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Regan v. HDR Engineering, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

November 12, 2019

HELEN REGAN, an individual, Plaintiff,
HDR ENGINEERING, INC., a Nebraska Corporation, Defendant.




         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 39.) The motion has been fully briefed and oral argument was held on October 21, 2019. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motion.


         This action is brought by Helen Regan, a former employee of HDR Engineering, Inc. (HDR), under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (FLSA), and Idaho state law. Regan alleges HDR unlawfully refused to pay overtime wages to her and other HDR employees, and wrongfully discharged her from her employment in retaliation for reporting unpaid overtime wages. (Dkt. 9.) HDR's motion for partial summary judgment seeks dismissal of the FLSA retaliatory discharge claim on the grounds that: 1) there is no evidence of a causal link between Regan's complaints regarding overtime pay and the termination of her employment and 2) Regan's termination was based on a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason. (Dkt. 39.) The relevant facts regarding this dispute are set forth below in the light most favorable to Regan, the non-moving party.

         HDR is an engineering firm, incorporated in Nebraska with offices located worldwide, which provides a wide variety of engineering services to its clients in connection with various projects. Regan was employed in the Visualization Department of HDR's Boise, Idaho office from March 23, 2015, until May 4, 2017. (Dkt. 9 at 2.) The visualization department produces three-dimensional renderings of proposed engineering projects as an optional “add on” service that HDR clients may request. Regan alleges that she, and other HDR employees, frequently worked more than 40-hours in a work week, accruing hours of overtime, for which they were not paid.

         HDR employees allocate their time spent during a workday to certain classifications of activities or billing codes. Regan's supervisors were Denise Townsend and Matthew Craft. Regan asserts Townsend and Craft pressured her and other employees to bill a specified number of hours for tasks on projects to stay within the project's estimated costs when, in reality, the tasks actually took more time to complete. As a result, Regan alleges, she worked time off the clock for which she was not paid. The complaint identifies particular projects where, Regan alleges, the number of hours allotted for each task was insufficient to complete the work. Regan claims she billed only for the allotted amount of time, even though she worked more hours to complete the tasks. Additionally, Regan alleges HDR employees were required to attend meetings, i.e. brown bags, all-staff meetings, CEO updates, and performance reviews, during work hours which they could not record or bill and for which they were not paid.

         On August 12, 2016, Regan met with HDR's Idaho Vice President, Kate Eldridge, and told Eldridge that Townsend and Craft had been pressuring her to charge less work time than she actually spent on projects. During that meeting, Regan alleges she explained to Eldridge the details of the projects and why she had worked more hours than allotted. On August 15, 2016, Eldridge informed Townsend and Craft of Regan's report of unpaid overtime (the FLSA report).[1]

         Regan alleges that, after August 15, 2016, Townsend's and Craft's demeanor towards her changed significantly and she was subjected to unfair, negative treatment from Townsend and Craft in the form of negative attitudes, harassing comments, unfair criticism of Regan's work performance, micro-management of Regan on the job, negative performance reviews, and mandated personal time off (PTO). Examples of the negative treatment alleged in the complaint include: Craft reforecasting projects away from Regan, not assigning Regan as a project lead on any new projects, and assigning Regan to work almost exclusively on projects Craft was managing. Regan alleges Craft directed at least one other team member to not assign work to Regan; directed a junior team member to review Regan's work when Craft was out of the office; and, at the end of each day, Craft would “humiliate” Regan in front of her co-workers by requiring Regan to show Craft what she had done that day, explain what the next steps were, and give an estimate of time required to complete the task.

         Regan also alleges in early 2017, Townsend and Craft increased her planned utilization rate from 70% to 90%, making her the only full time employee to have a utilization rate of 90%. HDR sets utilization goals for each employee annually. “An employee's utilization rate is the percentage of billable hours charged to total hours charged.” (Dkt. 9 at ¶ 20.) Regan alleges certain time could be charged towards an employee's utilization rate and other time “counted against” the rate. The utilization rate was a factor in HDR's performance matrix that was used to decide who would be terminated from the work force. Regan alleges Eldridge, Townsend, and Craft intentionally increased her planned utilization rate after she made her report to justify their decision to terminate her employment.

         Another example of retaliation alleged in the complaint relates to Regan's application for tuition assistance to attend educational courses at Boise State University's “Games, Interactive Media, and Mobile” (GIMM) Program. Regan was approved for the program subject to certain requirements. The parties dispute, however, certain material facts concerning when the application was approved and when the conditions for approval were imposed, both in relation to when Regan reported the unpaid overtime to Eldridge on August 12, 2016. These disputed facts are material to whether HDR retaliated against Regan, because of her report of unpaid overtime.

         On January 31, 2017, Regan met with Zelma Miller, who worked in HDR's human resources department, and reported that Townsend and Craft were retaliating against her for her overtime complaints, treating her unfairly, impugning her character to her co-workers, and were trying to get rid of her for reporting the unpaid overtime.

         On May 4, 2017, Regan was terminated from her employment with HDR. Regan filed the initial complaint in this matter on August 17, 2017. An amended complaint was filed on September 28, 2017, raising three claims: 1) wage and hour violations (unpaid overtime) in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 207; 2) retaliatory discharge in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3); and 3) unpaid wages under Idaho law, Idaho Code § 45-601 et seq. (Dkt. 9.) HDR's motion for partial summary judgment seeks dismissal of Count Two, the FLSA retaliation claim. (Dkt. 39.)


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates “there is no genuine issue of any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. County of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). Evidence includes “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits....” DeVries v. DeLaval, Inc., 2006 WL 1582179, at *5 (D. Idaho June 1, 2006), report and recommendation adopted, 2006 WL 2325176 (D. Idaho Aug. 9, 2006).

         The moving party initially bears the burden to show no material fact is in dispute and a favorable judgment is due as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party must identify facts showing a genuine issue for trial to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Cline v. Indus. Maint. Eng'g & Contracting Co., 200 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2000). The Court must grant summary judgment if the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.


         1. FLSA Retaliation -- ...

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