Just In Time For The Holidays: New York Federal Court Gifts The Denial Of Plaintiffs’ Rule 23 Class Certification Motion In FDNY Bias Lawsuit

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Katelynn Gray and Elizabeth M. Lacombe

Duane Morris Takeaways – In Local 3621 Of The EMS Officers Union, et al. v. City Of New York, Case No. 18 Civ. 4476, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 212218 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 22, 2022), the City successfully defeated a Rule 23 motion for class certification brought by a group of EMS officers and Unions who alleged that the promotional process to leadership positions resulted in disparate and discriminatory promotional practices in violation of federal, state, and local law. The ruling is a primer for employers on how to dismantle employment discrimination class claims.

Background Of The Case

Plaintiffs Renae Mascol, Luis Rodriguez, Local 3621, EMS Officers Union, DC-37, AFSCME and AFL-CIO (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) brought a class action on behalf of its members and all other similarly-situated individuals against Defendants, the City of New York, the New York City Fire Department, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (collectively, the “City”), alleging Defendants’ subjective promotional policies and practices led to the denial of promotions to qualified applicants based on their race, sex, gender and/or disability and/or circumstances that led to the applicant taking a leave of absence.

Plaintiffs sought class certification pursuant to Rule 23(a) and (b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on behalf of three classes, including: (1) EMS officers who are non-white, female, have received a reasonable accommodation, or have taken a leave of absence due to a disability or pursuant to FDNY time and leave policies; (2) non-white and/or female EMS officers; and (3) EMS officers who have received a reasonable accommodation or taken a leave of absence because of a disability and/or have taken a leave of absence pursuant to FDNY time and leave policies.

In support of their motion, Plaintiffs submitted an expert report from a forensic labor economist who concluded there was “statistically significant evidence of discriminatory promotional disparities” and that the statistical evidence showed that the common promotional policy “resulted in disparities that commonly disadvantaged the class.”  Id. at *7. Plaintiffs also submitted anecdotal evidence in the form of declarations from EMS officers testifying to their experiences with the City’s promotional processes.

Defendants opposed these theories and submitted rebuttal evidence with their own expert report. They argued that Plaintiffs’ expert’s analysis was flawed, largely because it was based in part on data that was irrelevant to the analysis and in other instances because it failed to consider other, relevant data.  Moreover, Defendants’ expert concluded that the relevant data led to a determination that, when evaluating promotions over the same time period, white men were actually less likely to be promoted than similarly-situated non-white officers; men were less likely to be promoted than women; and whites were less likely to be promoted than non-whites.

The Court’s Ruling Denying Class Certification

In denying Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, Judge Lewis J. Liman of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York conducted an extensive review of the promotional process at issue, as well as the expert reports and anecdotal evidence offered by the parties. Ultimately, the Court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently demonstrate the element of commonality under Rule 23(a)(2).

With respect to Plaintiffs’ disparate impact claims, the Court explained that Plaintiffs cannot simply point to the promotional process generally as the basis for the disparate impact, but must identify the “specific” employment practices allegedly responsible for the at-issue disparities.  In this case, there were several distinct steps in the promotional process, which combined subjective criteria with standardized eligibility criteria.  Significantly, an applicant could fail to be promoted at any one of these steps. As such, the Court opined that in order to state a disparate impact claim based on a failure to promote, Plaintiffs were required to identify which specific employment practice was responsible for the statistical disparities.

The Court reasoned that Plaintiffs’ expert’s analysis did not help them win the day, where it merely showed a racial and gender disparity with respect to the individuals holding leadership positions but failed to identify what aspect of the promotional process, if any, resulted in those disparities.  Moreover, the Court found that Plaintiffs’ anecdotal evidence did more harm than good, underscoring the individualized nature of each alleged incident of discrimination where each declaration identified a different form of discrimination and a different course of conduct.  The Court ultimately determined that Plaintiffs had failed to show that Defendants had used any of the cited employment practices to discriminate against the proposed class or that such practices had a discriminatory impact, holding that “the question of which of these specific employment practices has a discriminatory impact on the applicant is largely an individualized inquiry.” Id. at *25.

