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Piazza v. Zoetis, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

October 12, 2016




         Now pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18) filed by Defendant Zoetis, Inc. Plaintiff Lawrence Jeffery Piazza, and Zoetis, have fully briefed the Motion, making it ripe for adjudication. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case in which a technician whose job was to service poultry vaccination machines contends that he should have been paid overtime wages for the hours he spent “on call.” Lawrence Jeffrey Piazza was hired as a field service technician (“FST”) by a company called Embrex, Inc. on December 11, 2006. Shortly thereafter, Embrex was acquired by Pfizer, Inc., which in 2013 spun the former Embrex business off into a new entity called Zoetis, Inc. Throughout this time, the companies' line of business remained substantially the same. Zoetis and its predecessors developed animal vaccines and machines to efficiently administer those vaccines. Piazza received several promotions, but his basic job responsibilities remained the same until he resigned in March of 2015.

         As an FST, Piazza's job was to install and service vaccine administering devices at certain poultry plants in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Washington State. Piazza and other FSTs maintained home offices, and filled their forty-hour workweeks by performing certain duties at home, and travelling to their assigned hatcheries to service Zoetis's devices in the field. On occasion, Piazza was also required to go to Zoetis's office in Springdale, Arkansas, to retrieve needed parts for the devices, or to perform other job functions. Piazza does not dispute that he was paid appropriately for all of the hours worked during his regular 40-hour workweek.

         In addition to making FSTs available to their customers during the regular 40hour workweek, Zoetis and its predecessors required FSTs to remain on call around the clock, in case their assigned hatcheries had problems operating the vaccine-administering devices at nights and on weekends. When problems with the devices arose during these on-call hours, the hatcheries' employees would call the FST's cellphone for assistance. The FST was then required to troubleshoot the problem over the phone, and if it could not be resolved, travel to the hatchery to fix the issue in person. The parties agree that an on-call rotation was implemented in February of 2014, whereby only one FST in the Arkansas region was assigned to be on call per weekend. Several other aspects of Zoetis's on-call policy, however, remain in dispute. These include the number of customer calls received by Piazza during his on-call hours; the amount of time Piazza had to respond to such calls; and how difficult it was for Piazza to get other FSTs to cover his on-call time, such that he could take the time completely off.

         During these on-call hours, Piazza was compensated at a “time and a half” rate when he reported troubleshooting customers' problems over the phone, or travelling to their hatcheries. However, he was not compensated for the time he spent while on call but not actively responding to customers' phone calls.

         Piazza filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court on May 20, 2015, asserting that Zoetis's failure to pay him for time spent on call but not actively responding to customers' phone calls violates the FLSA and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”). The Complaint also alleges that Zoetis retaliated against Piazza after he began asking questions about the on-call policy, in violation of the FLSA. Zoetis generally denied the claims against it in an Answer (Doc. 10) filed on September 4, 2015, and then filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18) on August 12, 2016. Piazza filed his Response (Doc. 22) on August 31, 2016, and Zoetis filed a Reply (Doc. 24) on September 7, 2016. The Motion now being ripe for decision, the Court finds that it should be granted in part and denied in part for the reasons discussed below.


         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and give the non-moving party the benefit of any logical inferences that can be drawn from the facts. Union Elec. Co., 135 F.3d at 1212-13. The moving party bears the burden of proving the absence of any material factual disputes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Nat'l Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). If the moving party meets this burden, then the non- moving party must “come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). These facts must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “The nonmoving party must do more than rely on allegations or denials in the pleadings, and the court should grant summary judgment if any essential element of the prima facie case is not supported by specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial.” Register v. Honeywell Fed. Mfg. & Techs., LLC, 397 F.3d 1130, 1136 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).


         A. The FLSA: A Practical Approach

         The FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., commands that, with certain exceptions not germane to this case,

no employer shall employ any of his employees . . . for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.

29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).[1] This time-and-a-half requirement only applies to time the employee spends working in excess of forty hours per week. See 29 U.S.C. § 203(g) (“‘Employ' includes to suffer or permit to work.”). The Act, however, “does not define when an employee is working for his or her employer.” Reimer v. Champion Healthcare Corp., 258 F.3d 720, 725 (8th Cir. 2001) (emphasis added). As a result, the burden to “develop general criteria for deciding when an employee is working for the purposes of the FLSA, ” has fallen “largely on the federal ...

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