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Jackson v. Haynes & Haynes, P.C.

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

July 26, 2017

EDNA JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
HAYNES & HAYNES, P.C., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Edna Jackson filed this lawsuit against her former employers, Haynes & Haynes, P.C., Alicia Haynes, and Kenneth Haynes, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, and Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. Doc. 1. This court previously dismissed the FCRA claims (Counts III and IV). See doc. 18. Presently before the court are defendants' motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, doc. 35, and motions for summary judgment, docs. 43 & 48. The motions are fully briefed, docs. 35; 38; 39; 40; 47; 48; 55; 56; 57; and 59, and ripe for review.[1] For the reasons stated below, the motion for sanctions, doc. 35, is due to be denied, and the motions for summary judgment, docs. 43 & 48, are due to be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper “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.” “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, 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, 322 (1986) (alteration in original). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who is required to go “beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a “genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if “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 (1986).

         The court must construe the evidence and all reasonable inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 244 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the non-moving party's favor). Any factual dispute will be resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient competent evidence supports that party's version of the disputed facts. But see Pace v. Capobianco, 238 F.3d 1275, 1276-78 (11th Cir. 2002) (a court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving party's favor when that party's version of events is supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v. Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)). Moreover, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that a jury could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Jackson worked as a paralegal for Haynes & Haynes, P.C., a law firm owned and managed by Alicia Haynes and Kenneth Haynes, for approximately three weeks in August 2014. Doc. 54-1 at 2. Jackson's first paycheck included overtime pay “for at least some of the hours [Jackson] had worked over 40 during the work week or weeks covered by that first pay-check.” Doc. 1 at 5. Allegedly, after Alicia Haynes learned about the overtime payment, she “had a conversation with [Jackson], ” and purportedly informed Jackson that Haynes & Haynes did not pay overtime and that Jackson should record her daily “stop time” as 5:00 p.m. regardless of when Jackson actually stopped working. Doc. 1 at 5. Thereafter, after noticing that Kenneth Haynes was “alter[ing] the hours of work [Jackson] recorded for Defendants and reduc[ing] them, ” id. at 6, Jackson complained to Kenneth Haynes about the failure to pay her overtime. Still, Kenneth Haynes continued to alter the hours Jackson recorded on the firm's TrackSmart database. Id. at 7. On August 29, 2014, after two complaints by Jackson about the purported FLSA violations, Kenneth Haynes discharged Jackson. Doc. 54-1 at 5-6.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The court begins its analysis with the motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, followed by the summary judgment motions.

         A. Spoliation

         The subject of defendants' spoliation motion is electronically stored information (“ESI”) Jackson purportedly maintained, reflecting her arrival and departure times from work.[2] According to Jackson, discrepancies between her pay stubs and these records demonstrate defendants' failure to compensate her for all her overtime hours. See doc. 56 at 6.

         To keep track of her work hours, Jackson used an “HoursTracker” application on her cell phone. See doc. 54-1 at 3. However, because Jackson used a free version of the application, she could not export the data electronically. Therefore, Jackson manually transposed the information into Excel and Microsoft Word spreadsheets on her daughter's MacBook. See doc. 35-2 at 8. Jackson no longer has the cell phone, which she returned to Verizon after filing a complaint with the Department of Labor about the overtime pay and retaining counsel for this litigation. Also, Jackson's daughter allegedly denied Jackson access to the MacBook for a period of time, during which the information Jackson inputted into Excel and Microsoft Word somehow disappeared. After Jackson regained access to the MacBook, she took it to the Apple Genius Bar, where store personnel were unable to recover the data. See doc. 38-6 at 3. However, sometime before her daughter denied her access to the MacBook, Jackson apparently printed copies of the data and is seeking to use her printouts to prove her claims in this lawsuit. This failure to preserve the original data is the basis for the motion for sanctions.

         Spoliation is the “failure to preserve property for another's use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.” Oil Equip. Co. v. Modern Welding Co., 661 F. App'x 646, 652 (11th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e), which governs a party's failure to preserve electronic evidence, states that:

If electronically stored information that should have been preserved in the anticipation or conduct of litigation is lost because a party failed to take reasonable steps to preserve it, and it cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery, the court:
(1) upon finding prejudice to another party from the loss of the information, may order measures no greater than necessary to cure the prejudice; or
(2) only upon finding that the party acted with the intent to deprive another party of the information's use ...

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