Plaintiffs’ disparate treatment claim fared no better for similar reasons, as the Court again noted that the statistical evidence from Plaintiffs’ expert did not offer “significant proof of a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination” and failed to account for non-discriminatory explanations for any disparities.  Plaintiffs’ primary evidence, that of anecdotal evidence from declarants, was similarly insufficient to salvage their claims because it raised “individual rather than common questions.” Id. at *26.

Implications For Employers

The ruling in Local 3621 Of The EMS Officers Union emphasizes the value of crafting and implementing detailed and thoughtful employment policies and procedures that utilize both objective and subjective measures in an effort to reduce or eliminate the influence of potential bias (implicit or otherwise) when evaluating employees for promotional opportunities.  Moreover, ensuring that those policies and procedures are reduced to writing, provided to those employees who might have occasion to evaluate others for promotional opportunities, and implemented appropriately will provide a strong defense to discrimination claims and may, as it did here, serve to dismantle a potential class claim based on generalized allegations of process-based discriminatory conduct.

Ohio State Wins More Than Just Games, As The Ohio Court of Appeals Reverses Class Certification In Favor Of The University

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer A. Riley, Shaina Wolfe

Duane Morris Synopsis In Smith v. Ohio State University, 2022-Ohio-4101 (Ohio App. Nov. 17, 2022), The Ohio State University successfully appealed an Ohio Court of Claim’s (“trial court”) Order granting class certification in a lawsuit brought by a former undergraduate student.  The former student alleged that when the university only offered online classes due to COVID-19, it breached its contract by keeping all the tuition payments from her and other students without giving them the robust in-person experience promised when they initially paid their tuition bills.  The Ohio Court of Appeals held that while the trial court has broad discretion in granting class certification, it failed to determine proof of injury and economic damages relative to the former student and potential class members.  In crafting a class certification defense strategy, especially in a breach of contract case where the injury and damages typically are in play, employers should focus on the lawsuit basics when opposing class certification, i.e., demanding that plaintiffs show causation and injury in fact.

Case Background

Plaintiff, a former college student, filed a lawsuit alleging that Defendant, The Ohio State University (“OSU”), breached its contract and received unjust enrichment in Spring 2020 by failing to partially refund students their tuition and fees after transitioning from their robust, in-person education to “subpar” online education during COVID-19.  Id. at 4-5.

In June 2021, Plaintiff moved for class certification.  Id. at 5.  After briefing and oral argument, the trial court granted Plaintiff’s motion and certified a class consisting of all undergraduate students enrolled in classes at Defendant’s Columbus campus during the Spring 2020 semester. Notably, the trial court found that the class suffered the same injury, i.e., losing the benefit of in-person classes and access to the campus.  Id. at 9-10.

In appealing the trial court’s decision, Defendant raised several arguments for why the trial court’s decision was incorrect. Significantly, Defendant’s main, and ultimately successful, arguments focused on the trial court’s failure to conduct the “rigorous analysis” required by Ohio Civil Rule 23 (like Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23) in determining whether Plaintiff had satisfied the prerequisites for class certification.  Id. at 10-11.

The Court Of Appeals’ Ruling Reversing Class Action Certification

The Ohio Court of Appeals agreed with Defendant and reversed the trial court’s order granting class certification for three reasons.

First, the Court of Appeals found that the Plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence of an economic injury.  Id. at 17-18.  Instead, the trial court simply assumed that a “benefit” was lost based only on the fact Defendant closed its campus and switched to remote classes and services in response to the pandemic.  Id. at 18.

Second, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court failed to consider Defendant’s arguments and evidence contesting proof of injury.  Id. at 18-19.  Defendant submitted an expert report that included evidence that students paid the same for in-person and online learning and that the in-person teaching modality carried the possibility of substantial remote instruction even in a normal semester.  Id. at 19. Meanwhile, Plaintiff submitted no expert testimony regarding how and or whether other students were injured in this case.  Id.  Indeed, Plaintiff’s expert’s report excluded any survey questions or consideration of market preferences during an emergency such as the pandemic that forced the closure.  Id.

