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Salerno v. Baystate Ford, Inc.

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

February 5, 2016

Ralph Salerno, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated
v.
Baystate Ford, Inc. et al Opinion No. 132710

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COUNT I OF FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

Robert B. Gordon, Justice

This is a wage and hour class action lawsuit brought by car mechanics against the automobile dealerships that currently employ or formerly employed them. Plaintiffs' claim in Count I of the First Amended Complaint (the " Complaint") alleges that their compensation arrangement with the Defendants required them to work a substantial number of hours without pay, in violation of the Massachusetts Payment of Wages Act, G.L.c. 149, § 148 (the " Wage Act"). Presented for decision is the Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

The Plaintiffs are car mechanics who were employed by the Defendants' automobile dealerships between 2012 and 2014. Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants failed to pay them all of the wages they had earned as mechanics in their employ, in violation of the Wage Act, G.L.c. 149, § 148.[2]

The Complaint alleges that Plaintiffs worked for the Defendants in accordance with an arrangement that required them to work certain hours every week without pay. More specifically, the Complaint charges that the Defendants paid Plaintiffs an hourly rate ($26.00 per hour, in the case of the named Plaintiff) for time spent working on customer vehicles. Defendants did not, however, pay their mechanics an hourly rate (or any other form of compensation) for time spent performing ancillary tasks other than the work of servicing vehicles. Thus, the hourly rate Defendants paid the Plaintiffs for time spent working on automobiles in the dealership also compensated them for time they were required to expend on related matters, such as maintaining tools, cleaning the facility, interacting with customers and colleagues, filling out paperwork, and the like. Plaintiffs received no additional compensation for these non-vehicle servicing tasks, and are thus alleged to have performed such tasks for no pay at all.

Although not recited explicitly in the Complaint, counsel for the parties agreed in their papers and at oral argument that the Plaintiffs were in all instances paid in accordance with state and federal minimum wage law. Counsel for the Plaintiffs further acknowledged that Plaintiffs at all times understood that they would not receive additional pay for any of the ancillary tasks performed outside the scope of their servicing of customer vehicles. Once again, although not pleaded with perfect clarity in the Complaint, counsel clarified at hearing that Plaintiffs understood and agreed at the outset of their employment that the stipulated hourly rate applied only to the time they expended as mechanics servicing cars. The gravamen of the claim advanced in Count I of the Complaint, therefore, is that the Defendants' bifurcated compensation arrangement--a $26 per hour rate for time spent servicing automobiles, and no additional pay for time spent on other job tasks--inherently calls upon the Plaintiffs to work " off the clock." Thus, it is alleged that the Defendants are requiring Plaintiffs to work hours for which they receive no compensation, in violation of Section 148 of the Wage Act.

DISCUSSION

1. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must " look beyond the conclusory allegations in the complaint, " Curtis v. Herb Chambers I-95 Inc., 458 Mass. 674, 675, 940 N.E.2d 413 (2011), and determine if the nonmoving party has pleaded " factual allegations plausibly suggesting (not merely consistent with) an entitlement to relief." Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636, 888 N.E.2d 879 (2008) (citation omitted). In doing so, the Court must accept as true " all facts pleaded by the nonmoving party." Jarosz v. Palmer, 436 Mass. 526, 529, 766 N.E.2d 482 (2002) (citation omitted). It also must accept as true " such inferences as may be drawn [from those facts] in the [nonmoving party's] favor." Blank v. Chelmsford Ob/Gyn, P.C., 420 Mass. 404, 407, 649 N.E.2d 1102 (1995).

2. ANALYSIS

Originally enacted in 1789, the Massachusetts Wage Act " is intended to protect employees and their right to wages" by imposing specific payment requirements on employers in the Commonwealth. Electronic Data Sys. Corp. v. Attorney General, 454 Mass. 63, 70, 907 N.E.2d 635 (2009). The statute thus provides in pertinent part that " [e]very person having employees in his service shall pay . . . such employee the wages earned by him . . ." G.L.c. 149, § 148 (emphasis added). Although the Wage Act itself contains no definition of " earn" for this purpose, our appellate courts have construed the term to mean to " acquire by labor, service or performance" a " reward or result, " Awuah v. Coverall N. Am., Inc., 460 Mass. 484, 492, 952 N.E.2d 890 (2011), from an employer where " an employee has completed what is required of him." Plourde v. Police Dep't. of Lawrence, 85 Mass.App.Ct. 178, 182, 7 N.E.3d 484 (2014). The term " earned" has similarly been interpreted to mean that " the employee's entitlement to wages . . . derives from his performance of the work for which he was employed." Kittredge v. McNerney, 17 Mass.L.Rptr. 652 (Mass.Super.Ct. 2004) (Gants, J.).

To be " earned" under the Wage Act, therefore, means to become entitled by labor to that which an employer has promised by way of remuneration in exchange for the same. In this connection, Section 148 of the statute is designed to ensure that employers fulfill the promises they make to employees, and thereby prevent the " unreasonable detention of wages" that employees are due on account of the performance and completion of specified work. Boston Police Patrolmen's Assoc., Inc. v. Boston, 435 Mass. 718, 720, 761 N.E.2d 479 (2002). See also Mui v. Massport, Civil Action No. 14-3275 (Suffolk Super. Ct. March 30, 2015) (Gordon, J.) (" the essential purpose of the Wage Act is that an employer will pay an employee what it has promised to pay for work the employee performed").

The principles which inform what it means to " earn" a wage so stated, the Court concludes that the Complaint in Count I fails to state a viable cause of action under the Massachusetts Wage Act. It bears emphasis that this statute does not prescribe any particular method by which employees must be paid their earned wages; and it certainly does not dictate that employees in all circumstances must be separately compensated for each and every hour they work.[3] Subject to compliance with minimum wage and overtime laws that the parties agree are not in issue in this case, the Wage Act requires no more than that employees be paid on a timely basis and in accordance with the terms of their agreement with their employers.[4] In the present case, the allegations set forth in the Complaint concede that the Defendants' agreed compensation system with the Plaintiffs paid these mechanics an hourly rate for time spent servicing customer vehicles, but no additional remuneration for ancillary tasks they might be called upon to ...


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