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Spriggs v. Hancock Whitney Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

September 20, 2019

MICHAEL L. SPRIGGS
v.
HANCOCK WHITNEY CORPORATION

          RULING

          CHIEF JUDGE SHELLY D. DICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court on the cross Motions for Summary Judgment[1] filed by Plaintiff, Michael Spriggs (“Spriggs”), and Defendant, Hancock Whitney Corporation (“Hancock”). Hancock filed an Opposition[2] to Spriggs’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Spriggs has also filed an Opposition[3] to Hancock’s Motion for Summary Judgment, to which Hancock has filed a Reply.[4] For the following reasons, the Court finds that Hancock’s Motion for Summary Judgment[5] shall be GRANTED, and Spriggs’ Motion for Summary Judgment[6] shall be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brings this unpaid wage claim against Hancock under the Louisiana Wage Payment Act (“LWPA”), La. R.S. 23:631 and La. R.S. 23:632. Spriggs worked for Harrison Finance Company from March 23, 2006, to March 9, 2018.[7] Harrison Finance Company was owned by Defendant Hancock’s banking subsidiary, Whitney Bank.[8] Whitney Bank sold Harrison Finance Company to First Tower Finance Company, LLC, on March 9, 2018, and, on that date, informed Spriggs that his employment would no longer be associated with Hancock.[9] During Spriggs’ employment with Hancock’s subsidiary, Harrison Finance Company, Hancock offered Spriggs employment benefits including Vacation and Sick leave.[10]

         This dispute arises out of the discharge of Spriggs’ employment with Harrison Finance. Spriggs alleges that, at the time that his employment terminated with Hancock, Hancock failed to pay him his accrued leave and vacation pay as required by law.[11]Spriggs alleges that he is entitled to be paid for 1, 020 hours of Accrued Leave and 144 hours of Vacation, ninety days of wages at his daily rate of pay, as well as attorney fees.

         Hancock argues that Spriggs has already been paid for all earned, but unused Vacation pay. Additionally, Hancock contends that there is no statutory authority that requires Hancock to pay Spriggs the cash value of his unused Sick Leave, and Spriggs cannot point to a policy or procedure requiring them to do so. Hancock argues that its policies expressly provide that unused Sick Leave is not payable upon termination of employment.[12]

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard

         “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.”[13] “When assessing whether a dispute to any material fact exists, we consider all of the evidence in the record but refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.”[14] A party moving for summary judgment “must ‘demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ’ but need not negate the elements of the nonmovant’s case.”[15] If the moving party satisfies its burden, “the non-moving party must show that summary judgment is inappropriate by setting ‘forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue concerning every essential component of its case.’”[16] However, the non-moving party’s burden “is not satisfied with some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence.”[17]

         Notably, “[a] genuine issue of material fact exists, ‘if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’”[18] All reasonable factual inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.[19] However, “[t]he Court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim.”[20] “Conclusory allegations unsupported by specific facts … will not prevent the award of summary judgment; ‘the plaintiff [can]not rest on his allegations … to get to a jury without any “significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.'’”[21]

         B. The Louisiana Wage Payment Act

         The LWPA is designed to compel prompt payment of earned wages upon an employee’s discharge or resignation.[22] The LWPA provides in part:

Upon the discharge of any laborer or other employee of any kind whatever, it shall be the duty of the person employing such laborer or other employee to pay the amount then due under the terms of employment, whether the employment is by the hour, day, week, or month, on or before the next regular payday or no later than fifteen days following the date of discharge, whichever occurs first.[23]

         To state a claim under the LWPA, the employee must allege “i) that [the defendant] was her employer, ii) that the employee/employer relationship ceased to exist, iii) that at the time that the employee/employer relationship ended she was owed wages, and iv) that [the defendant] failed to submit the owed wages within the statutorily mandated 15 days.”[24]

         1. Sick Leave and Accrued Leave

         At the outset, the parties dispute whether Spriggs was an employee of Hancock. Hancock does not deny that Spriggs worked for its subsidiary but argues that Hancock was not Spriggs’ employer under the LWPA.[25] Louisiana courts consider a variety of factors in determining whether there is an employee-employer relationship under the LWPA:

