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Geist v. Handke

United States District Court, D. Kansas

July 19, 2018

Geoffrey Geist, Plaintiff,
v.
Aaron Handke d/b/a FoxPoint Trucks, LLC; and OTRLeasing, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          John W. Lungstrum United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Geoffrey Geist filed this lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C §§ 201 set seq., seeking to recover unpaid overtime compensation.[1] In the pretrial order, defendants contend that plaintiff was not entitled to overtime compensation under the FLSA because plaintiff was “exempt” from the overtime provisions of the FLSA under the administrative exemption. This matter is presently before the court on plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment in which plaintiff contends that defendants cannot meet their burden of establishing that plaintiff falls within the administrative exemption to the FLSA's overtime requirements. As will be explained, the motion is denied.

         I. Facts

         The following facts are uncontroverted, stipulated in the pretrial order, or related in the light most favorable to defendants as the nonmoving parties. Defendant OTRLeasing, LLC (“OTR”) is a wholly owned subsidiary of defendant FoxPoint Trucks, LLC. The primary business of OTR is to lease tractors to independent owner-operator tractor-trailer truck drivers. Plaintiff Geoffrey Geist began his employment with OTR on March 1, 2015 as a sales representative. Plaintiff testified that, as a sales representative, he compared completed lease applications submitted by drivers to certain internal credit guidelines that plaintiff had been provided by OTR. These guidelines included, by way of example, whether the applicant had an “open” bankruptcy, whether the applicant had received a “DWI” in the last 5 years, whether the applicant had a certain amount of money available for a down payment on a truck, and whether the applicant had a criminal background relating to theft or financial crimes. Primarily, sales representatives were reviewing applications for “automatic disqualifiers” such as convictions for theft. If the application satisfied the guidelines, then plaintiff turned the application over to Roman Fields, OTR's Vice President of Operations, who then determined whether to approve that application. Plaintiff testified that, during this time frame, if he was uncertain as to whether an application satisfied the guidelines, then Mr. Fields would make that determination. If Mr. Fields approved an application, plaintiff would contact the applicant, notify the applicant that he or she had been approved, and begin the process of attempting to sell a lease on a tractor from OTR's inventory to the applicant.

         After plaintiff gained some experience, OTR permitted plaintiff to formally approve an application that met the specific guidelines established by OTR. During this time frame, plaintiff still forwarded applications to Mr. Fields if he was uncertain as to whether a given application satisfied the guidelines or if an application did not meet the guidelines but might warrant an exception. At some point, and the record is unclear as to when this change occurred, OTR no longer considered plaintiff a “sales representative” and, instead, considered plaintiff the “lead underwriter” in the office. Documents maintained by OTR in the ordinary course of business reflect that plaintiff's title was changed to “sales rep/lead underwriter.” Sales representatives were then submitting viable applications to plaintiff for approval. While plaintiff testified that he did not have the authority to make any exceptions in terms of approving applications that did not fit the credit guidelines and that Mr. Fields still made those decisions, Mr. Fields testified that plaintiff, as the lead underwriter, was responsible for deciding in the first instance whether an application should receive additional consideration even if it did not fit the credit guidelines. Moreover, according to Mr. Fields, plaintiff was involved in all subsequent discussions about whether an application warranted an exception and had input into the final approval decision. Blake Fulton, OTR's Chief Operations Officer, testified that plaintiff had the authority to make his own decisions in connection with the “nuanced” underwriting process and that he had the discretion to grant an exception for an application that did not otherwise fit the underwriting guidelines. Similarly, Aaron Handke, OTR's Chief Executive Officer, testified that plaintiff was responsible for evaluating which applications might warrant an exception and which applications did not. Mr. Handke, however, testified that plaintiff did not have the authority to make an exception to approve an application that did not fit the guidelines; he testified that plaintiff would have had to obtain permission from Mr. Fulton to make an exception.

         Defendant's evidence reflects that plaintiff was also responsible for helping OTR continue to develop, modify and refine its underwriting guidelines and procedures-which changed frequently. According to Mr. Handke, plaintiff worked on “multiple analytics projects” relating to developing OTR's underwriting guidelines.

         Regardless of how many hours plaintiff worked in a week, OTR paid plaintiff a fixed salary of $73, 000 per year. OTR considered plaintiff exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA based on the administrative exemption to those provisions. OTR terminated plaintiff's employment on March 10, 2017 after plaintiff and Mr. Fulton had a “heated disagreement” in the workplace.

         Additional facts will be provided as they relate to the specific arguments raised by the parties in their submissions.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, other discovery materials, and affidavits demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Water Pik, Inc. v. Med-Systems, Inc., 726 F.3d 1136, 1143 (10th Cir. 2013) (quotation omitted); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual issue is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Water Pik, Inc., 726 F.3d at 1143 (quotation omitted). “The nonmoving party is entitled to all reasonable inferences from the record; but if the nonmovant bears the burden of persuasion on a claim at trial, summary judgment may be warranted if the movant points out a lack of evidence to support an essential element of that claim and the nonmovant cannot identify specific facts that would create a genuine issue.” Id. at 1143-44.

         III. The Administrative Exemption

         Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to overtime pay (i.e., one and one-half times their regular rate) for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, unless they fall within one of the various exemptions supplied by the Act. 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, 213. Among the FLSA's exemptions is one that exempts from the overtime requirements of § 207 “any employee employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). An employee working in a “bona fide administrative capacity” is someone:

(1) Compensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week . . . exclusive of board, lodging or other facilities;
(2) 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 ...

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