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FLSA Class Action Defense Cases–Robinson-Smith v. GEICO: D.C. Circuit Court Holds GEICO Properly Classified Auto Damage Adjusters As Exempt From Overtime Pay Under FLSA

Feb 17, 2010 | By: Michael J. Hassen

District Court Erred in Granting Employee’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Class Action Alleging Failure to Pay Overtime under Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because Auto Damage Adjusters Exercise Sufficient Discretion and Independent Judgment to Fall Within FLSA’s Administrative Exemption District of Columbia Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their employer, Government Employees Insurance Corporation (GEICO) alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant misclassified its automobile insurance policy damage adjusters as “exempt” and therefore failed to pay them overtime wages due under the FLSA. Robinson-Smith v. Government Employees Ins. Co., 590 F.3d 886, 887-88 (D.C. Cir. 2010). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “GEICO employs at least three categories of personnel at varying levels of responsibility who may service a given automobile claim: the liability adjuster, the auto damage adjuster and the auto damage appraiser.” Id., at 888. The liability adjuster is at the “high” end of the responsibility scale, and the damage appraiser is at the “low” end of the responsibility scale. Id. “GEICO considers the former exempt as an administrative employee under the FLSA (and thus not entitled to overtime wages) but not the latter.” Id. The issue in this class action concerned the middle group of employees. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the damage adjusters were administrative employees exempt from overtime pay under the FLSA; the district court used the Department of Labor’s “short test” and “held that GEICO’s auto damage adjusters do not exercise ‘sufficient’ discretion and independent judgment to qualify for the exemption[.]” Id. Accordingly, the district court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, id. GEICO appealed – “arguing that the undisputed fact that the adjusters exercise ‘some discretion’ means that they are exempt from overtime pay as administrative employees under the FLSA” – and the District of Columbia Circuit reversed. Id.

The Circuit Court explained that a GEICO damage adjuster, on average, “handles more than 1,000 claims per year, totaling over $2.5 million.” Robinson-Smith, at 888. We do not here summarize the detail outlined in the court’s opinion concerning the job responsibilities of damage adjusters. Briefly, we note that while GEICO’s damage adjusters utilize software to assist them in estimating repair costs, they are also responsible for determining when to declare a vehicle a total loss. Id., at 888-89. Additionally, the adjuster “makes decisions that are not dictated by the software…, such as interviewing insureds about pre-existing damage, determining whether damage was caused by a covered event and recommending that payment be withheld on a claim if the damage did not result from a covered loss.” Id., at 889. Further, total loss determinations may account for 20-30% of an adjuster’s workload, and “can involve thousands of dollars in additional liability for GEICO.” Id. In fact, about 30% of the total loss claims involve further negotiation between the adjuster and the insured, and “the adjuster generally has full authority to settle a claim within his limits ($10,000 for a Level I adjuster or $15,000 for a Level II adjuster) if he can justify his decision within GEICO guidelines and based on his experience.” Id.

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Class Action Defense Cases–Keller v. Tuesday Morning: California Appellate Court Affirms Decertification Of Labor Law Class Action Because Evidence Supported Finding That Individualized Inquiries Would Predominate

Dec 9, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Alleging Employer Misclassified Managers as Exempt and Failed to Pay them Overtime Wages Properly Decertified as Class Action because Amount of Time Spent on Managerial Duties Required Individual Inquiry and because “Individualized Issues of Liability and Damages will Predominate” California Appellate Court Holds Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their employer, Tuesday Morning, alleging violations of California labor laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant misclassified its managers as exempt employees and failed to pay them overtime wages.

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Class Action Defense Cases–Barbaroza v. West Coast Digital: California Appellate Court Affirms Trial Court Order Requiring Class Counsel in Certified Class Counsel To Represent Class Through Collection Of Judgment

Nov 30, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Trial Court did not Err in Holding that Class Counsel owed Duty to Absent Class Members to Represent them in Collection of Judgment, not merely through Obtaining Judgment, Particularly in Light of Defendant-Employer’s Lack of Assets and Possible Bankruptcy Filing California Appellate Court Holds Plaintiffs filed a putative class action in California state court against their employer, West Coast Digital GSM, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that West Coast violated California’s Labor Code by “unlawful deductions from wages, failure to pay overtime, and failure to provide meal and rest breaks.

