FLSA Class Action Defense Cases–Luiken v. Domino’s Pizza: Minnesota Federal Court Grants Conditional Class Action Treatment To Nationwide Labor Law Class Action Alleging Failure To Pay Minimum Wage To Delivery Drivers

Jun 30, 2010 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Nationwide Class Action (excluding California and New York) Alleging Domino’s Systematically Underpaid Delivery Drivers in Violation of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Entitled to Conditional Class Action Certification because Evidence Submitted by Plaintiffs Met Minimal Burden Required at First Stage of FLSA Proceedings Minnesota Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their employer, Domino’s Pizza, alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Domino’s failed to pay its pizza delivery drivers minimum wage. Luiken v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (D. Minn. June 21, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1-3]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, Domino’s failed to reimburse its delivery drivers for all automobile expenses incurred in the course of their employment, _id._, at 4. The class action sought to represent a nationwide class, except for delivery drivers in California and New York. _Id._, at 2. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, _id._, at 1. Defense attorneys opposed class action treatment, arguing that class members were not “similarly situated” because of “highly individualized fact-specific determinations taking into account driver-specific factors such as type of car, routes, and total mileage” and because “reimbursements vary by geographic region.” _Id._, at 2. Noting the difference between class action certification motions under Rule 23 and conditional class certification under the FLSA (technically, certification of a “collective action”), the district court granted plaintiffs’ motion.

The federal court explained that class action certification under the FLSA is a two-part process, and that in determining whether to conditionally certify a class (the first step in the process), the court determines whether plaintiffs have established “a colorable basis that the putative class members are the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Luiken, at 4 (citation omitted). Here, plaintiffs argued that Domino’s employed “a single policy which systematically under-reimbursed them for automobile expenses incurred in the course of their employment” and, accordingly, they were “paid below the federal minimum wage.” Id. In brief, plaintiffs argued that Domino’s used a uniform set of assumptions in determining reimbursement rates, and that those assumptions were uniformly unfair. Id. Defense attorneys countered that individual issues, including the base wages paid each driver, defeat class certification. Id., at 5. Domino’s additionally argued that at least some drivers were paid more than the federal minimum wage, and plaintiffs conceded that subclasses may be necessary due to differences in base pay. Id., at 5 n.5.

The district court found that conditional class action certification was appropriate because “[t]he certification standard at this initial stage is low.” Luiken, at 5-6. The Court explained at page 6, “Plaintiffs have submitted twelve affidavits from drivers at Domino’s locations in four different states asserting the same reimbursement practices. [Citation.] Each plaintiff has asserted that he or she was compensated at deliveries at a flat-rate on a per-delivery basis and is owed compensation by Domino’s. Considering Plaintiff’s minimal burden at this stage of the proceedings, the Court finds that this evidence is sufficient to establish a colorable basis for Plaintiffs’ claims. At this initial stage, conditional certification is appropriate.”

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