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Bocage v. M-I, L.L.C.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 11, 2019

JEREMY BOCAGE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED
v.
M-I, L.L.C. D/B/A M-I SWACO

         SECTION: T

          ORDER

          GREG GERARD GUIDRYI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment as to the Highly Compensated Employee Exemption[1] and reply memorandum[2] filed by the defendant, M-I, L.L.C. d/b/a MI Swaco (“M-I”). M-I seeks dismissal of the claims asserted by Jeremy Bocage, Robert Armstrong, Mike Aucoin, Ernest Badeaux, Jr., Brian Carbo, Maxcillian Danos, III, Kenneth Kidder, Terry Leeper, Sr., Ricky Livingston, Harry Mankel, Bradley McKay, Martin Ranstead, James Smith, Jr., Steven Sonnier, and Larry Williamson (“Plaintiffs”). The motion is opposed.[3] For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This matter involves Plaintiffs claims against their former employer for alleged violations of the overtime provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Plaintiffs were employed by M-I as drilling fluid specialists. Plaintiffs claim that they regularly worked more than 40 hours per week and that M-I improperly classified them as “exempt” from the FLSA's overtime requirements. As a result, Plaintiffs did not receive overtime pay of time and a half as required by the FLSA. Plaintiffs seek to recover unpaid overtime wages under the FLSA.

         M-I is an oilfield service company that specializes in producing drilling fluid systems designed to improve the performance of oil and gas well drilling operations. M-I's customers include major oil and gas companies. M-I employees project engineers who are responsible for designing the plan for each customer's drilling fluid system before drilling operations begin. M-I also employees drilling fluid specialists, like Plaintiffs, who work at M-I customer locations to manage the drilling fluid system and ensure that the properties of drilling fluid are within the specifications designated by the project engineer.

         Drilling fluid specialists are responsible for testing the drilling fluid, also called “mud, ” to determine its properties and develop treatment plans to ensure the drilling fluid remains at optimal specifications. After testing the drilling fluid, the drilling fluid specialists submit a report to the project engineer, drilling supervisor, and other personnel involved in the drilling operation. Drilling fluid specialists have some discretion to make decisions regarding routine treatments, but also rely upon standard operating procedures established by M-I. If an issue cannot be addressed by the standard procedures, the drilling fluid specialists are required to contact the project engineer for instructions.

         Plaintiff Jeremy Bocage (“Bocage”) initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint on June 24, 2017.[4] Robert Armstrong, Mike Aucoin, Ernest Badeaux, Jr., Brian Carbo, Maxcillian Danos, III, Kenneth Kidder, Terry Leeper, Sr., Ricky Livingston, Harry Mankel, Bradley McKay, Martin Ranstead, James Smith, Jr., Steven Sonnier, Larry Williamson, and David Buford were joined as plaintiffs on March 7, 2018 after the Court granted Bocage's motion for leave to file an amended complaint.[5]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is proper where “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.”[6] When summary judgment is sought on an affirmative defense, as here, the movant “must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor.”[7] “Once the movant does so, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to establish an issue of fact that warrants trial.”[8] The FLSA is remedial in nature, and the exemptions should, therefore, be narrowly construed in favor of the employee.[9]

         The FLSA requires employers to provide overtime pay to any employee who works more than 40 hours per week unless an exemption from this protection applies.[10] The employer bears the burden to establish a claimed exemption.[11] M-I seeks summary judgment on the ground that the Plaintiffs are exempt from the FLSA's overtime provisions under the “highly compensated employee” exemption in 29 C.F.R. § 541.601. An employee is exempt under the “highly compensated employee” exemption if the employee: (1) receives a total annual compensation of at least $100, 000;[12] (2) has primary duties that include performing office or non-manual work; and (3) customarily and regularly performs any one of the exempt duties or responsibilities of an executive, administrative or professional employee.[13]

         It is undisputed that Plaintiffs each receive a total annual compensation of at least $100, 000 and that Plaintiffs have primary office duties that include performing non-manual work. Thus, the only issue before the Court is whether the Plaintiffs each customarily and regularly perform any of the exempt duties of an executive or administrative employee. The Court concludes that there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding whether the Plaintiffs each customarily and regularly perform any of the exempt duties of an executive or administrative employee.

         To qualify as an administrative employee under the FLSA, the employee must have as his “primary duty ... the performance of work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers.”[14] The regulations define an employee's “primary duty” as the “principal, main, major or most important duty that the employee performs.”[15] The “directly related” test is met by the employee's “assisting with the running or servicing of the business, as distinguished, for example, from working on a manufacturing production line or selling a product in a retail or service establishment.”[16]

         In Dewan v. M-I, L.L.C.,858 F.3d 331, 338 (5th Cir. 2017), the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of whether the work of two drilling fluid specialists employed by M-I could be classified as work directly related to the general business operations of M-I's customers. Although there was no dispute regarding the drilling fluid specialists' daily job responsibilities, the Fifth Circuit explained that determining whether an employee qualifies as an administrative employee requires “a fact-finder to analyze the facts to determine the employee's primary duty, how the work directly relates to certain parts of the employer's business, and whether ...


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