Hobson v. Local 689, Amalgamated Transit Union AFL-CIO
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Theodore D. Chuang on 8/1/2022. (mg3s, Deputy Clerk)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No. TDC-21-2374
LOCAL 689, AMALGAMATED TRANSIT
Self-represented Plaintiff Barry Hobson has filed suit against his former employer. Local
689, Amalgamated Transit Union, AFL-CIO ("Local 689") alleging violations of the Fair Labor
Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19 (2018); the Maryland Wage and Hour Law
("MWHL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-401 to 3-431 (West 2016); and the Maryland
Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-501 to 3509; as well as a claim of unjust enrichment Pending before the Court is Local 689's Motion to
Dismiss. ECF No. 21. Having reviewed the briefs and submitted materials, the Court finds that
no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion
will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Hobson was hired by Local 689 as an Executive Assistant in November 2017. On January
3, 2019, Hobson was promoted to the position of Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to the
Office of the President, with the understanding that "by agreement effective January 3,2019," he
would receive a salary increase as compensation for his newly expanded job responsibilities. Am.
Compl. T| 59, ECF No. 18. Hobson alleges that throughout his employment at Local 689, he
regularly worked in excess of 40 hours per work week without receiving overtime pay, and that
he never received the salary increase promised in connection with his promotion to the Chief of
Hobson filed the present action on September 16, 2021. In the presently operative
Amended Complaint, Hobson alleges the following numbered counts: (1)a violation ofthe FLSA
for unpaid overtime;(2) a violation of the MWHL for unpaid overtime and the failure to pay him
at his higher rate of compensation;(3) a violation of the MWPCL for unpaid overtime and the
failure to pay him at his higher rate of compensation; and (4) unjust enrichment.
In its Motion, Local 689 seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) on the grounds that Hobson has failed to state plausible claims under the FLSA, MWHL,
and MWPCL, or a claim for unjust enrichment, based on unpaid overtime and wages owed in
connection with his promotion. Local 689 also argues that because the Amended Complaint fails
to allege that the violation of the FLSA was "willful," the statute of limitations bars any claim for
unpaid overtime earned more than two years before the filing of the Complaint. See 29 U.S.C. §
To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts
to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is
plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Legal conclusions or conclusory statements
do not suffice. Id. A court must examine the complaint as a whole,consider the factual allegations
in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. ofComm 'rs ofDavidson
Cnty., 407 F.3d 266,268(4th Cir. 2005). A self-represented party's complaint must be construed
liberally. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, "liberal construction does not
mean overlooking the pleading requirements under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Bing v.
Brivo Sys., LLC,959 F.3d 605,618 (4th Cir. 2020).
As relevant here, the FLSA and MWHL both require that an employer shall pay an
overtime wage of at least "one and one-half times the regular rate" of pay for each hour over 40
hours that an employee works during "a workweek longer than forty hours." 29 U.S.C. §
207(a)(1); see Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. §§ 3-415(a), 3-420(a). However, neither statute
applies to individuals "employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional
capacity." 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); see Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-403(1).
The MWPCL requires that "[e]ach employer shall pay an employee ... all wages due for
work that the employee performed," with the term "wage" including any bonus, commission,
overtime wages, or "any other remuneration promised for service." Md.Code Ann., Lab & Empl.
§§ 3-501, 3-505. Although Local 689 asserts that the MWPCL does not apply to claims for unpaid
overtime wages, its argument is based on outdated case law and ignores controlling precedent of
the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which eight years ago specifically interpreted the MWPCL as
providing a cause of action for employees to seek unpaid overtime wages. See Peters v. Early
Healthcare Giver, Inc., 97 A.3d 621,625-26(Md. 2014).
Local 689 argues that(1) Hobson has failed to state plausible claims for unpaid overtime
because his position was exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA and the MWHL;
and (2)even if he was subject to those requirements, the failure to plead a willful violation of the
FLSA limits any claims to those for unpaid overtime accruing within two years of the filing of the
First, Local 689 argues that Hobson's overtime pay claims fail because he was subject to
the exemption for workers "employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional
capacity." 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). In order to be subject to the exemption for a worker employed
in an administrative capacity, an employee must be one (1) who was "[c]ompensated on a salary
or fee basis . . . at a rate of not less than $684 per week"; (2) "[w]hose primary duty is the
performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business
operations ofthe employer or the employer's customers"; and(3)"[w]hose primary duty includes
the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance." 29
C.F.R. § 541.200(2020);.see Darveau v. Detecon, Inc., 515 F.3d 334, 338(4th Cir. 2008). Courts
must look beyond the employee's job title and consider the employee's salary and duties to
determine whether the exemption applies. See 29 C.F.R. § 541.2. Further, whether an employee's
"primary duty" is exempt work "must be based on all the facts in a particular case, with the major
emphasis on the character of the employee's job as a whole." 29 C.F.R. § 541.700(a). Factors to
be considered include the "amount of time spent performing exempt work," though "[tjime alone
... is not the sole test," and there is no requirement that "exempt employees spend more than 50
percent of their time performing exempt work." 29 C.F.R. § 541.700(b).
