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Mitchell v. JCG Industries

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 8, 2013


For Rochell Mitchell, Audrey N. Veasley, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs: Jac A. Cotiguala, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jac A. Cotiguala & Associates, Chicago, IL; Brian Massatt, Law Offices of Jac A. Cotiguala & Associates, Chicago, IL; James B. Zouras, Ryan F Stephan, Stephan, Zouras, LLP, Chicago, IL.

For JCG Industries, Koch Foods, Defendants: Andrew P. Shelby, Stephen Novack, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Courtney D Tedrowe, Novack and Macey, LLP, Chicago, IL.


Robert M. Dow, Jr., United States District Judge.

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Plaintiffs Rochell Mitchell and Audrey Veasley, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, brought this action against Defendants JCG Industries, Inc. (" JCG" ) and Koch Meat Co., Inc. (" Koch" ), as a putative class action for violation of the Illinois Minimum Wage Law (" IMWL" ), [1] 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 105/1 et seq.

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(Count I), and, individually, for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (" FLSA" ), codified at 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (Count II). Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment [57] on the donning and doffing claims asserted in Counts I and II. Defendants' motion requests judgment only as to Plaintiffs' donning and doffing claims, as Plaintiffs' motion for class certification seeks a class relating only to donning and doffing claims. Because a judgment in Defendants' favor likely would preclude class action, the Court has stayed proceedings pending the Court's ruling on the motion for partial summary judgment. Having now considered the relevant statutes and case law, all of the arguments advanced by the parties in the summary judgment briefing, as well as the briefing on Plaintiffs' Rule 56(d) motion and Defendants' motion to stay, the Court grants Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment [57].

I. Background

Plaintiffs Rochell Mitchell and Audrey Veasley worked as poultry processors or " line workers" for JCG and Koch, two Illinois corporations that operate poultry processing plants. Plaintiff Mitchell was employed as a line worker at the poultry processing plant at 4404 W. Berteau, Chicago, between June 6, 2008 and March 20, 2011, while Plaintiff Veasley was employed as a line worker at the same plant between February 7, 2008 and August 11, 2008. Veasley and Mitchell were each paid $7.75 per hour when they were hired. [2] Plaintiffs' shifts were eight and one-half (8.5) hours long and included a one-half (0.5) hour unpaid meal break. [3] Defendants paid their employees from the time a bell sounded and the production line started at the beginning of their scheduled shift until the time it stopped at the end of their scheduled shift. According to Plaintiffs, Defendants required employees to clock-in at least fifteen (15) minutes prior to the start of their scheduled shifts.

As line workers, Plaintiffs were required to don and doff the following items of clothing at the start and end of the workday: a lab jacket, a plastic apron, cut resistant gloves, protective ear plugs, plastic sleeves, guards and a hairnet. Plaintiffs were required to don those items before they reached the production line, at which point their shifts started; Plaintiffs' shifts then ended when they left the line, after which they were required to doff those items. According to Plaintiffs, it typically took approximately 10 to 15 minutes to properly don the items, while Defendants maintain that it takes approximately two minutes or less to don work-related clothing. Defendants required the employees to wear the protective equipment both to protect the product and protect the employees. Defendants forbade employees from wearing the protective equipment outside the plant, in the rest rooms, or in the cafeteria at mealtime, and employees could be disciplined for not properly wearing the protective equipment. Defendants employed a Quality Assurance Team partially to ensure that guidelines were followed.

Approximately halfway through the scheduled shift, at a predetermined times, employees took staggered thirty (30) minute meal breaks. During employees' 30-minute unpaid meal breaks, they had to doff the protective equipment and wash. Defendants did not pay employees for the

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thirty-minute meal break. Plaintiffs maintain that employees spend approximately 10 to 15 minutes of their unpaid 30-minute mealtime to wash their hands, obtain food, and don and doff the protective equipment and that the employees wash their hands in a basin on the same floor as the production floor.

At all times during her employment, Plaintiff Veasley's employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement dated October 8, 2007, between Chicago Joint Board, RWDSU (Union) and JCG, which was in effect from October 8, 2007 through January 15, 2011 (the " 2007 CBA" ). Article XVII of the 2007 CBA states:

This agreement once signed by the duly authorized officers of the Company [i.e., Defendant JCG] and the Union, shall remain in full force and effect though October 8, 2010, and shall automatically be renewed on the same terms and conditions for consecutive one (1) year periods, unless sixty (60) days prior to the expiration of this Agreement, or any extension thereof, either party gives written notice by Registered Mail to the other party of termination or modification of this Agreement.

Neither the Union nor JCG gave written notice by registered mail to the other party of the termination or modification of the 2007 CBA within sixty days of the expiration of the 2007 CBA (and thus it was automatically renewed).

Plaintiff Mitchell's employment was governed by the 2007 CBA from the start date of her employment (i.e., June 6, 2008) until January 15, 2011. For the remaining 60 days, her employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement dated January 16, 2011, between Production Workers Union of Chicago and Vicinity Local 707 and JCG, which was and is in effect from January 16, 2011 to January 18, 2014 (the " 2011 CBA" and, collectively with the 2007 CBA, the " CBAs" ). The 2007 CBA states that " [e]mployees will not be compensated anytime for donning and doffing or washing outside of line time, unless the Company decides otherwise." The 2011 CBA states that " [u]nless otherwise mutually agreed, the regular work week shall be Monday through Friday from line start time to end time." The Letter of Understanding that is attached as page 27 to the 2011 CBA states: " under the language of the collective bargaining agreement and the custom or practice at the Berteau facility under the agreement, no additional minutes are to be paid to those employees for the time they spend donning and doffing gear."

On September 27, 2010, Plaintiffs filed their complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, and on October 25, 2010, Defendants filed their Notice of Removal pursuant to 28 US.C. § § 1331,1367 and 1441. Plaintiffs allege that they regularly worked more than forty hours per week without proper overtime compensation by working before the start of their shifts, through unpaid meal breaks, and after their scheduled shifts.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and " set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A genuine issue of material fact exists if " the ...

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