Four factors have emerged to test the “economic reality” of the circumstances: “whether the alleged employer (1) had the power to hire and fire the employees; (2) supervised and controlled employee work schedules or conditions of employment; (3) determined the rate and method of payment; and (4) maintained employment records.” Id. (citing Bonnette v. Cal. Health & Welfare Agency, 704 F.2d 1465, 1470 (9th Cir. 1983)). “The first two . . . factors address the extent of a putative employer's control over the nature and structure of the working relationship[, ]” while the final two “address the extent of a putative employer's control over the economic aspects of the working relationship[.]” Id. at 675-76. However, “it is the totality of the circumstances, and not any one factor, which determines whether a worker is the employee of a particular alleged employer.” Id. at 676.

         A. Whether Roman's Had the Power To Hire and Fire Plaintiffs

         At the outset, the record shows, and Plaintiffs seemingly concede that, neither Roman's nor Drozdowski ever hired[6] or fired Plaintiffs. (Pls.' Deps. 7:16-8:1, 10:13-14, 22:5-6; Drozdowski Dep. 65:23-66:24 (testifying that he never hired Plaintiffs); (see also Pls.' Mem. of L. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. 14 (“Pls.' Mem.”), ECF No. 43-2 (“[W]hile it may not be disputed that Defendant Drozdowski did not, himself, personally and directly hire or fire the three Plaintiffs . . . .”)). Plaintiffs, however, contend that the “relevant legal test” is whether “Roman's actions, in ‘the economic reality of the totality of the circumstances, ' amount to an exercise of indirect, joint authority with and through [Davi Souza] over the Plaintiffs to initiate and terminate their employment.” (Pls.' Mem. 14.) Plaintiffs argue that this is so because Eagle was not an independent economic entity, but instead entirely relied on Roman's for work and payment, which bestows upon Roman's - and not Eagle - the power to initiate and terminate the employment relationship by Roman's ...

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