United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on Defendant Metro Heating and
Cooling, Inc.'s “Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment.” (Doc. 25). Plaintiff Amber Smith sued Metro,
alleging gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42. U.S.C. Section 2000e et
seq.; retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor
Standards Act; and denial of overtime pay in violation of the
Fair Labor Standards Act. (Doc. 1 at 5-7). Metro moves for
summary judgment on Smith's gender discrimination and
retaliation claims, and partial summary judgment for unpaid
wages under the FLSA. As explained more fully below, the
court GRANTS the motion as to Amber
Smith's gender discrimination and retaliation claims, but
DENIES in part the motion regarding Amber
Smith's unpaid overtime claim.
Metro Heating and Cooling employs service technicians to
provide maintenance, diagnostics, and repair of heating and
cooling systems to its customers. Plaintiff Amber Smith was
the first female to apply to be a service technician at
Metro's Pelham, Alabama location, and Roy Smith,
Metro's General Operations Manager, hired her for that
position on July 9, 2015.
her application process, Amber Smith told Roy Smith that she
gained extensive HVAC experience while working for her
husband's HVAC business and misrepresented that she had
received an associate's degree in heating, ventilation,
and air conditioning from Bevill State. She also
misrepresented to Roy Smith that she had graduated at the top
of her class. (Doc. 26-1 at 30).
typical with new Metro service technicians, Amber Smith spent
the first two weeks of her employment riding with other
service technicians for on-the-job training. With the
exception of her first day, Amber Smith rode exclusively with
Kevin Concord. After two weeks, Mr. Concord told Roy Smith
that Amber Smith was ready to begin handling service calls on
her own. Aside from the ride-along training, Metro also
provides new service technicians with a 90-day probationary
period, during which they are given more leniency “to
get with the program.” (Doc. 26-1 at 19).
pays its technicians for time spent while driving between job
sites, visiting the shop for supplies or training, waiting on
customers to arrive, and performing actual work on heating or
cooling units, but not for down time between job assignments
or lunch breaks. During down time, Metro expects its
technicians to be as “available as possible, ”
meaning they should be “immediately” ready if
needed for a job. (Doc. 26-1 at 16). The technicians keep
track of their compensable time on time sheets, and then
submit those time sheets to Michelle Wynn, Metro's office
manager. Ms. Wynn handles payroll and decides the number of
compensable hours for each service technician. The service
technicians' work vehicles contain GPS devices, which Ms.
Wynn depends on to confirm the technicians' purported
departure and arrival times during each workday.
23, 2015, Amber Smith went to a customer's home to
service a residential HVAC unit. After investigating the
unit, Amber Smith determined the customer's breaker box
had blown a fuse, and went to Home Depot to purchase a
replacement. However, because it was raining heavily, she was
soaking wet when she returned to the customer's home.
Fearful to change the breaker while drenched in water, Amber
Smith called Roy Smith and informed him of her predicament.
So, Roy Smith went to the customer's house and changed
the fuse for Amber Smith.
days later, on July 31, 2015, Amber Smith traveled to a
customer's house where she determined that a compressor
on a new air conditioning unit was malfunctioning. Unable to
reach Roy Smith on the phone, Amber Smith called her husband
for advice. After speaking with her husband, Amber Smith
concluded the customer needed a new compressor. She notified
Roy Smith, who told her that he would order one. Roy Smith
then received a complaint from the customer, and was
concerned that Amber Smith did not adequately explain her
rationale for deciding that the compressor was broken.
Therefore, he sent another technician to inspect the unit.
That technician discovered the compressor was not broken, but
that a clogged water pump was causing it to malfunction. The
technician unclogged the pump, which solved the problem.
days later, on August 4, 2015, Metro sent Amber Smith to
service a leaking unit in a customer's attic. Because the
attic had no floor, Amber Smith asked the customer, Ms.
Hutto, for permission to place some plywood on the beams so
she could safely walk across them without falling through the
ceiling. Ms. Hutto agreed and Amber Smith went to retrieve
the plywood from her van, which Metro kept for that purpose.
However, before Amber Smith could reenter the home, the
customer told Amber Smith “that she didn't feel
comfortable with that and that she would rather - that there
[were] men that had been coming in there, and they could do
it.” (Doc. 26-2 at 15). She also said “that she
would rather have a man come out, ” and that “she
would just feel more comfortable with a man coming out
Smith alleges that she then called Roy Smith, relayed to him
Ms. Hutto's preference for a man to perform the work, and
explained to him that she disagreed with the customer's
preference. Roy Smith responded that “the customers are
always right.” (Id.). Amber Smith also alleges
that Roy Smith became angry and raised his voice at her
during that conversation, telling her that she was “not
supposed to let the customers know when something is wrong or
something like that.” (Doc. 26-2 at 15). Amber Smith
testified that she understood Roy Smith's frustration to
be directed toward her mentioning “something to the
customer about putting the plywood” in the attic.
(Id. at 15-16).
Smith testified that Amber Smith told him she did not feel
comfortable walking across the ceiling joists in the attic,
but did not tell him that the customer did not want a woman
to do the job. (Doc. 26-1 at 31-32). He also testified that,
after the incident with Amber Smith, Ms. Hutto would not
allow any Metro technicians back into her home. (Doc. 26-1 at
Smith also alleges that he received reports from other Metro
employees that Plaintiff was “struggling with
diagnosing equipment” and uncomfortable using
refrigerant gauges and checking electrical components. (Doc.
26-1 at 41). To address the concerns, Roy Smith organized a
training module to refresh all service technicians on these
issues. (Id.). However, Roy Smith testified that
Amber Smith was “reluctant to get involved” with
the module, was “standing about forty [feet] away from
[him] by the back door smoking, ” and “would not
get involved with things that she was having struggles with,
” like “put[ting] gauges on and set[ting] up
equipment.” (Id.). Amber Smith admitted in her
deposition that she still “get[s] a little confused on
the superheat and subcooling, ” but testified that she
was listening and “trying to learn about the superheat
and subcooling and everything” during the training
module. (Doc. 26-2 at 16).
terminated Amber Smith's employment on August 17, 2015,
for “failure to meet performance expectations.”
(Doc. 26-2 at 64). Roy Smith was the sole decision-maker
regarding her termination, and he told her that he was
worried about her safety, felt that she did not know what she
was doing, and that he had to let her go. (Doc. 26-2 at 18).
Roy Smith testified that he went over with Amber Smith the
incidents in which she had been involved; the lack of
progress in her performance; his concerns regarding her
reluctance to work ...