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Class Action Defense Cases–Schachter v. Citigroup: California Supreme Court Affirms Defense Judgment In Labor Law Class Action Holding Forfeiture Of Restricted Stock Shares Upon Termination Did Not Violate California Labor Code

Nov 17, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Trial Court Properly Granted Summary Judgment in Favor of Employer in Class Action Alleging Failure to Pay Wages under Labor Code because Prospective, Bilateral Agreement between Employer and Employee to Pay a Portion of Compensation in Restricted Stock Shares that were Forfeited upon Resignation or Termination for Cause Prior to Expiration of Two-Year Vesting Period did not Violate Labor Code California Supreme Court Holds

Plaintiff, a former stockbroker at Smith Barney (a subsidiary of Citigroup), filed a putative class action in California state court against Citigroup and others alleging violations of California’s labor laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Citigroup’s voluntary employee incentive compensation plan, which permitted employees to obtain “shares of restricted company stock at a reduced price in lieu of a portion of that employee’s annual cash compensation,” violated California law because the plan provided that if the employee resigns or is fired then he forfeits any shares of stock that had not yet vested. Schachter v. Citigroup, Inc., 47 Cal.4th 610 (Cal. 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, plaintiff, “along with officers and other key individuals in the company’s employ,” participated in the plan – receiving restricted stock in lieu of a portion of their salary. Id., at 3. The stock would not vest for two years, and if an employee was fired without cause prior to that time then “the employee forfeited his or her restricted stock, but received in return, without interest ‘a cash payment equal to the portion of his or her annual compensation that had been paid in the form of such forfeited [r]estricted [s]tock.’” Id. However, if the employee voluntarily resigned or was terminated for cause prior to that time, then “the employee forfeited his or her restricted stock as well as the percentage of annual income designated by the employee to be paid as shares of restricted stock.” Id. Plaintiff resigned before all of his stock vested, and therefore fell within this latter group, forfeiting his stock and that portion of his income that he directed to be paid as stock. Id., at 4. His class action complaint followed, id. Defense attorneys moved for summary judgment but the motion was denied, id. After several years of litigation, and after the trial court certified the litigation as a class action, the trial court reconsidered its summary judgment ruling sua sponte and concluded that the plan’s forfeiture provision did not violate California law; accordingly, it granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Id., at 5. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, see id., at 5-6, and the California Supreme Court granted review, id., at 7. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that “the forfeiture provision does not run afoul of the Labor Code because no earned, unpaid wages remain outstanding upon termination according to the terms of the incentive plan.” Id., at 1.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether employees “would be owed – and therefore would be required to forfeit – any ‘earned and unpaid’ wages upon resigning or being terminated for cause.” Schachter, at 8. Plaintiff argued “the percentage of his annual compensation he directed be paid to him in the form of shares of restricted stock constitutes a wage that remained earned but unpaid following his resignation.” Id., at 9. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the shares of restricted stock constituted wages. Id. The controlling factor was that the employer and employees had entered into a bilateral agreement after the employees had been hired: “It cannot be questioned that employers and employees are free to prospectively and bilaterally alter the terms of employment.” Id., at 11. Here, plaintiff specifically requested that he be paid in part in restricted stock shares, and contractually agreed that “his resignation or termination for cause before the end of the two-year vesting period would result in forfeiture of the restricted stock and the percentage of his compensation that he ‘authorized to be paid in the form of such restricted stock.’” Id. The Supreme Court summarized its holding at page 13:

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FSLA Class Action Defense Cases—In re Enterprise: Judicial Panel On Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) Grants Plaintiff Motion To Centralize Class Action Litigation But Selects Western District Of Pennsylvania As Transferee Court

Nov 13, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Judicial Panel Grants Plaintiff Request for Pretrial Coordination of Class Action Lawsuits Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407, Over Objection of Common Class Action Defendants, but Transfers Class Actions to Western District of Pennsylvania Seven class actions – two in the Northern District of Illinois, and one each in the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, the Northern District of Georgia, the Southern District of New York and the Western District of Pennsylvania, – were filed against various Enterprise Rent-A-Car entities alleging labor law violations.