Third, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court’s analysis of Plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim was merely folded into the same generalized injury analysis without any individualized consideration.  Id. at 19-20.

In holding that the trial abused its discretion, the Court of Appeals reasoned that, “[t]he trial court, in assuming an injury from the fact of closure and termination of in-person classes, did not assess these complicated and difficult considerations, particularly as they relate to whether [Plaintiff] presented any common evidence — or even a method to possibly determine — that class members suffered an economic injury considering the effect of the pandemic.”  Id. at 20.  Further, the Court of Appeals opined that “having accepted the closure of campus and temporary termination of in-person classes and services as an injury per se, and having failed to consider how the pandemic affects class certification in this case at all, the trial court did not undertake a rigorous analysis with respect to the number and nature of individualized inquires that might be necessary to establish liability with respect to both tuition and fees.”  Id.

Implications

In class actions asserting breach of contract claims, it is not uncommon for plaintiffs to seek class certification before developing their case through affidavits from other individuals and expert testimony.  Employers can use this to their advantage by attacking causation and damages. This strategy may not only hinder a plaintiff from notifying potentially thousands of other putative class members of the claims, but also potentially saving money through limited discovery.

Illinois Court Finds That Collective Action Certification In A Wage & Hour Case Demands More Than Barebones Affidavits When Balanced Against Facially Lawful Policies

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Gregory Tsonis, Shaina Wolfe

Duane Morris Synopsis- In Roberts, et al. v. One Off Hospitality Group, Ltd., Case No. 21-CV-05868 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 10, 2022), a group of restaurants successfully defended against the proposed conditional certification of a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) in a lawsuit brought by a bartender.  In a win for the defense at a stage where plaintiffs generally have a low evidentiary burden, the Court determined that barebones affidavits fall short of what a Plaintiff must show in terms of proof to anchor a conditional certification order. While Plaintiff alleged that the restaurants’ policy off-the-clock work and overtime policies violated the FLSA, Judge Virginia M. Kendall of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois determined that Plaintiff did not make the “modest factual showing” that other similarly situated employees experienced the allegedly common, unlawful policy.  The decision demonstrates the importance and value in maintaining up-to-date lawful employee handbooks, and specifically, policies on wages and overtime.

Case Background

Plaintiff, an hourly non-exempt bartender, filed lawsuit alleging that One Off Hospitality Group — the owner and operator of several popular restaurants including Publican and Big Star — and several executives (“Defendants”) violated the FLSA and other Illinois wage and hour laws.  She alleged that Defendants failed to properly pay her by requiring her to clock-in and clock-out at the times of her scheduled shift, regardless of the time she actually worked, to avoid paying overtime compensation.  She further alleged that Defendants did not pay their employees for performing off-the-clock work and/or offered gift cards as compensation instead of cash.  When she recorded her overtime work, Plaintiff claimed that management reprimanded her for violating internal company policy.

On July 14, 2022, Plaintiff moved, pursuant to § 216(b) of the FLSA, for conditional certification of a collective action of all current and former hourly non-exempt employees who worked within Defendants’ restaurants.  In support of her motion, Plaintiff attached only two sworn declarations.  Plaintiff’s declaration focused on her unique experience, and detailed the compensation structure and missed overtime hours she experienced. Plaintiff also included a declaration from a former Floor Supervisor and Assistant General Manager that worked in Defendants’ restaurants, which focused on the company’s policy of requiring employees to work off the clock. In opposition, Defendants put forth their Employee Handbook and emphasized that their written, uniform policy at every location prohibited off-the-clock work.  Defendants also included sworn declarations from employees and managers stating the company policy and the repercussions for engaging in off the clock work.

The Court’s Ruling Denying Conditional Certification

The Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification.  It found that Plaintiff had not made a “modest factual showing” that she and other employees were victims of a common policy or plan that violated the law. Id. at 3.

