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Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

April 16, 2018

R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Labor, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Cathedral Buffet, Inc.; Ernest Angley, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued: December 6, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Akron. No. 5:15-cv-01577-Benita Y. Pearson, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Todd A. Mazzola, RODERICK LINTON BELFANCE, LLP, Akron, Ohio, for Appellants.

          Mary E. McDonald, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Todd A. Mazzola, William G. Chris, Lawrence R. Bach, RODERICK LINTON BELFANCE, LLP, Akron, Ohio, for Appellants.

          Mary E. McDonald, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

          Before: SILER, KETHLEDGE, and THAPAR, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          SILER, Circuit Judge.

         The Grace Cathedral church operates a restaurant on its Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, campus called Cathedral Buffet. For many years, Cathedral Buffet was open to the public and was partially staffed by unpaid church members. Following a Department of Labor (DOL) suit and a bench trial, the district court found that the restaurant's use of unpaid labor violated the minimum wage requirement of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

         However, to be considered an employee within the meaning of the FLSA, a worker must first expect to receive compensation. Tony & Susan Alamo Found. v. Sec'y of Labor, 471 U.S. 290, 302 (1985); Walling v. Portland Terminal Co., 330 U.S. 148, 152 (1947). It is undisputed that the volunteers who worked at Cathedral Buffet had no such expectation. We therefore REVERSE and REMAND.

         I.

         Cathedral Buffet is organized as an Ohio for-profit corporation. The restaurant's sole shareholder is Grace Cathedral, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization. Despite its for-profit status, Cathedral Buffet does not generate a profit, and Grace Cathedral subsidizes the restaurant.[1] Grace Cathedral's pastor, Reverend Ernest Angley, also serves as the president of Cathedral Buffet.

         The DOL's Wage and Hour Division began investigating Cathedral Buffet in 2014, reviewing the restaurant's employment practices for a period stretching back two years.[2] During that period, the restaurant separated its workers into two classes, "employees" and "volunteers." Volunteers performed many of the same restaurant-related tasks as employees: cleaning, washing dishes, serving cake, chopping vegetables, and manning the cash register. However, there was one meaningful distinction between employees and volunteers. Employees received an hourly wage; volunteers did not.

         Reverend Angley recruited volunteers from the church pulpit on Sundays. Sonya Neale, the restaurant's manager, would tell Angley when the restaurant was shorthanded, and before his sermon, Angley would announce to the congregation that more volunteers were needed. Angley said the restaurant was "the Lord's buffet, " and "[e]very time you say no, you are closing the door on God." He suggested that church members who repeatedly refused to volunteer at the restaurant were at risk of "blaspheming against the Holy Ghost, " which was an unforgivable sin in the church's doctrine. Ushers would pass around slips of paper, and parishioners interested in volunteering would write down their phone number and hand it in.

         Church members would then receive calls from Cathedral Buffet managers, and sometimes Angley himself, asking them to volunteer. The managers would work around the volunteers' schedules, ensuring they were free during their assigned shifts. Managers were instructed to tell prospective volunteers that Angley would find out if they refused to work. According to church member Alishea Gay, on one occasion when she did not return a ...


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