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Friend v. Aegis Communications Group, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

September 9, 2014

MANDI J. FRIEND, Plaintiff,
v.
AEGIS COMMUNICATIONS GROUP, LLC and AEGIS USA, INC., Defendants.

ORDER

DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 61). After careful consideration and for the following reasons, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 61).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's "More Definite Second Amended Complaint For Damages" ("Complaint") (Doc. No. 34) alleges fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation in employment negotiations (Count I), negligent misrepresentation (Count II), forced labor (18 U.S.C. ยง 1589; 1595) (Count III), unjust enrichment (Count IV), and breach of contract (Count V) against her employers Aegis Communications Group, LLC ("ACG") and Aegis USA, Inc.[1]

Aegis USA and ACG operate call centers in various locations around the United States. Plaintiff began working for ACG in approximately 2008 as a customer service representative at its Joplin, Missouri call center. Plaintiff took a leave of absence in August 2011 from her employment to participate in a Cross-Shoring Program. Defendants contend the Cross-Shoring program was intended to be a mutually-beneficial opportunity for employees to obtain additional training and gain experience living, working and studying abroad, while also offering American clients access to American employees at a lower cost to clients. Plaintiff contends it was developed in response to the global market for outsourced customer service and intended to provide cheaper services to a client. Nonetheless, ACG permitted volunteer employees who were selected after an interview and ranking process to take a leave of absence from their jobs at ACG to participate in the program.

Aegis Aspire operated Aegis Global Academy ("Academy") in India and contracted with ACG to operate the Cross-Shoring Program.[2] Specifically, ACG entered a contract with Aegis Aspire to provide services under the Cross-Shoring Program. The "Master Support Agreement" was entered into on July 1, 2011 and stated the Company [ACG] requires Support in training and development of their employees and the Academy [Aegis Aspire] is willing and able to provide such Support. As set forth in the agreement, Support to be provided by Academy included, but was not limited to: "providing training and people development support to the employees of the Company on a residency programme basis, which would include without limitation, following: (1) class room training; (2) medical facilities; (3) practical training; (4) stipend; (5) mobile phone allowance; (6) administrative services; (7) transportation; (8) printing and stationary services; (9) any other auxiliary services."

Employees from Aegis Aspire prepared materials that described the Cross-Shoring Program and subsequently sent the materials to ACG management in Texas to be used to introduce the program to ACG employees. ACG management then created and distributed a basic flyer, based on materials and information provided by Aegis Aspire, to local HR managers at call centers around the United States, including Joplin, Mo. The flyer promised participants a $100 monthly allowance and that participants would receive a $2, 000 savings payment at the end of the program period. The flyer references "Aegis" several times but does not identify a specific Aegis entity.

The Cross-Shoring program was a one year program that took place in India. ACG provided transportation to and from India. Aegis Aspire provided the meals, lodging, internet access, pre-paid cellular phone, Indian-based health insurance and transportation in India. Aegis Aspire provided the $100 per month stipend to cover miscellaneous expenses and also provided the educational component to the participants through a contract it had with Cornell University. Participants who completed the program in good standing were informed they would receive a complimentary Indian vacation excursion from Aegis Aspire.

ACG informed participants they would receive a $2, 000 pre-tax bonus at the end of the program period and would return to a position with ACG in the United States. Participants were also told they would be placed in the "ACE Blue" supervisor training program. Plaintiff's leave of absence agreement stated "provided that Employee has successfully completed the one year study program and has remained in good standing throughout such one year period, Employee's return to work at Aegis and Employee's employment with Aegis will be reinstated as if he[3] had never left employment with Aegis." The Agreement further states "Good Standing' for purposes of this Agreement shall mean Employee completed the study program without any infraction of policy or any unexcused absences, as determined by the Company in its sole discretion and such determination shall be deemed final and binding between the parties." If the participant did not complete the program the bonus would be retained by ACG to cover the cost of the participant's travel to and from India.

Plaintiff saw a flyer posted on a cork board at the Joplin call center and applied for the program. Initially Plaintiff was not interviewed. Approximately two months later she was approached regarding her interest in the program. Plaintiff indicated she was still interested and had a short phone call with ACG's program recruiter. Plaintiff was able to ask any questions she had, she discussed the program details with the recruiter and then was told she was accepted into the program. Plaintiff was told she would be required to work and then attend class after her work hours.

After Plaintiff agreed to participate in the program, she was given the "Exchange Student Handbook." She then traveled to Dallas to meet the group that would be traveling to India. While in Dallas, Plaintiff met with ACG staff regarding the cross-shoring program. Plaintiff was given the opportunity to ask any question she had regarding the program. Plaintiff signed a leave of absence agreement with ACG on August 11, 2011. Plaintiff subsequently traveled to India and had approximately $4, 000 when she arrived.

While participating in the Cross-Shoring Program, the participants were required to work in an Indian call center. Plaintiff voiced complaints to the HR manager in ACG's Joplin call center while she was in India regarding the Cross-Shoring program. Plaintiff's principal complaints were the pay and the food. Specifically, she complained the pay was insufficient and she did not like the food. Plaintiff's complaints were forwarded to ACG's Vice President of Human Resources and ACG's liaison for the Cross-Shoring Program, who were both in Texas. Plaintiff also complained to Aegis Aspire in India.

While in India, Plaintiff declined to show up for work one day because of frustration with the program. Plaintiff also missed work when she was sick. However, Plaintiff did not receive any adverse consequence for missing work while in India. Plaintiff contends she asked to leave India two months after she arrived because it was not what she agreed to. She also contends that she told employees in India that she wanted to go home. Plaintiff alleges she was told she would be fired from her job in Joplin if she left early. Plaintiff completed the program and upon her return from India, in August 2012, she was accepted into the ACE program and then subsequently began ACE Blue training for supervisors with ACG.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper if, viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp., v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law if they can establish there is "no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Once the moving party has established a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot rest on allegations or denials but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 248.

A question of material fact is not required to be resolved conclusively in favor of the party asserting its existence. Rather, all that is required is sufficient evidence supporting the factual dispute that would require a jury to resolve the differing versions of truth at trial. Id. at 248-249. Further, determinations of credibility and the weight to give evidence are the functions of ...


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