After analyzing the evidence, the Court held that Plaintiffs’ sworn declarations were insufficient and that she needed other corroborative evidence.  Notably, Court emphasized that, “[c]ritically absent are affidavits from any other similarly situated employees who worked at the defendants’ restaurants.” Id. at 4. Significantly, the Court explained that “[t]he need for additional support is particularly pronounced where, as here, the defendants maintained a facially lawful policy.” Id. The Court held that “‘modest factual support’ demands more than the barebones affidavits provided.” Id.

Implications for Employers

The Court’s decision in denying conditional certification is not an outlier, but over the past several years, nearly 80 percent of such motions have been granted in federal court due to the low burden applicable to § 216(b) of the FLSA.

Judge Kendall’s decision underscores the value of generally maintaining Employee Handbooks and, specifically, policies regarding wages and overtime.  In addition to providing clear guidelines to employees on what is allowed, these policies provide the first line of defense in FLSA lawsuits seeking to groups of allegedly similarly situated employees, particularly where plaintiffs marshal minimal evidence that certification of a collective action is appropriate.

Massachusetts District Court Denies Class Certification and Grants Summary Judgment Because Franchisees Not Employees

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Brandon Spurlock, and Shaina Wolfe

Duane Morris Takeaways – In Patel, et al. v. 7-Eleven, Inc., et al., 2022 WL 4540981, No. 17-11414 (D. Mass. Sept. 28, 2022), Judge Nathaniel Gorton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment in favor of 7-Eleven, as a franchisor, and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification because franchisees were not employees under Massachusetts state law.  In analyzing the state independent contractor statute, the Court determined that the obligations the franchisees undertook pursuant to the franchise agreement did not amount to “services” for purposes of the statute and Plaintiffs, therefore, were not employees.  This ruling is important because it provides guidance for companies operating under a franchisor/franchisee business model on how to combat arguments that franchisee agreements create an employee/employer relationship and obligate franchisors to cover a myriad of legal costs for their franchisees.

Background Of The Case

Plaintiffs, a group of franchisee store owners and operators, brought a putative class action against 7-Eleven alleging that Defendant misclassified them as independent contractors in violation of the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law. Id. at 1.  Two of the named Plaintiffs entered into franchise agreements directly with 7-Eleven and three as corporate entities.  Id.  The franchise agreements outlined the obligations of the franchisees and included language that the franchisee agreed to hold itself out to the public as an independent contractor.  Id.  Under the agreement, the franchisee also agreed to pay several types of fees to 7-Eleven, including a franchise fee, gasoline fee, and down payment fee.  Id. at 2.  Plaintiffs filed a class action in Massachusetts state court and Defendant removed it on diversity grounds.  Id.  Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification.  Id. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of 7-Eleven, and Plaintiffs appealed to the First Circuit where the case was remanded to allow the District Court to first weigh on the issue, which the First Circuit certified as “[w]hether the three-prong test for independent contractor status … applies to the relationship between a franchisor and its franchisee…” Id.

On remand, the District Court analyzed the elements for the independent contractor test under Massachusetts law, including: (1) freedom from control and direction; (2) service is performed outside the usual course of business; and (3) the individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession, or business of the same nature as that involved in the service.  Id. at 3.  Defendant argued that franchisees do not perform services for 7-Eleven, and in fact, 7-Eleven actually provides services to the franchisee in exchange for payment; and that 7-Eleven was not a direct employer where the franchise agreement was entered into by corporate entities.  Id. at 4.

The District Court based its ruling on the threshold inquiry of determining whether the individual performs any service for the alleged employer.  Id.  Plaintiffs argued that because the franchise agreement required them to work full time in the store, operate the store 24 hours a day, record inventory sales, wear approved uniforms and use 7-Eleven payroll system, in addition to submitting cash reports and depositing receipts, they should be deemed employees, not independent contractors.  Id. at 5.  The District Court, however, was not convinced that the contractual obligations outlined in the franchise agreement, alone, constituted services under Massachusetts law regarding independent contractors. Id.  Moreover, the District Court opined that although the parties do have mutual economic interests, even though both profit from the franchise stores’ revenue, that mutual interest was not enough to establish that plaintiffs provide services to support an employee relationship. Id.