"An employer bears the burden of proving that a particular employee's job falls within
such an exemption," and the exemptions must "be narrowly construed against the employers
seeking to assert them and their application limited to those establishments plainly and
unmistakably within [the exemptions'] terms and spirit." Darveau, 515 F.3d at 337-38 (quoting
Reich V. John Alden Life Ins. Co., 126 F.3d I, 7(1st Cir. 1997)). A motion to dismiss "does not
generally invite an analysis of potential defenses to the claims asserted in the complaint," unless
"the face of the complaint clearly reveals the existence of a meritorious affirmative defense." E.
Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Assoc. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 185 (4th Cir. 2000). Accordingly,
dismissal ofan FLSA claim under Rule 12(b)(6)is "fact-intensive" and is appropriate "only where
it is crystal clear" that an exemption applies. McLaughlin v. Boston Harbor Cruise Lines, Inc.,
419 F.3d 47, 52-53 (1st Cir. 2005).
Here, Local 689 asserts that Hobson was subject to the exemption for a worker employed
in an administrative capacity. In the Amended Complaint, Hobson acknowledges that he had been
treated as exempt by Local 689, but he alleges that he "was misclassified as an FLSA-Exempt
employee for the purposes of not paying overtime," and that his "original employment contract
notes no FLSA classification." Am.Compl.f 7& n.l. In support ofhis claim of misclassification,
Hobson asserts that he "was not at all times entrusted with a primary duty which required the
exercise of discretion and independent judgement with respect to matters of significance as
required for overtime exception." Id.^5\. He further alleges that "Local 689's operational
structure does not support hired staff' such as himself"to make or use independent judgement in
matters of significance. Power and authority rests with the elected union officers." Id. Among
other job duties, Hobson was required "to answer phone calls and send emails." /t/. f 11. When
the allegations are viewed in the light most favorable to Hobson, they support the inference that
his Executive Assistant role was not exempt. Though Hobson also acknowledges that after his
promotion, office staff reported to him, and that his duties included "finding a new vendor for the
organization's Information Technology oversight," id. fl 14, 20, particularly where Hobson
continued in the Executive Assistant role,the Court cannot conclude as a matter oflaw that Hobson
had as a "primary duty" the performance of exempt work. 29 C.F.R. § 541.700(a). Notably, the
facts alleged in the Amended Complaint do not resolve key questions relevant to this issue, such
as "the amount of time spent performing exempt work," Hobson's "relative freedom from direct
supervision," and "the relationship between [Hobson]'s salary and the wages paid to other
employees for the kind of nonexempt work performed by the employee." Id.
Because the allegations do not plainly establish that Hobson was an exempt employee, the
Court cannot dismiss his claims on that basis at this stage. See Shockley v. City ofNewport News,
997 F.2d 18, 28-29(4th Cir. 1993)(holding that a Media Relations Sergeant with duties including
"answering the phone, taking tips, and passing them on to the right department," "screening
calls ... responding to impromptu questions by the press, determining what information should be
released to the press... and developing an ongoing news broadcast" was not subject to the FLSA's
administrative capacity exemption). The Court will therefore deny the Motion as to Hobson's
FLSA Limitations Period
Local 689 also requests that the Court find at this early stage that a two-year statute of
limitations applies to Hobson's FLSA claims and thus rule that on those claims, Hobson may
recover only those unpaid wages dating back to September 16,2019—two years prior to the filing
ofthe original Complaint. Although the FLSA has a two-year statute oflimitations, the limitations
period is extended to three years if the defendant's violation is "willful." 29 U.S.C. § 255(a). In
the Amended Complaint, Hobson alleges willfulness and thus claims unpaid overtime wages
dating back three years, rather than two. See Am. Compl.
