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Williams v. TGI Fridays Inc.

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

February 23, 2018

GABRIELLE WILLIAMS and TONYA O'DONOVAN, on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly situated, known and unknown, Plaintiffs,
v.
TGI FRIDAYS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Gabrielle Williams and Tonya O'Donovan are two former employees of TGI Friday's (TGIF). On behalf of a putative class of ex-employees, the plaintiffs allege that TGIF violated the Illinois Wage Payment Collection Act (IWPCA) by failing to compensate them for unused paid vacation benefits they contend they had accrued. Williams and O'Donovan have moved to certify a class of similarly situated plaintiffs. TGIF has moved for summary judgment on Williams and O'Donovan's claim. TGIF has also asked the Court to exclude the plaintiffs' expert witness.

         Background

         TGIF operated restaurants in Illinois until November 2015. Between 2008 and 2015, it employed over 9, 000 hourly employees who no longer work for the company. Two of those employees-Williams and O'Donovan-contend that TGIF violated the IWPCA by refusing to compensate them, upon their termination, for earned but unused vacation pay.

         In 2012, TGIF amended its vacation policy by changing the date on which it began to measure an employee's annual hours: previously it was the date the employee was hired; henceforth it would be the first day of the fiscal year. But, on the substantive points, the pre-2012 and post-2012 policies otherwise concur: an employee is entitled to vacation pay in the current year if, at the end of the previous year, that employee was still employed and had worked in excess of 1, 300 hours in that year. Williams worked at TGIF from March 18, 2010 to April 14, 2012. She worked 1, 032 hours in her first year of employment and 275 hours in her second year of employment. O'Donovan worked at TGIF from January 10, 2014 to April 18, 2015. She worked 1, 781 hours in her first year of employment and 466 hours during the second year. Because O'Donovan worked more than 1, 300 hours in her first year, she was eligible for paid vacation in her second year. After she left TGIF, she was compensated for the unused portion of that vacation time but not for vacation time that she contends accrued during her second year of work for TGIF.

         Williams contends that TGIF violated the IWPCA by failing to compensate her for vacation time she claims to have earned during her tenure at TGIF. O'Donovan contends TGIF violated the IWPCA by failing to pay her for paid vacation she contends she accrued during her second year at TGIF. O'Donovan also alleges that TGIF improperly delayed in paying her the vacation compensation she was owed, but that claim is not at issue in the present motion for partial summary judgment.

         Discussion

         TGIF has moved for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' claims except as noted above. The moving party is entitled to summary judgment when there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The plaintiffs contend that TGIF wrongly deprived them of earned vacation benefits when it concluded they did not meet the program's requirements and were ineligible for paid vacation. Within this contention by plaintiffs are two assumptions that TGIF challenges: (1) the plaintiffs were eligible to participate in TGIF's vacation program in the first place, and (2) the plaintiffs earned the paid vacation time in question, rather than being potentially eligible to receive it as an incentive. The Court does not address the second assumption because it concludes that TGIF is entitled to summary judgment given the infirmity of the first assumption. The plaintiffs were not eligible for the vacation pay in question to begin with, so TGIF never owed them vacation pay that would give rise to an IWPCA claim.

         The IWPCA requires an employer to pay an employee all final compensation upon the employee's departure, 820 ILCS 115/5 (2018), but "[it] does not apply if there is no final compensation to collect." Covinsky v. Hannah Marine Corp., 388 Ill.App.3d 478, 487, 903 N.E.2d 422, 430 (2009). "Whether an employee [is entitled to] paid vacation in the first place depends on the terms of the employer's employment policy." McCaster v. Darden Rests., Inc., 845 F.3d 794, 798 (7th Cir. 2017).

         TGIF operates a vacation policy in which eligible employees are entitled to paid vacation. To be eligible for paid vacation in the upcoming year, an individual must have worked more than 1, 300 hours in the previous year and must be employed with TGIF when the vacation hours for the upcoming year are disbursed. D.E. 77, Def.'s Ex. 4 (Pre-2012 Carlson Policy); D.E. 77, Def.'s Ex. 5 (Post-2012 Carlson Policy). The issue before the Court is whether the plaintiffs-who worked fewer than 1, 300 hours during the relevant years, were no longer employed when the vacation benefits were disbursed, or both-were eligible to participate in TGIF's paid vacation program.

         In McCaster, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment against the plaintiff, finding that the plaintiff did not have a viable IWPCA claim because she was never eligible for vacation compensation as a part-time employee. Id. at 799. Darden Restaurants, the employer, extended vacation benefits only to full-time employees, which it defined as employees who worked at least thirty hours per week. Id. at 797. The plaintiff in Darden argued that she earned vacation hours as a part-time employee and that Darden failed to compensate her for these hours. Id. at 797-98. The court concluded that the terms of Darden's policy excluded part-time employees like the plaintiff from participation in the program altogether, so the court affirmed the entry of summary judgment against the plaintiff. Id.

         TGIF contends that the plaintiffs' claim is foreclosed by McCaster. Like the employer in McCaster, TGIF has eligibility requirements for its paid vacation program. According to TGIF, the plaintiffs did not meet those requirements, so they are not entitled to the vacation pay they seek. Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. at 11-13. The plaintiffs argue that McCaster is inapposite, because TGIF does not distinguish between full-time and part-time employees in its eligibility requirements. Pls.' Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 11-12.

         The plaintiffs' response misses the point. In McCaster, the Seventh Circuit did not emphasize that full-time employees were eligible for vacation benefits, it emphasized that there were eligibility requirements for vacation benefits. An employer is free to set eligibility requirements for the vacation policy employed beyond whether an employee is part-time or full-time. As the court emphasized, an employee may only present an IWPCA claim for paid vacation "earned in accordance with such contract of employment or policy." McCaster, 845 F.3d at 798 (quoting 820 ILCS 115/5) (emphasis in original). The terms of the IWPCA do not constrain an employer from drafting a vacation contract or ...


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