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Traweek v. Global Solutions & Logistics LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 28, 2015



L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Norman Traweek filed this action under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 201 et seq., alleging that Defendants Global Solutions & Logistics, LLC and Dave Alexander violated the Act's minimum wage requirements. Plaintiff also brings a claim for retaliatory discharge under the FLSA, as well as various state law claims. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 19.) Also pending are Defendants' motion to strike (Doc. 22) and motion for a hearing (Doc. 25). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part, while Defendants' motion to strike and motion for a hearing are due to be denied.

I. Background

Plaintiff Michael Traweek ("Traweek") works in the environmental and industrial cleaning business. In early March 2013, Traweek signed a contract to work with Action Environmental, LLC ("Action"). Under the terms of the written employment contract, Traweek was paid a signing bonus of $150, 000.00. This signing bonus was referred to as a "loan, " under which Traweek was to be forgiven $30, 000.00 of the debt per each year that his sales exceeded $1, 000, 000.00. Thus, assuming that Traweek met the sales goals put forward in the agreement, the signing bonus-related debt would be repaid after five years. If Traweek left employment with Action at any point before the signing bonus debt was fully forgiven, he was required to repay the remaining balance.

In July 2013, Defendant Dave Alexander ("Alexander") contacted Traweek about coming to work for Alexander's company, Co-Defendant Global Solutions & Logistics, LLC ("Global"). Specifically, Alexander sought to hire Traweek to establish an industrial railcar cleaning division at Global.[1] On July 24, 2013, Traweek sent Alexander an email in which he stated his expected terms of employment, including a $175, 000.00 signing bonus and a salary of $135, 000.00 per year. Traweek also informed Alexander in his email that, as a consequence of leaving Action early, he was obligated to repay his signing bonus to Action. Alexander did not respond to this email.

On August 22, 2013, Alexander emailed Traweek a blank form contract for employment at Global, stating in the email that "you [i.e., Traweek] need to put your numbers down and we can finalize it." Traweek responded with an email stating his various expected terms: $150, 000.00 per year salary, use of a company vehicle, an unspecified commission plan, and a $175, 000.00 signing bonus. Traweek stated that the bonus should be structured "as an unsecured loan" and worded so that it was "paid back with years of service, " similar to how Traweek's agreement with Action was structured. Traweek also gave Alexander discretion to determine an appropriate commission structure, acknowledging that he was now asking for a larger salary than initially requested on July 24th. Finally, Traweek asserted that, if Alexander agreed to the terms set forth in the email, Traweek would submit his one-week notice at Action and begin employment at Global on September 9, 2013. Alexander never responded to Traweek's August 22nd email and no written employment contract was ever completed between the parties. However, Traweek did leave his job at Action, and began work at Global on September 9, 2013, at the company's newly established office in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Global paid Traweek based upon the $150, 000.00 salary requested in the August 22nd email, issuing him checks on a bi-weekly basis in the amount of $5, 769.24. However, after a month of working for Global, Traweek had yet to receive any portion of the expected $175, 000.00 signing bonus. According to Traweek, Alexander assured him several times in September and October 2013 that the signing bonus would soon be deposited in his bank account. On October 10, 2013, Traweek sent Alexander an email stressing that he needed the $175, 000.00 to repay the remaining balance to Action. Traweek attached a copy of the Action signing bonus agreement to his email. Once again, Alexander did not respond to the email. On November 15, 2013, Traweek sent Alexander a text message stating that Action had again contacted him, and asking Alexander "what day did [you] mail the check?" Alexander responded, "Friday/Saturday when your pay went out." However, no bonus check arrived in the mail.

Traweek's relationship with Alexander and Global continued to deteriorate in the coming months. Alexander became increasingly displeased with Traweek's progress in managing an existing tank-cleaning job, while Traweek was frustrated with the continued delay of his bonus. Furthermore, while Alexander told Traweek during their initial negotiations that Global had access to a "rail spur"-a facility for cleaning railcars that is connected directly to the larger railway system-Traweek learned upon starting work at Global that the company was in fact still looking to purchase such a facility. In early December, Traweek again raised the signing bonus subject, and Alexander commented that Global needed to start generating revenue with the railcar cleaning operation before the bonus could be paid. Traweek reminded Alexander that he brought clients with him from Action, but that Global lacked the facilities necessary to clean railcars.

On Friday, January 17, 2014, Traweek did not receive his usual paycheck. Shortly thereafter, Traweek, Alexander, and Alexander's wife[2] met at a restaurant and Traweek was given a hand-written paycheck. The parties' accounts differ as to what was discussed during this meeting. Alexander asserts that he used the meeting to inform Traweek that he was, in effect, being terminated. According to Alexander, it was made clear to Traweek during the meeting that any future compensation from Global was contingent on Traweek quickly establishing a viable railcar cleaning business for the company. Traweek, on the other hand, claims that the parties never discussed discontinuing his salary, and that he was merely instructed to continue attempting to establish a railcar cleaning division at Global. In support of his pending motion for summary judgment, Alexander submitted a "personnel action form" stating that Traweek was terminated on January 17, 2014 due to poor performance. However, there is no indication that Traweek had any knowledge of this form.

Despite his alleged termination, Traweek continued to have some involvement with Global following the January 17th meeting. On January 23, 2014, Alexander sent Traweek a text message asking him to participate in a business-related conference call on January 24th. Traweek agreed, but ultimately was unable to make the call due to inclement winter weather. Traweek was also involved in discussions concerning the potential acquisition of a rail spur facility in Phenix City, Alabama (referred to by the parties as the "State Dock Property").[3] On January 31, 2014, Traweek sent Alexander an email asserting that he had once again not been issued a paycheck, and that he considered Global to be in violation of the FLSA. Alexander called Traweek sometime after this email was sent. While on the phone, Alexander stated that he "had done enough" on Traweek's behalf, and was upset at both the FLSA allegation and Traweek's failure to make the January 24th conference call.

After not receiving a second consecutive paycheck on February 14th, Traweek emailed Alexander, stating that he was leaving Global due to the company's continued failure to pay his salary. The parties thereafter arranged for Traweek to return his company vehicle. Traweek resumed work for his old employer, Action, on February 17, 2014. Having already repaid Action $100, 000.00 of the signing bonus-related debt, Action and Traweek ultimately reached an agreement by which his remaining debt will be forgiven through continued employment. Traweek filed this action on February 20, 2014. Traweek's complaint alleges claims for (1) violation of the FLSA's minimum wage requirements; (2) violation of the FLSA's prohibition on retaliatory discharge; (3) breach of contract; (4) breach of an implied-in-fact contract; and (5) promissory fraud.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986); see also Avenue CLO Fund, Ltd. v. Bank of Am., NA, 723 F.3d 1287, 1294 (11th Cir. 2013). There is a "genuine dispute" as to a material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. The trial judge should not weigh the evidence but must simply determine whether there are any genuine issues that should be resolved at trial. Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

In considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must give deference to the non-moving party by "considering all of the evidence and the inferences it may yield in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 2005)). However, "unsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment." Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987). In making a motion for summary judgment, "the moving party has the burden of either negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's case." Id. Although the trial courts must use caution when granting motions for summary judgment, ...

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