55, 59, 66. Local 689 argues that
Hobson's assertion of willfulness is insufficient for the extended statute of limitations to apply to
Because the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, it is the defendant's burden—
not the plaintiffs—to plead it. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)(stating that "[i]n responding to a pleading,
a party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense, including . . . [the] statute
of limitations"); Eriline Co. S.A. v. Johnson,440 F.3d 648, 653(4lh Cir. 2006)("[T]he statute of
limitations is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant generally bears the burden of
affirmatively pleading its existence."). The Court therefore finds no basis to dismiss any parts of
Hobson's FLSA claims based on insufficient pleading of willfulness. See Ford v. Karpathoes,
Inc., No. ELH-14-0824, 2014 WL 6621997, at *9(D. Md. Nov. 20, 2014)(denying, in a federal
and state wage law case, the defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis of a failure to plead
adequate facts as to willfulness "because the question of whether defendants' alleged violations
were 'willful' is not an element of plaintiffs' claims" but rather an "anticipat[ion of] a limitations
defense that defendants may raise").
Even if it were Hobson's burden to plead sufficient facts as to willfulness, he has done so.
An employer's violation of the FLSA is willful if"the employer either knew or showed reckless
disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute." McLaughlin v.
RichlandShoe Co.,486 U.S. 128, 133 (1988). First, Hobson has generally alleged that Local 689
acted willfully in failing to pay him overtime. See Am. Compl.
55, 59, 66. "At the pleading
stage, a plaintiff need not allege willfulness with specificity." Rivera v. Peri & Sons Farms, Inc.,
735 F.3d 892, 902-03 (9th Cir. 2013)(holding that plaintiffs had adequately pleaded willfulness
where they alleged that the defendants' violations were "deliberate, intentional, and willful"); cf
Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b) (stating that even under a heightened pleading standard, "conditions of a
person's mind may be alleged generally"). Second, Hobson specifically alleges that he "addressed
[D]efendant about overtime pay following the organization's lengthy March 5, 2019 charter
meeting," "complained of consistently working over 40 hours a week and not being
compensate^]," and "put Defendant on notice that the organization was in violation of the law"
prior to filing his Complaint with this Court. Am. Compl.
22, 33. These allegations, taken as
true, support the conclusion that Local 689 knew that Hobson was working overtime hours without
overtime compensation that was required by law and thus support a reasonable inference that Local
689 was either knowingly or recklessly disregarding the requirements of the FLSA. The Court
will therefore deny the Motion as to the claim that Hobson's FLSA claim must be limited to hours
worked within two years of the filing of the original Complaint.
As for Hobson's claim for unpaid wages associated with his promotion, Local 689 first
argues that Hobson has failed to allege a plausible violation of the FLSA or the MWHL because
neither statute provides a cause of action for unpaid wages not constituting overtime pay or
otherwise guarantees a non-overtime salary adjustment in conjunction with a promotion. The
Court does not read the Amended Complaint as asserting an FLSA claim on this issue. However,
to the extent that Hobson intended to assert such a claim, and as to the MWHL claim asserted on
this basis, the Court agrees with Local 689 on this point. Where Hobson's alleged entitlement to
regular wages owed in connection with his promotion does not implicate a claim for overtime
wages, and where it is undisputed that Hobson was compensated in excess of the statutory
minimum wage, there can be no violation of the FLSA or the MWHL. See Monahan v. Cnty. of
Chesterfield,95 F.3d 1263, 1280(4th Cir. 1996)(finding no FLSA violation arising from a claim
that the plaintiff was not paid for certain hours as required by an employment agreement because
there was no claim that the plaintiff did not receive overtime pay or was paid below the minimum
wage); see also Turner v. Human Genome Science, Inc., 292 F. Supp. 2d 738, 744(D. Md. 2003)
(holding that "[t]he requirements under the MWHL mirror those of the federal law; as such,
Plaintiffs' claim under the MWHL stands or falls on the success of their claim under the FLSA").
However, Hobson's claim that he was not paid at a higher salary as promised by Local 689
is cognizable under the MWPCL,"the purpose of which is 'to provide a vehicle for employees to
collect, and an incentive for employers to pay, back wages.'" Cunningham v. Feinberg, 107 A.3d
1194, 1202(Md. 2015)(quotingBattagliav. ClinicalPerfusionists, Inc.,658 A.2d 680,686(Md.
