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Sisson v. Salvation Army

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

August 3, 2016



          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant, The Salvation Army (“TSA”). (ECF No. 53). Plaintiff Lauren Sisson (“Sisson”) has filed a Response. (ECF No. 58). TSA has filed a Reply (ECF No. 64) and Supplemental Authority in Support (ECF No. 68). Also before the Court is Plaintiff’s Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 50). TSA has filed a Response (ECF No. 60), and Sisson has filed a Reply (ECF No. 63). The Court finds these matters ripe for its consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         TSA is a religious charitable organization that uses donations to provide services and assistance to persons in need. In July 2012, TSA hired Sisson as an Associate Planned Giving Director (“APGD”). APGDs are responsible for soliciting and securing planned gifts such as wills, trusts, and annuities within an assigned geographic area. They are responsible for cultivating and maintaining relationships with donors, assisting donors in estate planning, and helping to determine the most appropriate planned gift. Sisson was terminated in May 2013. In October 2014, Sisson filed an Amended Complaint against TSA, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. (the “FLSA”); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq.; and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act of 1993, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 16-123-101 et seq. (ECF No. 28).

         TSA filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that (1) Sisson’s FLSA claim fails because APGDs are exempt from FLSA overtime requirements as a matter of law; (2) Sisson’s Title VII discrimination claim fails because the undisputed facts demonstrate that Sisson’s supervisor treated both male and female employees the same and that the alleged acts were neither severe nor pervasive; (3) Sisson cannot establish that TSA’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory, nonretaliatory reason for terminating her was a pretext for unlawful discrimination; and (4) all of Sisson’s claims fail because Sisson is estopped from pursuing this action by failure to timely notify the bankruptcy court of this litigation. Sisson’s Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment asserts that, as a matter of law, APGDs are not exempt from FLSA overtime requirements.

         II. STANDARD

         A motion for summary judgment will be granted if the “pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). To establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists, the nonmoving party must show that (1) there is a factual dispute, (2) the disputed fact is material to the outcome of the case, and (3) the dispute is genuine. RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 339, 401 (8th Cir. 1995). A dispute is genuine only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either party. Id.; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also McLaughlin v. Esselte Pendaflex Corp., 50 F.3d 507, 510 (8th Cir. 1995).


         A. FLSA Claims In their cross-motions for summary judgment on Sisson’s FLSA claim, the parties dispute whether TSA’s classification of APGDs as exempt from overtime requirements under the FLSA is proper as a matter of law. The FLSA mandates that an employer may not subject nonexempt employees to work a week in excess of forty hours, unless the employee is compensated for his or her overtime with additional pay. 29 U.S.C. § 207. The statute exempts certain employees from its overtime protections, including any employee employed in an administrative capacity. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).[1] Sisson argues that APGDs are not exempt administrative employees. TSA asserts that such a classification is correct.

         “The burden is on the employer to prove that th[e] exemption applies by demonstrat[ing] that their employees fit plainly and unmistakably within the exemption’s terms and spirit.” Spinden v. GS Roofing Prods. Co., Inc., 94 F.3d 421, 426 (8th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). “The question of how [Sisson] spent [her] working time . . . is a question of fact [and] [t]he question whether their particular activities excluded them from the overtime benefits of the FLSA is a question of law.” Icicle Seafoods, Inc. v. Worthington, 475 U.S. 709, 714 (1986).

         United States Department of Labor regulations define an administrative employee as someone:

(1) Compensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week . . .;
(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 the employer’s customers; and
(3) Whose primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to ...

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