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Wilbur v. Silgan Containers Corp.

August 18, 2008

DANA WILBUR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SILGAN CONTAINERS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Silgan Containers Corporation ("Defendant" or "Silgan") manufactures and supplies cans for Campbell's Soup and other customers. Dana Wilber ("Plaintiff") worked as a production supervisor at Defendant's Sacramento plant from August 2001 through May 2006. In 2003, with financial support from Defendant, Plaintiff returned to school and obtained an MBA. In 2005, Plaintiff's immediate superior was promoted to plant manager. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff realized he would not be selected to fill the position his former superior had vacated.

Plaintiff resigned from Silgan, and began working as a production supervisor for another can manufacturing company. On July 12, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant, alleging failure to pay overtime compensation, failure to provide adequate meal and rest periods, and failure to itemize wage statements. Defendant countered that Plaintiff was a salaried executive and therefore exempt from overtime compensation under state and federal law. Defendant counterclaimed, alleging Plaintiff must repay Defendant $10,300.00 in educational loans because Plaintiff severed his employment before the minimum two-year service requirement. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to all of Plaintiff's claims and as to Defendant's counterclaim.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Silgan's Sacramento plant manufactures cans for Campbell's Soup and other customers. The plant has two production departments: "D & I" ("drawn and iron") and "Three Piece." D & I is the principal production department, and typically operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The D & I Department employs fifty-two production employees, four production supervisors, one assistant superintendent, and one plant manager. The 92,000 square foot D & I facility can produce over $70,000.00 worth of product in one 12-hour shift.

From 2002 to 2006, production workers at Defendant's Sacramento plant were represented by Teamsters Local 228. During this period, Defendant entered into two separate collective bargaining agreements with the union. Section 4.6 of both agreements provides: "Salaried personnel shall not perform work covered by the terms of the contract. The Company shall restrict all salaried employees from performing manual labor normally performed by members of the bargaining unit except for the purpose of instructing or taking appropriate action in the case of emergencies."

During Plaintiff's tenure at Silgan, production employees were divided into four different crews of twelve or thirteen. Each crew worked in twelve-hour shifts. For most of Plaintiff's term, the day shift was from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and the night shift was from 6:00 p.m to 6:00 a.m. When fully staffed, each crew consisted of seven mechanics, one machinist, one electrician, two lift truck drivers, one packaging mechanic (added in 2004), and one palletizer operator. The production supervisors, who typically worked four days on and four days off, reported to the Department Manager of D & I, who in turn reported to the plant manager. Because the Department Manager of D & I and the plant manager worked during the day only, the production supervisor was typically the only salaried employee on the premises from early evening until the early morning.

Defendant expected production supervisors to provide front-line day-to-day management and supervision of the personnel and machinery. They were not expected to perform production work. A production supervisor's duties included assigning and directing the work of production workers, examining the cans inspected by production workers, and producing a variety of reports tracking production and quality statistics.

In addition to these day-to-day responsibilities, production supervisors engaged in a variety of other duties. Production supervisors regularly evaluated temporary agency workers. Based largely on these evaluations, Defendant would determine whether to offer these workers a "probationary" job. Production supervisors would also evaluate probationary workers. Defendant would consider these evaluations in determining whether to sever the employment relationship or allow probationary workers to achieve "seniority" status. Production supervisors were also empowered to discipline employees. Although the collective bargaining agreement set forth a formal process for progressive discipline, production supervisors could immediately suspend employees engaging in egregious misconduct.

In or around early 2003, Plaintiff began to pursue an MBA at the University of Phoenix in Sacramento, California. He applied for tuition assistance under Defendant's Education Reimbursement Policy, receiving disbursements of $4,356.00 on August 10, 2004, $633.00 on November 23, 2004, $4,764.00 on July 12, 2005, and $2,666.00 on October 11, 2005.

Under the terms of the Education Reimbursement Policy agreement, Plaintiff agreed to repay these loans if he terminated his employment within two years of receiving tuition assistance.

In October 2005, the Department Manager of D & I, Jim Moses, replaced Dave Rex as the plant manager of Silgan's Sacramento facility. Plaintiff thereafter understood that one of his colleagues would be selected to replace Mr. Moses as Department Manager of D & I. Plaintiff believed he deserved additional compensation for the extra shifts Mr. Moses asked Plaintiff to work. Mr. Moses disagreed, and Plaintiff began looking for a new job. He resigned from his position at Silgan on May 31, 2006.

In August 2006, Plaintiff applied for a production supervisor position at a Los Angeles-based can manufacturing company, Rexam. He was hired and subsequently classified as an exempt employee.

On July 12, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant in Sacramento County Superior Court. The Complaint alleged failure to pay overtime compensation, failure to provide adequate meal and rest periods, failure to itemize wage statements, and a penalty for willful refusal to pay owed wages under California Law. The Complaint also alleged a federal claim for failure to pay overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Defendant removed this case to this Court and counterclaimed asserting that Plaintiff breached his contract to repay loans under Defendant's Education Reimbursement Policy. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all Plaintiff's claims and Defendant's counterclaim.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary adjudication on part of a claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ("A party claiming relief may move ... for summary judgment on all or part of the claim."); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan, 889 F. Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995); France Stone Co., Inc. v. Charter Twp. of Monroe, 790 F. Supp. 707, 710 (E.D. Mich. 1992).

The standard that applies to a motion for summary adjudication is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), 56(c); Mora v. ChemTronics, 16 F. Supp. 2d 1192, 1200 (S.D. Cal. 1998).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 323 (quoting Rule 56(c)).

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986); First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party must tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Assoc. of W. Pulp and Paper Workers, 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1987). Stated another way, "before the evidence is left to the jury, there is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Schuylkill & Dauphin Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 442, 448 (1872)). "When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts....

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.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87.

In resolving a summary judgment motion, the evidence of the opposing party is to be believed, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898 (9th Cir. 1987).

ANALYSIS

I. THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT CLAIM

The FLSA requires employers to pay their employees time and one-half for work exceeding forty hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). The FLSA provides an exemption from overtime for persons "employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity" and grants the Secretary of Labor the authority to set forth regulations "to define[] and delimit[]" the scope of the exemption. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). An "employer who claims an exemption from the FLSA has the burden of showing that the exemption applies." Donovan v. Nekton, Inc., 703 F.2d 1148, 1151 (9th Cir. 1983).

Because the FLSA "is to be liberally construed to apply to the furthest reaches consistent with Congressional direction ... FLSA exemptions are to be narrowly construed against ... employers and are to be withheld except as to persons plainly and unmistakably within their terms and spirit." Klem v. County of Santa Clara, 208 ...


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