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Martinez v. Ehrenberg Fire District

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 8, 2015

Luis E. Martinez, et al., Plaintiffs,
Ehrenberg Fire District, Defendant.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment and Plaintiffs have filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment. Docs. 39, 41. Both motions are fully briefed, and the Court held oral argument on June 5, 2015. The Court will deny Defendant's motion and grant Plaintiffs' motion.

I. Background.

The underlying facts in this case are largely undisputed. Plaintiffs are Luis Martinez and Rafael Martinez, Jr., former "volunteer firefighters" for Defendant Ehrenberg Fire District ("EFD"). Rafael and Luis began working as EFD firefighters in January 2011 and February 2012, respectively. Both were terminated in November 2013 by Fire Chief Erick Felix.

EFD was established in 1979 and has one station. Doc. 39 at 2. Although it employs a full-time fire chief, lieutenant, and administrator, volunteer firefighters have comprised a majority of its force since its inception. Doc. 40, ¶¶ 1, 2. At any given time, the force is made up of 13 to 17 volunteer firefighters. Doc. 42, ¶ 2. The full-time employees receive health insurance coverage as well as an annual salary ranging from $28, 000-$55, 000, depending on job title. Id., ¶¶ 21, 28, 30. The firefighters are paid for their work as follows: $50 flat-rate for a 24-hour shift, $25 flat-rate for a half-shift, and $10 to $15 per hour while responding to calls during their shifts. Id., ¶¶ 9-12. Firefighters receive $10 per hour for training and sometimes receive other stipends for travel. Id., ¶¶ 13-14. They also receive worker's compensation insurance coverage. No other benefits are provided.

Firefighters apply by filling out an "Application for Employment" and must pass a physical. Id., ¶¶ 4, 6. They must also fill out and submit a W-4, I-9, and other forms, which are kept in their personnel files. Id., ¶ 62. The fire chief maintains a monthly shift schedule based on availability of each firefighter. Id., ¶ 34. Although there appears to be no minimum hourly requirement per week, a firefighter may work a maximum of four shifts per week. Doc. 39 at 2. During their shifts, firefighters are required to remain at or close to the station. Doc. 42, ¶ 36. The fire chief and lieutenant discipline firefighters for tardiness, unpreparedness, and other reasons. Id., ¶ 41.

After beginning work in February 2012, Luis worked approximately 1, 500 hours the remainder of the year. Id., ¶ 52. In 2013, Luis worked approximately 2, 400 hours before his termination in November. Id., ¶ 54. From April 2012 to June 2012, Luis also worked full-time at an auto-body shop. Doc. 40, ¶ 25. In March 2013, he began working at Phoenix International Raceway, and later began working full-time at K-Mart. Id. In 2012, Rafael worked over 3, 000 hours for EFD. Doc. 42, ¶ 57.

In November 2013, EFD terminated Luis for failing to appear for shifts and inappropriate behavior, and terminated Rafael for tardiness, insubordination, and inappropriate behavior. Doc. 40, ¶¶ 41, 42. On February 17, 2014, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against EFD alleging five counts: (1) failure to pay minimum wage in violation of the Arizona Minimum Wage Act ("AMWA"), (2) failure to pay minimum wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), (3) failure to pay overtime under the FLSA, (4) retaliation in violation of the AMWA, and (5) retaliation in violation of the FLSA. Doc. 1. Both sides move for summary judgment on whether Plaintiffs are "employees" under the FLSA and the AMWA. Defendant also seeks summary judgment that the overtime provisions of the FLSA do not apply to EFD.

II. Legal Standard.

A party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, 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). When presented with cross-motions for summary judgment, "the court must consider each party's evidence, regardless under which motion the evidence is offered." Las Vegas Sands, LLC v. Nehme, 632 F.3d 526, 532 (9th Cir. 2011).

III. Analysis.

The FLSA requires employers to pay minimum wage and specific overtime rates to their employees. 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207. The AMWA, which looks to the standards of the FLSA to determine whether an individual is an employee, A.R.S. § 23-362(D), also requires employers to pay "employees no less than the minimum wage[.]" A.R.S. § 23-363(A). The FLSA (and therefore the AMWA) do not apply to an "individual who volunteers to perform services for a public agency." 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(4)(A). The central issue in this case is whether Plaintiffs were "employees" of EFD under either statute. If not, all of Plaintiffs' claims fail.

Whether an individual is an "employee" under the FLSA is a question of law. See Purdham v. Fairfax Cnty. School Bd., 637 F.3d 421, 427 (4th Cir. 2011). Plaintiffs bear the initial burden of proving that an employer-employee relationship existed and that their activities constituted employment for purposes of the Act. Id. at 427 (quoting Benshoff v. City of Virginia Beach, 180 F.3d 136, 140 (4th Cir. 1999)). Defendant bears the burden of showing that Plaintiffs fall within the volunteer exemption. Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 635 F.3d 383, 391 (9th Cir. 2011).

In applying the FLSA, two principles must be remembered. First, the FLSA is "construed liberally in favor of employees." Cleveland v. City of Los Angeles, 420 F.3d 981, 988 (9th Cir. 2005). Second, FLSA "exemptions are to be narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them." Cleveland, 420 F.3d at 988. Indeed, "[a]n exemption can only apply to persons plainly and unmistakably ...

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