In short, the District Court reasoned that where a franchisee is merely fulfilling its contractual obligations under a franchise agreement, that by itself does not refute the independent contractor status.  Id.  The District Court therefore granted 7-Eleven’s motion for summary judgment and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.  Id. at 6.

Implications For Employers

For those companies with franchisee operations, this ruling supports the position that obligations under a franchise agreement requiring the franchisee to perform certain tasks does not establish an employment relationship.  And the fact that the franchisor provides services to the franchisee for payment actually cuts against the employee designation.  Further, the simple fact of mutual benefit from business revenues does not help establish employee status under these circumstances.  Although an appeal from Plaintiffs is anticipated, the District Court’s analysis offers solid guidance for franchisors who are operating under similar franchise agreements.

Montana Federal Court Denies Class Certification In Gender Discrimination Litigation

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer A. Riley, and Michael DeMarino

Duane Morris Takeaways – In Cole, et al. v. Montana University System, at al., 21-CV-88 (D. Mont. Oct. 3, 2022), the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana recently denied certification of a Title IX class action alleging discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex.  The decision in Cole is an important one for employers, as it is a reminder that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011), is still a major obstacle to class certification of broad discrimination claims.  Companies and their corporate counsel are well-served to heed the lessons of Cole and center their class certification defense strategy around the commonality requirement articulated in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Background Of The Case

Plaintiffs were a group of women suing Defendants for alleged violations of Title IX and sought to certify a class of approximately 76 women who allegedly experienced harassment, retaliation, and/or discrimination on the basis of their sex.  Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants either forced them to resign, terminated their positions, or limited their options for professional growth. Id. at 3-5.

Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants fostered a “good ol’ boys club” culture, favoring male athletes and employees, while excluding Plaintiffs from participating in activities and benefits regularly afforded to their male counterparts. Id. at 3-9.

Against this backdrop, Plaintiffs alleged that a “retaliatory culture blossomed” and that all Plaintiffs experienced direct retaliation or the fear of retaliation for speaking out against Defendants’ alleged discriminatory conduct. Id. at 8-9.

The Court’s Class Certification Ruling

After the parties filed competing motion papers in support of class certification, and to deny class certification, the Court issued a lengthy and thorough order, which ruled that Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the requirements for class certification. At the heart of the Court’s analysis was Rule 23(a)’s commonality requirement, which ultimately drove the Court’s decision to deny class certification.

Analyzing the evidence and the parties’ submissions, the Court noted that Plaintiffs’ claims appeared to be too disparate to be resolved in one stroke, which is key to satisfying Rule 23(a)’s commonality requirement. In reaching that conclusion, the Court relied extensively on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011). Specifically, the Court found that Plaintiffs failed to identify an employment practice that ties together the putative class members to satisfy the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Plaintiffs, for their part, argued that the Ninth Circuit had adopted a “permissive view of commonality” in employment discrimination claims and that the existence of shared legal issues with divergent factual predicates was sufficient to satisfy commonality. The Court, however, rejected this argument. It opined that its analysis was “constrained” by Wal-Mart Store, Inc. Id. at 17.

The Court reasoned that, according to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., commonality requires both a shared legal theory and shared facts such that determination of one claim can answer all others. Citing Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Court noted that there are only two mechanisms to bring a class claim alleging broad discrimination, including: (1) show that the employer used a biased testing procedure to evaluate potential employees; or (2) provide significant proof that the employer operated under a general policy of discrimination.

Based on its analysis, the Court held that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that Defendants acted under a general policy of discrimination and the injuries alleged required distinct inquiries into each Plaintiff’s circumstances, qualifications, and the alleged discrimination.

For similar reasons, the Court also concluded that Plaintiffs could not satisfy Rule 23(b)’s predominance requirement because individualized issues were more prevalent than common ones and Defendants’ liability was not subject to common proof.

As a result, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification without prejudice.

