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Rogers v. AT&T Services, Inc.

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

September 3, 2014

PAUL ROGERS, MARK LEVELL, and COLLEEN TALLEY, on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated Plaintiffs
v.
AT&T SERVICES, INC. and LORI BOZADA, Defendants. Known and unknown, Plaintiffs,

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY ST. EVE, District Judge.

Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and the defendants' motion for sanctions. For the reasons explained below, the court: (1) grants the defendants' summary-judgment motion in part, and denies it in part; (2) denies the plaintiffs' summary-judgment motion; and (3) denies the defendants' motion for sanctions.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Paul Rogers, Mark Levell, Mary Colleen Talley, and Corey DalCerro worked for defendant AT&T Services, Inc. ("AT&T") as "Problem Determination Managers" ("PDMs"). They allege that AT&T and Lori Bozada, their supervisor, violated federal and state wage laws by failing to pay them overtime.[1] The parties dispute: (1) whether the plaintiffs are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act's ("FLSA") overtime requirements, see 29 U.S.C. § 213(a); (2) whether the defendants willfully violated the FLSA, see id. at § 255(a); and (3) whether Bozada was their "employer" as the FLSA defines that term, see id. at § 207(a)(1).[2]

I. AT&T "Outage Calls"

AT&T utilizes a large network of computer systems to carry out its business (e.g., mobile-phone sales, billing, etc.). (Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Facts ("Defs.' Stmt.") ¶ 4.) The software that performs these functions typically consists of: (1) "front-end" applications (e.g., the electronic form that the customer completes to order a phone); (2) "back-end" applications (e.g., software that checks inventory to determine what phones are available); and (3) "middleware" applications. (Id. at ¶ 5.) The middleware applications direct the flow of information between the front-end and back-end applications. (Id.) AT&T employs information-technology ("IT") professionals to troubleshoot "outages" - a general term describing any problem with an application's performance. (Id. at ¶ 6.) The company maintains an electronic alert system that detects outages as they arise and automatically notifies relevant AT&T personnel. (Id. at ¶ 8; Pls.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. of Facts ("Pls.' Stmt.") ¶¶ 33, 52.) Once detected, AT&T's IT professionals convene an "outage call" - a teleconference (often in conjunction with an electronic chat-room session) during which the IT professionals attempt to identify and correct the problem. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 9-10; see also id. at ¶ 6 (IT professionals are "generally assigned to teams, ' which are responsible for maintaining specific applications.").) Outage calls vary in length - from a few minutes to several hours - and they are often loud and complex. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

II. The PDM's Role on Outage Calls

In 2006, AT&T's Architecture and Common Services Integration Availability Management Team ("ACSI Team") created the PDM position to assist with urgent ("Priority 1" or "P1") outage calls involving middleware applications. (Id. at ¶ 12; see also id. at ¶ 7 ("AT&T designates the most impactful and urgent of functionality losses as Priority 1, ' or P1, ' outages.").) The PDM job description states as follows:

Become part of an elite group of individuals whose primary focus is to improve Availability and MTTR ["mean time to restoral"] for Middleware Services and its client applications. More specifically, as part of the Middleware Support and Testing - Application Response Team your responsibilities will include managing the Problem Determination process. This will require enhancement of the problem determination methodology and process for Middleware products and environments. This methodology and process will be used as part of the overall effort to ensure that Middleware services and environments have high availability and to ensure that when there are outages, recovery is swift and complete. As part of the role, the manager will be required to participate in: Priority 1 outage calls, Progressive Service Assurance Process (PSAP) meetings and be an integral part of the Middleware Root Cause Analysis Team (RCAT). This is a high visibility position that regularly reports to upper management and will be required to participate in an on-call rotation.

(Id. at ¶ 13; see also id. at ¶ 20.) The parties have not indicated whether AT&T requires applicants to have any particular educational background.[3] AT&T pays PDMs a salary - the plaintiffs received between $80, 000 and $119, 000 per year - and categorizes the position as exempt from the FLSA's overtime requirements. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.)

If the IT professionals responding to the problem determine that it qualifies as a "P1" outage, they contact a PDM to join the outage call. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶¶ 10, 53-54.) The PDMs perform essentially two functions on the call: (1) they document what the IT professionals are doing to resolve the problem in order to notify AT&T's management; and (2) they "facilitate" the outage call.

