Conclusory Allegations, Even When Admitted by the Opposing Party, Deemed Insufficient to Defeat Summary Judgment in FLSA Dispute

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Recently in Costello v. Molari, Inc. (Memo and Order, November 20, 2019), the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted an employer summary judgment because the employee failed to show that the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") applied to the employer. The employee did not identify evidence that would create a dispute of material fact as to whether the employer was engaged in interstate commerce. 

For the FLSA to apply to an employer, the Court explained, that the employer must be an "[e]nterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce" and any individuals bringing claims must fit within the applicable definition of "employees." The employee must "prove a sufficient nexus to interstate commerce as an essential element of the claim" (quoting Martinez v. Petrenko (1st Cir. 2015)).

The employer was a temporary employment agency. The employee resigned from employment and brought a wage and hour claim under the FLSA, alleging in its complaint that the employer was "at all relevant times an 'enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce' as defined in [sic] 29 U.S.C. § 203(s)" and that the employee was "at all relevant times an employee 'engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce' as defined in 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)." The employee's complaint did not allege specific facts in support of its allegation that the employer was engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.

In response to these allegations, the employer stated in an amended answer: "The defendants object to the use of the term 'Relevant Period' which has neither been identified nor defined with any specificity within the Plaintiffs [sic] Complaint. Admit the remainder." In its motion for summary judgment, the employer submitted evidence showing that it was not engaged in interstate commerce and the employee failed to point to evidence in the record that raised a dispute of material fact.

The employee argued that the employer should be denied summary judgment because it had admitted in its answer to being covered by the FLSA. The Court acknowledged that in general, admissions in pleadings are binding; however, the Court also noted that it is not required to adopt legal conclusions simply because the other side did not object to them. In addition, the Court explained that "conclusory allegations that merely parrot the relevant legal standard are disregarded" (quoting Martinez) (internal quotations omitted).

Since the employee did not allege facts to support that the employer was engaged in interstate commerce and the employer submitted evidence to show that they were not so engaged, the Court concluded that the employee's allegations were conclusory and simply tracked the applicable legal standard and it granted summary judgment to the employer. This decision highlights the importance of crafting pleadings that contain a sufficient factual basis to support the legal conclusions that they make. 

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