Implications For Employers

The ruling in Cole underscores the importance that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes plays in employment discrimination cases. At times, the Court was sympathetic to Plaintiffs, and recognized the inherent evidentiary problems in broad employment discrimination cases. The Court even lamented the “harsh nature of the standard as imposed on a discrimination case.” Id.  Nevertheless, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. proved to be too much of an obstacle to Plaintiffs’ class certification theories.

The lesson from this decision is that employers should center their class certification defense strategy on the key holdings in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., particularly the fact that commonality requires both a shared legal theory and shared facts.  Cole teaches that because it is somewhat easier for plaintiffs to assert shared legal theories, employers should focus on divergent facts.

 

Pennsylvania Federal Court Denies Motion For Conditional Certification Of Wage & Hour Collective Action

By: Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer A. Riley, and Alex W. Karasik

Duane Morris Takeaways:  In Lincoln v. Apex Human Services LLC, Case No. 22-CV-341, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175714 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2022), Judge Harvey Bartle III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied Plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification a proposed collective action of over 100 registered nurses who alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors and owed unpaid overtime. Since conditional certification is typically granted at a rate of nearly 80% in wage & hour collective actions, the employer-friendly ruling in Lincoln is well-worth a read by corporate counsel. The decision can be used by businesses to defend against FLSA misclassification claims where the named plaintiff fails to establish that they are similarly-situated to other proposed collective members.

Case Background

Plaintiff sued Defendants under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, 43 P.S. § 333.104 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, 43 P.S. §260.1, et seq.  She alleged that Defendants misclassified registered nurses (“RNs”), licensed practical nurses (“LPNs”), and other providers as independent contractors, thereby denying them required overtime pay and other employee benefits.  Id. at *1.  Plaintiff moved for conditional certification and judicial notice under Section 216(b) of the FLSA.

The Court’s Decision

The Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification.

The Court explained that Third Circuit case law has developed a two-tiered test to determine whether employees are similarly-situated for purposes of allowing an FLSA representative action to proceed.  Id. at *2 (citations omitted). Relevant here, the court first conducts a preliminary inquiry into whether employees are similarly-situated.  Id. at *2-4.

Plaintiff argued that conditional certification was appropriate for three reasons, including: (1) all current workers were subject to Defendants’ uniform policy of failing to pay overtime; (2) all former workers were subject to Defendants’ uniform policy of failing to pay overtime; and (3) Plaintiff met the lenient standard of showing that workers were similarly, if not identically, situated.  Id. at *4-5.  To support her arguments, Plaintiff offered three types of evidence, such as her signed independent contractor agreement; texts messages between the plaintiff and one individual Defendant; and one pay stub from 2019 and four pay stubs from 2020 showing that taxes were not withheld from her pay. She claimed that this evidence was sufficient to meet the standard for conditional certification, which only requires a plaintiff to show “modest evidence, beyond pure speculation,” that the class members are similarly-situated.  Id. at *5 (citation omitted).

The Court rejected Plaintiff’s position. It held that Plaintiff failed to present any evidence showing that she was similarly-situated to other proposed collective action members.  Citing three other cases from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Court noted that the plaintiffs in those cases presented some evidence, typically through affidavits or declarations, of how their individual situation was like that of other proposed collective members.  Id. at *6.  Here, Plaintiff merely alleged that there are over 100 Apex workers who were misclassified as independent contractors and denied overtime pay.  The Court opined that the evidence Plaintiff provided was specific only to her situation, such as her own contract, text messages and pay stubs.  As a result, the Court determined that Plaintiff failed to provide even minimal evidence that she and the proposed collective members were similarly-situated.  Id. at *6.

For these reasons, the Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification.

Key Takeaways For Employers

In FLSA misclassification cases, it is not uncommon for plaintiffs to seek the Court‘s approval to pursue these matters as collective actions.  In situations where a named plaintiff fails to provide limited (or any) evidence regarding how they are similarly-situated to other proposed collective members, employers can use the decision in Lincoln to defend against motions for conditional certification.  This strategy can result in a court prohibiting the named plaintiff from disseminating notice, or in other words, reduce a case from having potentially hundreds of plaintiffs down to a single plaintiff.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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