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Graceffa v. Waller

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Berkshire

February 6, 2017

Christopher Graceffa
Mary Stokes Waller et al. [1]


          Daniel A. Ford, Justice of the Superior Court.

         This case arises from a wage and overtime dispute. The plaintiff, Christopher Graceffa, brought this three-count complaint against the defendants, Mary Stokes Waller and Harvey Waller, containing claims for nonpayment of wages in violation of G.L.c. 149, § 148 (Count 1); nonpayment of overtime in violation of G.L.c. 151, § § 1A and 1B (Count 2); and breach of contract (Count 3). The defendants now move for summary judgment on all claims.


         The following relevant facts are undisputed and viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. The defendants own Orleton Farm, a private, non-commercial horse stable located on the defendants' residential premises in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The defendants employed the plaintiff at the farm from 1999 until 2005, and again from June 2011 to December 2014. In 2011, the plaintiff was hired as a stable hand, but in 2012 was promoted to stable manager. There was never a written employment contract between the parties.

         From 2011 through 2014, the plaintiff's compensation increased from a rate of $18 per hour, to $20 per hour, to $21 per hour, and ultimately to $25 per hour, making him the highest paid employee in the stable. The plaintiff did not keep a record of the hours he worked, and he was consistently paid on the basis of forty hours per week. His weekly pay was neither increased nor decreased depending on the number of hours he actually worked. In the course of the plaintiff's employment as a stable hand, his duties included mucking and picking stalls, cleaning harnesses, and grooming, bathing, feeding, and watering the horses and ponies. After the plaintiff's promotion to stable manager, he was assigned additional duties that included, among other things, supervision of stable hands, teaching and training employees how to safely harness horses, preparing a carriage for driving, and maintaining the horses when they were unhitched to a carriage. As stable manager, the plaintiff established schedules, assigned tasks, and apportioned work for the stable hands. He also established and implemented rules such as requiring that all stable employees obtain his approval before switching shifts or taking days off for personal time. He determined the equipment the stable hands needed to perform their duties and decided whether stable hands needed to work longer hours than originally scheduled. In addition, the plaintiff heard and addressed employee complaints.


          Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, all material facts have been established and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Cabot Corp. v. AVX Corp., 448 Mass. 629, 636-37, 863 N.E.2d 503 (2007); Mass.R.Civ.P. 56(c). " [T]he moving party must establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and that the nonmoving party has no reasonable expectation of proving an essential element of its case." Miller v. Mooney, 431 Mass. 57, 60, 725 N.E.2d 545 (2000).

         The defendants argue that no overtime is owed to the plaintiff because his employment was exempt from overtime pay. Specifically, the defendants argue that, because of the nature of the plaintiff's duties while in their employ, he should properly be classified as either an " executive" or " administrative" person, and as such is exempt from the Minimum Fair Wage Act, pursuant to G.L.c. 151, § 1A(3). In his opposition, the plaintiff asserts that he was a domestic worker, and argues that the executive and administrative exemptions should not and do not apply to such workers. Alternatively, the plaintiff argues that, at the very least, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether his employment at the farm fell into these exempt categories of G.L.c. 151, § 1A(3).

         A. G.L.c. 149, § 190--DOMESTIC WORKERS BILL OF RIGHTS

         General Laws c. 149, § 190(a), defines a " domestic worker" in relevant part: " 'Domestic worker', an individual or employee who is paid by an employer to perform work of a domestic nature within a household including, but not limited to: (i) housekeeping; (ii) house cleaning; (iii) home management; (iv) nanny services; (v) caretaking of individuals in the home, including sick, convalescing and elderly individuals; (vi) laundering; (vii) cooking; (viii) home companion services; and (ix) other household services for members of households or their guests in private homes . . ." Section 190(c) of chapter 149, provides: " When a domestic worker who does not reside on the employer's premises is on duty for less than 24 consecutive hours, the employer shall pay the domestic worker for all hours as working time under chapter 151 and regulations promulgated under said chapter 151."

         The problem with the plaintiff's argument is that G.L.c. 149, § 190(a), as amended through St. 2015, c. 10, § 39, did not take effect until April 1, 2015. The plaintiff left his position with the defendants in 2014, and his complaint alleges that the defendants wrongfully failed to pay wages and overtime from 2011 through 2014. There is no indication that the legislature intended G.L.c. 149, § 190 to apply retroactively, meaning that it is simply inapplicable to the alleged violations in this case. Even assuming, arguendo, that G.L.c. 149, § 190, should be applied retroactively, the plaintiff's argument is still unpersuasive. He cites no case law to support his proposition that employment as a stable hand or stable manager qualifies him as a domestic worker. Moreover, the plain language of G.L.c. 149, § 190(a), does not support his claim that he falls within the definition of " domestic worker." See Monell v. Boston Pads, LLC, 471 Mass. 566, 574-75, 31 N.E.3d 60 (2015) (" The general and familiar rule is that a statute must be interpreted according to the intent of the Legislature ascertained from all its words construed by the ordinary and approved usage of the language, considered in connection with the cause of its enactment, the mischief or imperfection to be remedied and the main object to be accomplished"). Section 190(a) uses the phrase " domestic nature" and " within a household" and lists jobs such as housekeeping, house cleaning, nanny services, laundering, caretaking of sick and elderly individuals, and cooking. The common characteristics that these positions share are taking care of persons who reside in the home and performing tasks that a person living in the home would normally have to perform. The plaintiff's employment as both a stable hand and stable manager is not remotely similar to that type of work. The plaintiff's responsibility was to manage the stable, take care of horses and ponies located on the defendants' property, and to supervise other employees who did the same. There is no evidence in the summary judgment record that these duties included caring for the defendants or required him to enter the defendants' home to assist them in household chores. Therefore, I conclude that the plaintiff does not fall within the definition of " domestic worker, " as set forth in G.L.c. 149, § 190(a).

         B. G.L.c. 151, § § 1A and 1B--MINIMUM FAIR WAGES ACT

          " Under the overtime pay statute, an employer must pay an employee at least time and one-half for any hours worked in excess of forty in the course of one week. See G.L.c. 151, § 1A . . ." Quazi v. Barnstable County, 70 Mass.App.Ct. 780, 785, 877 N.E.2d 273 (2007) (citations omitted). " [T]he overtime pay statute does not apply to any person employed 'as a bona fide executive, or administrative or professional person or qualified trainee for such position earning more than eighty dollars per week.' . . . The Legislature provided no further clarification regarding the meanings of these terms . . . The Supreme Judicial Court, however, has ruled that in interpreting the State statute, the courts should look for guidance to analogous Federal law and to the common meaning of these words." Id. Indeed, in Goodrow v. Lane Bryant, Inc., 432 Mass. 165, 171, 732 N.E.2d 289 (2000), the Court pointed out that the applicable provisions of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § § 201-09, are " nearly identical" to those of G.L.c. 151, § 1A(3). See also 454 Code Mass. Regs. § 27.03(3) (" The terms 'bonafide executive, administrative or professional person' in G.L.c. 151, § 1A(3) . . . shall have the same meaning as set forth in 29 C.F.R. Part 541").

          " The employer bears the burden of demonstrating that an employee falls within an . . . exemption . . . Exemptions are to be narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them and their application limited to those establishments plainly and unmistakably within their terms and spirit . . . How an employee spends his or her time at work is a question of fact, but whether the particular activities subject the employee to an exemption from . . . overtime requirements is a question ...

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