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Davis v. Mountaire Farms

July 20, 2006

WILLIE DAVIS, JR.; NATHANIEL BRIDDELL; JOSEPH GARRISON; LARRY E. GIBBS; ROY H. WALTERS, APPELLANTS
v.
MOUNTAIRE FARMS, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; MOUNTAIRE FARMS OF DELMARVA, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; MOUNTAIRE FARMS DELAWARE, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (D.C. No. 04-cv-00414) District Judge: Honorable Kent Jordan.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reavley, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued June 15, 2006

Before: FISHER, CHAGARES and REAVLEY,*fn1 Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Employees of a chicken processing company challenge the District Court's grant of summary judgment to their employer on the employees' claims for unpaid overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (FSLA), the court holding that the claimants qualified as exempt employees under the Act's Executive Exemption, 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). We will reverse.

I.

Appellants are five "Crew Leaders" who are either currently or formerly employed by Mountaire Farms, Inc. ("Mountaire"). Crew Leaders are employed to supervise other employees known as "chicken catchers" who travel to various growers' farms to catch and crate chickens to be sent to the Mountaire processing plant. As part of their job responsibilities, the Crew Leaders are required to pick up each of seven or eight crew members (catchers and a forklift operator) at their respective homes, transport the crew to the farms where the chickens are harvested, and then transport the crew members back to their homes.

In addition to transporting the crew members, the Crew Leaders have certain other responsibilities for directing the crew's work including making sure that the crew arrives at a farm on time, checking in with the grower, checking the chicken "houses" for pre-catch dead birds and damage, dividing the houses into sections to facilitate the catching process, directing the placement of ventilation fans if needed, monitoring the catch process to prevent any "smothers," checking that the proper number of birds are placed in each transport cage, ensuring that the cages are uniformly stacked in the live haul trucks, and filling out "farm tickets" to send with the live haul drivers.

Mountaire's written job description for crew leaders does not include hiring and firing, and the Crew Leaders testified that they did not have the authority to do either. The Crew Leaders occasionally issue disciplinary warning "write-up" forms to catchers for certain listed violations, e.g., failing to timely notify them that the catcher will not be working on a given day. Crew Leaders sign off on requests for holidays or for receipt of pay in lieu of vacation or holidays. They are also the first stop for any catcher wishing to report a grievance. The Crew Leaders are not tasked with ultimate decision making or action taking on any of these matters, as the write-ups, requests, and grievances are sent to Mountaire's administrative offices.

The Crew Leaders are salaried, but are subject to partial day deductions for partial time off from normal work hours with their vacation and holiday pay calculated based on an hourly rate. The Crew Leaders are required to use their own vehicles for crew transportation, but they are reimbursed for that use. The Crew Leader's testimony reflects that they are minimally educated and that they worked their way up to crew leader status from catcher or forklift operator positions.

The crew transportation part of the Crew Leader's responsibilities takes anywhere from two to six hours per day in addition to their work at the farms, often resulting in a work week exceeding forty hours. Mountaire has refused to pay any overtime wages to the Crew Leaders because they claim that the Crew Leaders are "exempt" executive employees who are not entitled to overtime compensation. Prior to 2002, all Crew Leaders were hourly employees. The record contains a Department of Labor ("DOL") "audit review" dated March 21, 2001. The audit review, which was prepared by Mountaire based on oral statements of the DOL reviewers, notes that Crew Leaders (who were then still hourly paid) should be receiving overtime and that house-to-house travel is compensable for hours worked. Mountaire concedes that the Crew Leaders' duties and responsibilities did not change after they were switched to a salaried status.

II.

We review the District Court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine issues of material fact presented and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, we ...


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