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Keller v. Miri Microsystems LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 26, 2015

MICHAEL KELLER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MIRI MICROSYSTEMS LLC, Defendant-Appellee

Argued November 19, 2014.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:12-cv-15492--Nancy G. Edmunds, District Judge.

ARGUED:

David A. Hardesty, GOLD STAR LAW, P.C., Troy, Michigan, for Appellant.

Aaron D. Graves, BODMAN PLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

David A. Hardesty, Caitlin E. Malhiot, GOLD STAR LAW, P.C., Troy, Michigan, for Appellant.

Aaron D. Graves, Donald H. Scharg, BODMAN PLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: NORRIS, MOORE, and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges. MOORE, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which GIBBONS, J., joined. NORRIS, J., delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

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KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Defendant Miri Microsystems, LLC (" Miri" ) is a satellite-internet-dish installation company. Michael Keller installed satellite-internet dishes for Miri's customers six days each week. Keller alleges that Miri did not compensate him adequately as an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (" FLSA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 207 et seq., by failing to pay him overtime compensation. Miri contends, in contrast, that Keller was an independent contractor, rather than an employee, and therefore not entitled to overtime pay.

The FLSA's definition of " employee" is strikingly broad and " stretches the meaning of 'employee' to cover some parties who might not qualify as such under a strict application of traditional agency law principles." Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U.S. 318, 326, 112 S.Ct. 1344, 117 L.Ed.2d 581 (1992). To effect Congress's broad purpose, we must look to see whether a worker, even when labeled as an " independent contractor," is, as a matter of " economic reality," an employee. Rutherford Food Corp. v. McComb, 331 U.S. 722, 729, 67 S.Ct. 1473, 91 L.Ed. 1772 (1947) (" Where the work done, in its essence, follows the usual path of an employee, putting on an 'independent contractor' label does not take the worker from the protection of the Act." ). Ordinarily, it is the court's job to determine whether a company has inappropriately classified a worker as an independent contractor. Werner v. Bell Family Med. Ctr., Inc., 529 F.App'x 541, 543 (6th Cir. 2013). However, when the evidence, viewed in the

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light most favorable to the plaintiff, reveals that there is a genuine issue of material fact whether the worker is an employee or an independent contractor, then summary judgment is inappropriate. See Imars v. Contractors Mfg. Servs., Inc., 165 F.3d 27, 1998 WL 598778, at *6 (6th Cir. Aug. 24, 1998). In those cases, it is the task of the trier of fact to review the evidence and weigh the factors to decide whether the plaintiff-worker is economically dependent upon the defendant-company. See Id. We believe that this is just such a case.

We also must decide whether Keller has offered sufficient evidence that he worked more than forty hours each week based on his and Miri's deposition testimony. We believe that Keller has presented sufficient evidence to show a genuine issue of material fact. Accordingly, we VACATE the district court's judgment and REMAND the case for consideration by the trier of fact.

I. BACKGROUND

Miri is a limited liability company that operates in Michigan and provides installation services for HughesNet and iDirect, nationwide providers of satellite internet systems and services. Keller was one of approximately ten satellite-internet technicians who installed satellite dishes for Miri.

Miri is one of many middlemen in the satellite-installation-services business. Customers purchase satellite internet services from HughesNet, and then HughesNet forwards those orders on to a distributor, Recreational Sports and Imports (" RS& I" ).[1] Next, RS& I sends the installation order to Miri, which provides installation services for the upper part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Customers may choose a time block during which a technician will install the satellite dish, and Miri assigns installation jobs to technicians who work in the territory where the customer resides.

Keller began installing satellite dishes for Miri as a technician while he was working for ABC Dishman, a subcontractor, after he attended a HughesNet satellite-dish-installation certification course given by Miri. After working for ABC Dishman for some time, Keller began installing satellite-internet dishes for Miri directly.

Miri pays technicians by the job, not by the hour. HughesNet pays Miri $200 for each basic installation, $80 for repairs, $80 for de-installation, and between $130--145 for upgrades. Miri pays the technician the bulk of these fees, but keeps a percentage.[2]

Keller worked six days a week from 5:00 am to midnight, taking only Sunday off. Keller completed two to four installations per day, and he had to travel between jobs. Miri paid Keller $110 per installation and $60 for each repair he performed. Miri did not withhold federal payroll taxes from Keller's payments or provide Keller benefits.

On November 23, 2012, Keller stopped working for Miri. Soon thereafter, he filed this lawsuit, alleging that Miri's payment system violates the FLSA. Miri filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Keller was an independent contractor for Miri, and therefore he was not entitled to overtime compensation under the FLSA. The district court granted Miri's motion for summary judgment, holding that Keller was an independent contractor

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for Miri, not an employee. Keller appeals. Miri also argues that Keller has not produced evidence to substantiate his claim that he ...


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