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Danielson v. Brennan

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 26, 2017

MEGAN J. BRENNAN, et al., Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 29). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Veronica Danielson, a U.S. Postal Service employee, brings the following claims against the U.S. Postal Service and its Postmaster General, Megan Brennan: an action for the non-payment of minimum wages pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1)(C), a retaliatory workplace action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), and a hostile work environment action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(2).[1] (Dkt. No. 6 at 10-11.) Plaintiff asserts that her station manager, Thao Tran, instructed Plaintiff's direct supervisor to delete Plaintiff's time record entry for .67 hours of overtime Plaintiff worked without prior management approval. (Dkt. Nos. 6 at 3, 41 at 2.) Plaintiff further asserts that after reporting the incident to the Postal Service's Office of the Inspector General, Tran and Plaintiff's supervisors engaged in a variety of retaliatory actions, thereby creating a hostile work environment. (Dkt. No. 6 at 4, 10.)

         Defendants move for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 29.) They assert Plaintiff's wage and hostile work environment claims fail as a matter of law. (Id. at 5, 21.) They further assert that Plaintiff fails to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. (Id. at 7.) The Court agrees.


         A. Legal Standard: Summary Judgment

         The Court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the facts and justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party must present specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. Ultimately, summary judgment is appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

         As a threshold matter, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants are subject to a “clear and convincing” burden at summary judgment. (See Dkt. Nos. 41 at 2, 8-9) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). This is a misstatement of Anderson. The burden of proof for evidence presented at summary judgment is the same as for evidence presented at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252-53. For most civil cases, this is a “preponderance of the evidence.” Id. at 252. Only in instances where a different burden is manDated: trial, such as the “clear and convincing” standard applicable to the actual malice determination in the libel suit in Anderson, would that different burden apply at summary judgment. Id. at 254; see Avila v. L.A. Police Dep't, 758 F.3d 1096, 1102 (9th Cir. 2014) (a preponderance of the evidence burden applies to a retaliation claim).

         B. Minimum Wage Claim

         Plaintiff brings a claim for failure to pay the required hourly minimum wage. (Dkt. No. 6 at 10); 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1). At issue is the .67 hours of overtime Plaintiff worked for which she alleges Tran instructed Plaintiff's supervisor to delete Plaintiff's time entry. (Dkt. No. 41 at 2.) But Plaintiff admits that she was eventually paid for this time. (See Dkt. No. 5 at 2) (grievance settlement agreement). Therefore, she has no claim under 29 U.S.C. § 206(a)(1). The Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment on this issue.

         C. FLSA Retaliation Claim

         The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) prohibits an employer from discharging or in any other way retaliating against an employee for filing a complaint or instituting a proceeding against the employer. 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). FLSA's anti-retaliation provision is intended “to provide an incentive for employees to report wage and hour violations by their employers” and “to ensure that employees are not compelled to risk their jobs in order to assert their wage and hour rights under the Act.” Lambert v. Ackerley, 180 F.3d 997, 1003 (9th Cir. 1999) (quotation omitted). As a remedial statute, FLSA is to be construed broadly. Id. at 1003.

         To prevail on an FLSA retaliation claim, a plaintiff must make a prima facie showing that (a) the defendant was aware of the plaintiff's participation in a protected activity (b) that an adverse employment action was taken against the plaintiff, and (c) that the protected activity was a substantial motivating factor in the adverse employment action as to that plaintiff. Lambert, 180 F.3d at 1007. A plaintiff must establish a prima facie case “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Tex. Dept. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). If a plaintiff meets this standard, the burden shifts to the employer to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse ...

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