(1) whether there is a valid contract between the parties; (2) whether the work being done is of an independent nature such that the contractor may employ nonexclusive means in accomplishing it; (3) whether the contract calls for specific piecework as a unit to be done according to the independent contractor's own methods, without being subject to the control and direction of the principal, except as to the result of the services to be rendered; (4) whether there is a specific price for the overall undertaking agreed upon; and (5) whether the duration of the work is for a specific time and not subject to termination or discontinuance at the will of either side without a corresponding liability for its breach.[26]

         Hancock does not brief the LWPA employment factors but contends that Spriggs was an employee of Harrison Finance “not its indirect parent [company] Hancock …”.[27] For his part, Spriggs also fails to address any of the LWPA employment factors but argues that “Hancock promoted Mr. Spriggs to Senior Vice President of Hancock effective October 1, 2017, and paid him a bonus in the amount of $3, 250 in connection with this promotion” to support his contention that he was an employee of Hancock. It is undisputed that Harrison was a subsidiary of Hancock, and Hancock paid Spriggs’ promotion bonus as well as offered the benefits at issue in this case. Despite the lack of briefing on this issue, the Court finds that, although there may be a genuine issue of fact regarding who was Spriggs’ statutory employer, this fact is not material because, regardless of Spriggs’ employer, it is undisputed that Hancock offered Spriggs the Vacation and Sick leave at issue in this case, and it is Hancock’s handbook which delineates the leave policies.

         Spriggs contends that “Hancock has failed to pay Mr. Spriggs his accrued leave and vacation pay as required by law upon the discharge of his employment with Hancock.”[28] Spriggs argues that his 1, 020 hours of Accrued Leave was an “amount then due under the terms of employment.”[29] The record demonstrates, and Hancock does not deny, that Spriggs had a “Current Balance” of 1, 020 hours of “Accrued Leave” as of March 9, 2018.[30] According to Hancock, however, “Accrued Leave is nothing more than a subcategory of Sick Leave.”[31] As to Sick Leave, Hancock contends that “there is no policy or procedure or a statutory or jurisprudential authority that requires Hancock to pay Spriggs the cash value of unused Sick Leave at the termination of his employment.”[32] In fact, Hancock argues that “Hancock’s policy expressly provides that Sick Leave has no cash value and is not paid out at termination of employment.”[33]

         The record demonstrates that Hancock had an express policy that employees are not entitled to payment for unused Sick Leave upon termination and that “Accrued Leave” is a subcategory of Sick Leave. Although Spriggs contends that Hancock “did not have a clear, written policy establishing that the accrued leave was nothing more than a mere gratuity and was not to be considered an amount due or a wage, ”[34] Hancock’s policy handbook explains Accrued Leave and its relationship to Sick Leave as follows:

As of January 1, 2018, eligible Associates with an accrued, but unused Sick Leave balance at close of business on December 31, 2017 will have these hours credited to an Accrued Leave balance. This balance is non-accruing, and no additional hours will be added to it. Sick Leave balances subsequent to close of business of December 31, 2017 will not be credited to an Associate’s Accrued Leave balance. Accrued Leave balances will not roll over to the following year until exhausted.
Accrued leave may be used for purposes consistent with Sick Leave. Accrued Leave balances must be used prior to receiving Short Term Disability pay for eligible leaves.
The Sick Leave policy and eligibility applies to this balance. Associates hired on or after January 1, 2018 and Commissioned Associates are not eligible for Accrued Leave.[35]

         Further, the uncontroverted affidavit of Steven Smith, the Director of Total Rewards for Hancock Whitney Bank who oversees the implementation of benefits that Hancock offers to associates, explains that:

Prior to January 1, 2018, unused balances of Sick Leave could be rolled over from year to year. Effective as of January 1, 2018, the policy was revised such that an unused Sick Leave could not be rolled over into the next calendar year. Instead of eliminating any unused balances of Sick Leave that an eligible associate had been allotted before January 1, 2018, the Company allowed eligible associates to keep their unused Sick Leave. In order to distinguish any Sick Leave allotted prior to January 1, 2018, from ...

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