A health care worker’s suit alleging she was paid a lower hourly rate and for fewer hours than another employee because of her race survived a partial motion for summary judgment after a federal judge found the plaintiff plausibly asserted a claim of race discrimination.
“[B]ased on the evidence presented, a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff was discriminated against due to her race in violation of § 1981, and Defendants are therefore not entitled to summary judgment on this claim,” U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. wrote.
Alston authored the opinion for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Osman v. Youngs Healthcare Inc. (023-3-064).
Nasra Osman worked for Youngs Healthcare from 2016 until late 2019, serving as a personal care aide. Osman, who is a Black woman, “cared for one patient … who she had previously provided care for through another healthcare agency.”
Osman began working for Youngs Healthcare at a rate of $11.25 per hour, which was raised to $11.50 in 2018 and $11.75 in 2019. At her previous health care agency, Osman was paid $11.50 per hour.
Per the opinion, Osman claimed she worked 96 hours per week for the defendants, working 24-hour days but was only paid for 12 hours of work. Osman further claimed “a similarly situated Korean PCA” worked the same shifts for the same patient yet was paid for 16 hours at a rate of $12 per hour.
Osman filed suit alleging the defendants “intentionally and willfully violated the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act” and discriminated against her in regards to her compensation on the basis of her race and ethnicity.
The defendants filed a partial motion for summary judgment in October 2022, which Osman responded to with an affidavit in opposition on the same day.
The defendants sought partial summary judgment in regard to two issues.
First, they claimed Osman did not suffer an adverse employment action and could not “make out a prima facie case of racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.”
Secondly, the defendants said § 1981 applies only to adverse treatment in comparison to white employees; since Osman didn’t claim she was treated worse than any similarly situated white employees they were entitled to summary judgment.
But Alston said there was a genuine dispute of material fact whether Osman could satisfy her § 1981 claim.
Osman hadn’t offered direct evidence of discrimination so the judge analyzed the claim under the McDonnell-Douglas framework, which finds a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination, then the burden shifts to the defendant to prove they acted for a nondiscriminatory reason.
“Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff claims she was paid a lower hourly rate and paid for fewer hours than a similarly situated Korean employee,” Alston wrote. “Discrimination in compensation, such as what is described, qualifies as an adverse employment action.”
Having found that Osman satisfied the first three elements of her prima facie case, Alston then rebuffed the defendants’ second argument.
“Remarkably, Defendants assert that Plaintiff still cannot establish a prima facie case because she does not allege that she was treated any less than a similarly situated white employee,” he wrote. “At best, this is very strained reading of the statutory framework preventing workplace discrimination when it comes to the payment of wages and is not supported by any relevant caselaw.”
Rather, Osman satisfied her prima facie case by asserting the similarly situated Korean employee was paid higher wages due to her race with the defendants not arguing that the employees were similarly situated.
“Defendants do not suggest anything to support the proposition that the difference between Plaintiff’s pay and [the other employee’s] pay was due to a legitimate non-discriminatory reason,” Alston wrote, denying summary judgment on this claim.
The defendants also moved for summary judgment on the issue that Osman couldn’t claim back pay as part of her compensatory damages, arguing the statute “explicitly excludes back pay from compensatory damages.”
Alston denied this motion for partial summary judgment as moot; Osman didn’t argue that she was entitled to back pay and “it does not affect the matter at issue in the instant case.”
A similar motion by the defendants related to punitive damages was denied for the same reason.
Next, the defendants argued that, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, some of Osman’s claims are “time barred.”
Alston pointed out that FLSA violations are “subject to a two-year statute of limitations,” while willful violations are extended to three years.
“[S]ince Plaintiff filed her complaint on May 24, 2021 … the action would be limited to damages accruing from May 24, 2018, unless Plaintiff’s claims are tolled by the Tolling Agreement,” the judge wrote.
Alston further noted that the fact that the defendants entered a tolling agreement with the Department of Labor in April 2020 is undisputed, as well as the fact that Osman is not a named party in the tolling agreement.
“This court concludes, based on well settled principles of Virginia law, that there is no material dispute as to Plaintiff’s status as an intended beneficiary under the Tolling Agreement,” Alston wrote. “Plaintiff cites no case that supports her expansive interpretation of the Tolling Agreement.”
Alston granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on this claim and limited damages to claims beginning three years before the filing of the complaint, which extends back to May 24, 2018.
Editor’s note: The version of this story that appeared in the March 6, 2023, print issue misidentified the case as VLW No. 021-3-064.