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Yihui Weng v. Washington Univ.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division

April 28, 2015

SHERRY YIHUI WENG, Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant/Respondent

Page 335

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. Honorable David L. Dowd.

         For Plaintiff/Appellant: Kevin J. Kasper, St. Charles, MO.

         For Defendant/Respondent: Mark J. Bremer, Kevin Anthony Sullivan, St. Louis, MO.

          OPINION

Page 336

          Sherri B. Sullivan, P.J.

          Introduction

         Sherry Yihui Weng (Appellant) appeals from the trial court's summary judgment entered in favor of Washington University (Respondent) on her five-count petition. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         From January 3, 2010 to January 31, 2012, Appellant was employed by Respondent in its School of Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology, as a research biologist in the laboratory of Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen (Dr. Chen). After the cessation of her employment, Appellant filed a five-count petition against Respondent alleging in various ways that she had worked overtime without time-and-a-half pay as required by law and she was wrongfully discharged for blowing the whistle on Dr. Chen's actions violating public policy and the law. Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. This appeal follows. Additional facts will be adduced as necessary in the discussion of the points on appeal.

         Points on Appeal

         In her first point, Appellant claims the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Respondent on Count I of her petition for unpaid overtime pursuant to Missouri's Minimum Wage Law, Sections 290.500 et seq.,[1] because Appellant was not an exempt employee under the learned professional exemption in that Respondent's classification of her as exempt is irrelevant, and unresolved material issues of fact remain as to whether Appellant exercised independent discretion and judgment in her work.

         In her second point, Appellant asserts the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Respondent on Count II of her petition for wrongful discharge because it erroneously determined Appellant cannot show a causal connection between her whistleblowing and the ending of her employment, in that she was terminated immediately after her boss learned of her complaint.

         In her third point, Appellant maintains the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Respondent on Count II of her petition for wrongful discharge because it erred in finding Appellant cannot prove damages, in that she lost at least 22 days of income and may recover nominal damages and for emotional distress.

         In her fourth point, Appellant contends the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Respondent on Count II of her petition for wrongful discharge because it erred in finding that the statutes and regulations Appellant references in her petition do not establish a clearly mandated public policy, in that she reported four separate violations of clearly mandated

Page 337

public policy: violations of federal grant guidelines, research misconduct, violations of immigration law, and wage and hour violations.

         In her fifth point, Appellant states the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Respondent on Counts III, IV, and V of her petition asserting claims, respectively, for unpaid wages under Section 290.110,[2] quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment because Respondent owes Appellant unpaid overtime, unpaid wages, and vacation pay.

         Standard of Review

          Appellate review of the grant of summary judgment is de novo. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo.banc 1993). Summary judgment will be upheld on appeal if the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and no genuine issues of material fact exist. Id. at 377. The record is reviewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered, according that party all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the record. Id. at 376. Facts contained in affidavits or otherwise in support of a party's motion are accepted as true unless contradicted by the nonmoving party's response to the summary judgment motion. Id.

          A defending party may establish a right to judgment as a matter of law by showing any one of the following: (1) facts that negate any one of the elements of the claimant's cause of action, (2) the non-movant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not and will not be able to produce evidence sufficient to allow the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the claimant's elements, or (3) there is no genuine dispute as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support the movant's properly-pleaded affirmative defense. Id. at 381.

          Once the movant has established a right to judgment as a matter of law, the non-movant must demonstrate that one or more of the material facts asserted by the movant as not in dispute is, in fact, genuinely disputed. Id. The non-moving party may not rely on mere allegations and denials of the pleadings, but must use affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         Discussion

         Point I

         Appellant claims Respondent owes her overtime pay because she was not an exempt employee under the learned professional exemption to the minimum wage laws.

         Missouri's minimum wage law states that " [n]o employer shall employ any of his employees for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed." Section 290.505.1. The law goes on to state " the overtime requirements of subsection (1) shall not apply to employees who are exempt

Page 338

from federal minimum wage or overtime requirements including, but not limited to, the exemptions or hour calculation formulas specified in 29 U.S.C. Sections 207 and 213, and any regulations promulgated thereunder." Section 290.505.3.

         The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. Sections 201 et seq., provides that " no employer shall employ any of his employees ... for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed." 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). However, the FLSA expressly exempts from this requirement " any ...


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