1995)). The MWPCL defines wages as "all compensation that is due to an employee for
employment." Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-501(c)(l). The definition includes "a bonus,"
"a commission,""a fringe benefit," "overtime wages," and "any other remuneration promised for
service." Id. § 3-501(c)(2). Thus, under the MWPCL,"what is due an employee who terminates
employment with an employer are wages for work performed before termination, or all
compensation due to the employee as a result of employment including any remuneration, other
than salary, that is promised in exchange for the employee's work." Whiting-Turner Contracting
Co. V. Fitzpatrick, 783 A.2d 667,671 (Md. 2001).
In the Amended Complaint, Hobson alleges that Local 689 promised to provide him with
a "salary increase" in conjunction with his January 2019 promotion, but he "was never paid his
new regular rate of pay." Am. Compl.
40-42, 47, 58. Specifically, Hobson asserts that on
"January 3,2019, Defendant announced the instant promotion ofPlaintiff and "promised verbally
to address[Hobson's] newly increased salary... in the coming week," Am. Compl.KH 12-14; that
"Defendant understood and agreed that [Hobson] expected a salary adjustment from the time of
the initial discussion of promotion," id. f 19; and that in October 2019, Local 689 "agreed to pay
Plaintiff all wages owed" as "compensation for work provided in which he had not been
compensated as agreed," id. ^ 27. Although Local 689 has attached to its Motion a document
purporting to disclaim Hobson's entitlement to a retroactive wage increase, this document was not
signed by Hobson. Taking the allegations in the Amended Complaint as true, where Hobson has
alleged that he was promised an increase in salary as compensation for his new duties when he
accepted the Chief of Staff position,"by agreement effective January 3, 2019," id. 58, and that
Local 689 refused to pay him at the promised rate despite his continued performance, such an
adjustment in salary could fairly construed to be "remuneration promised for service" and thus
constitute "wages" recoverable under the MWPCL. Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-501(c)(2);
see Marshall v. Safeway, 88 A.3d 735, 746 (Md. 2014)(holding that the MWPCL provides an
employee with a cause of action against an employer for both the failure to pay wages on time and
for "the refusal of employers to pay wages lawfully due"). Accordingly, the Court will deny the
Motion as to Hobson's MWPCL claim for unpaid wages promised through a salary adjustment
based on his promotion.
In Count 4 of the Amended Complaint, Hobson alleges a common law claim for unjust
enrichment. According to Hobson, Local 689 was unjustly enriched because it received a benefit
from work performed by Hobson while failing to compensate him "at either his correct regular
rate" or at "an overtime premium rate for hours worked over 40 in a workweek." Am. Compl. Klf
68, 70. Local 689 argues that Hobson's unjust enrichment claim should be dismissed because it
"is predicated entirely on a finding that the Defendant violated the FLSA, MWHL or MWPCL,"
and because "Hobson failed to state a claim" under any of those statutes, the unjust enrichment
claim necessarily must also be dismissed. Mot. Dismiss at 6 n.1. Because the Court has denied
the Motion as to certain FLSA,MWHL,and MWPCL claims,this argument fails. The Court notes
that an unjust enrichment claim relating to the unpaid overtime claims likely cannot succeed
because the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recognized that "Congress
prescribed exclusive remedies in the FLSA for violations of its mandates," such that state common
law claims based on a violation of overtime pay requirements are preempted if they "depend on
establishing that [the defendant] violated the FLSA" and "essentially require the same proof as
claims asserted under the FLSA itself." Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp.^ 508 F.3d 181, 193-94 (4th
Cir. 2007). However, there is no bar to an unjust enrichment claim relating to the claim ofa failure
to pay wages based on a promised wage increase, particularly as an alternative theory in the event
that the evidence does not establish a violation ofthe MWPCL. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(2)(stating
that a claim for relief may include "alternative statements of a claim"); Swedish Civil Aviation
Admin, v. ProjectMgmt. Enterprises, Inc., 190 F. Supp.2d 785,792(D. Md.2002)(in considering
a quasi-contract claim for unjust enrichment, holding that "although [plaintiff] may not recover
under both contract and quasi-contract theories, it is not barred from pleading these theories in the
alternative where the existence of a contract concerning the subject matter is in dispute").
Accordingly, the Motion will be denied as to Count 4.
For the foregoing reasons. Local 689's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 21, is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART. The Motion is granted as to the claim in Count 2 under the MWHL
for unpaid salary based on Hobson's promotion. The Motion is otherwise denied. A separate
Order shall issue.
Date: August 1,2022
THEODORE D. CHU.
United States District Jl
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