A. Outage-Call Documentation

During an outage call, PDMs ask the IT professionals to describe the problem and the steps they are taking to resolve it. (See Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 17 ("Plaintiffs would have to find out from a Technical Support Team what the team was learning from the logs so they could report that information."); Pls.' Stmt. (Rogers) ¶¶ 6, 21 (Rogers relied on the IT professionals because he did not have access to the computer logs); id. at ¶ 39 (During outages, "the PDMs did not possess any ability to log on to a server, nor any ability to look into log files.").)[4] They then enter that information into AT&T's electronic Support Tracking Tool ("STT"), from which they send notifications to AT&T management. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 10; Pls.' Stmt. (Rogers) ¶ 3.) The PDM completes some of the fields on the electronic STT form by selecting options from drop-down menus. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 12; see also ACSI STT User Documentation, attached as Ex. 2 to Bozada Dep., at 7-10.) The form also includes fields in which the PDM must describe the outage in laymen's terms. (See Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 18; Pls.' Stmt. of Add'l Facts No. 12; see also ACSI STT User Documentation at 7-11.) Rogers testified that he would "frequently" copy-and-paste information about the outage into the STT form from messages the IT professionals had posted on an electronic message board before he had joined the call. (Pls.' Stmt. (Rogers) ¶ 24.) Bozada required the PDMs that she supervised to send an initial notification to AT&T's management within 10 minutes after receiving an outage notification. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 10.) After the initial notification, the PDM sends notifications to AT&T management at intervals set forth in company guidelines. (See Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 9; see also ASCI Availability Mgmt. - PDM, Roles & Responsibilities ("PDM Roles & Responsibilities"), attached as Ex. H to Defs.' Stmt., at Bates Nos. 00000034-35 (notification guidelines).)

B. Outage-Call "Facilitation"

The parties agree that the following testimony accurately describes the PDM's participation on outage calls:

Q. And what do you take it to mean when you have heard that a PDM facilitates an outage call.
A. To me that means that they run the call; that they keep it going kind of and make sure all the questions that are asked are answered from whoever needs to answer them. If one of the technical people said that they needed the DBA group on the call, the PDM would say, you know, I heard so and so say we needed DBA group. We need to get them on here. So kind of, you know, connecting any loose ends and keeping the call going, that's my definition of facilitate the call.

(Belloumini Dep., attached as Ex. B to Pls.' Stmt., at 30; see also id. at 46; Talley Dep. at 43-45; Bozada Decl., attached as Ex. F to Defs.' Stmt., ¶ 16; PDM Roles & Responsibilities at Bates No. 00000032 ("Ensure back-up support is brought to call if those working the problem seem to be struggling.").) PDMs also "record" "action items" that someone on the call must investigate at a later time. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 6.) The technical experts on the call may suggest action items for the PDM to record. (See id.; see also Pls.' Stmt. (Dal Cerro) ¶ 7.) Or else, the PDM may suggest an action item on his or her own initiative. (See Defs.' Stmt. of Add'l Facts No. 9 ("PDMs were also responsible for keeping a call moving forward by suggesting additional participants for the call, and suggesting action items based on information they received from technical experts.").)

AT&T provides written guidance regarding the PDM's role on outage calls. A "Call Checklist" describes information that the PDM must obtain "[d]uring [r]esolution." (See PDM Roles & Responsibilities at Bates Nos. 00000032-33.) AT&T has also established outage-resolution benchmarks in the form of a flow chart - the "ACSI P1 Problem Management Methodology Process" - that it requires ACSI Team members (including PDMs) to follow. (See Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 13; ACSI P1 Problem Management Methodology Process, attached as Ex. 9 to Bozada Dep.) This document requires the ACSI Team to engage more sophisticated "tiers" of technical support after certain intervals if the team has not yet resolved the outage. (See ACSI P1 Problem Management Methodology Process ("Time Elapsed is 30 mins since problem occurred" - "Can source of problem be identified" - "NO" - "Tier I support and/or MAPS engages next level of support (Tier II)" - "Time elapsed is 60 min[s] since problem occurred - "Is outage resolved...."); see also Pls.' Stmt. ¶¶ 34-36, 45-50.).) In 2010, Bozada encouraged PDMs to "focus more closely" on the "Methodology" as a way to reduce overall outage time. (See Pls.' Stmt. ¶¶ 29-30.)

Bozada joined a substantial percentage of the outage calls that the plaintiffs attended - the plaintiffs' estimates range from 80% to 98% of all such calls. (See Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 8 (Rogers: 80%-90%; Talley: 98%; Dal Cerro: 95%; Levell: 80%.).) Rogers, Talley, and Levell testified that Bozada used AT&T's electronic messaging system to send them questions to ask on the call. (See Pls.' Stmt. (Rogers) ¶ 25 ("Bozada would specify questions she wanted Rogers to ask, action items that she wanted Rogers to address and how she wanted Rogers' verbiage to appear in the notifications; and would ask Rogers to correct certain verbiage."); Pls.' Stmt. (Talley) ¶ 24 (similar); Pls.' Stmt. (Levell) ¶ 21 (similar).) At other times, she would participate on the calls directly. (Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 64; Pls.' Stmt. (Rogers) ¶ 25.) Amy Belluomini, an AT&T IT professional who participated on outage calls with the plaintiffs and Bozada, testified that Bozada would "dominate what the PDM was supposed to be doing... almost on every occasion that she came with the call." (Belluomini Dep. at 57; see also Pls.' Stmt. ¶ 64; Defs.' Stmt. of Add'l Facts No. 11 (Bozada "took over" outage calls when she ...


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