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FLSA Class Action Defense Cases–Rutti v. Lojack: Ninth Circuit Affirms Defense Summary Judgment In FLSA Class Action Except As To One Claim Seeking Compensation For Postliminary Activities

Oct 5, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

District Court Properly Granted Defense Motion for Summary Judgment as to Commute Time and Preliminary Activities Time, but Issue of Fact Existed as to Whether Postliminary Activity of Daily Transmissions to Employer Warranted Compensation Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiff filed a putative class action against his employer, Lojack, alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant failed to compensate its installation technicians for “time they spent commuting to worksites in Lojack’s vehicles and for time spent on preliminary and postliminary activities performed at their homes.” Rutti v. Lojack Corp., Inc., 578 F.3d 1084, 1086-87 (9th Cir. 2009) (footnote omitted). According to the allegations underlying the class action, most installation and repair work was performed on location, and plaintiff was “required to travel to the job sites in a company-owned vehicle.” Id. Lojack paid its installation technicians on an hourly basis, and plaintiff was paid “for the time period beginning when he arrived at his first job location and ending when he completed his final job installation of the day.” Id., at 1086. Plaintiff alleged, however, that he was not compensated for “off-the-clock” activities that he “performed before he left for the first job in the morning and after he returned home following the completion of the last job,” and that “Lojack required technicians to be ‘on call’ from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays,” during which time they had to “keep their mobile phones on and answer requests from dispatch to perform additional jobs, but they were permitted to decline the jobs.” Id. (footnote omitted). Defense attorneys moved for summary judgment; the district court granted the motion, “holding that [plaintiff’s] commute was not compensable as a matter of law and that the preliminary and postliminary activities were not compensable because they either were not integral to [plaintiff’s] principal activities or consumed a de minimis amount of time.” Id. Plaintiff appealed, id., at 1087. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that plaintiff’s commute time and preliminary activities were not compensable, but reversed and remanded with respect to plaintiff’s “postliminary activity of required daily portable data transmissions,” id., at 1086.

The Ninth Circuit first held that the time plaintiff spent commuting was not compensable. See Rutti, at 1088-93. The Circuit Court explained that, under the Employee Commuting Flexibility Act, 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(2), an employer may require an employee to commute in a company vehicle. See id., at 1088-90. Further, the Court held that the conditions placed by defendant on plaintiff’s use of the company vehicle did not render his commute time compensable. See id., at 1090-92 (citing Bobo v. United States, 136 F.3d 1465 (Fed. Cir. 1998), and Adams v. United States, 471 F.3d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2006)). And finally, the Ninth Circuit held that California law did not require Lojack to compensate plaintiff for his commute time in the company’s vehicle. See id., at 1092-93. Accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s conclusion “that [plaintiff] is not entitled to compensation for the time spent commuting to and from his job sites in a vehicle provided by Lojack under either 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(2) or California law.” Id., at 1093.

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Class Action Defense Cases–Brown v. JEVIC: Third Circuit Reverses Order Remanding Class Action To State Court Holding Class Action Properly Removed Under Class Action Fairness Act Despite Fact Co-Defendant Was In Bankruptcy

Sep 17, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Filed in State Court Against Defendant and Co-Defendant Debtor in Bankruptcy Removable to Federal Court under CAFA (Class Action Fairness Act) because Co-Defendant Sued in Violation of Automatic Stay and because Co-Defendant’s Bankruptcy does not Preclude Defendant from Removing Class Action to Federal Court Third Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against JEVIC Transportation and its parent company, Sun Capital Partners, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants violated New Jersey’s WARN Act which, “[l]ike its federal counterpart, …requires advance notice of a plant closing under certain circumstances.” Brown v. JEVIC, 575 F.3d 322, 325 (3d Cir. 2009). JEVIC had filed for bankruptcy protection, and the class action was filed as an adversary proceeding in the United States Bankruptcy Court, id. One week later, and despite the automatic stay afforded by the bankruptcy proceeding, plaintiffs filed a class action in New Jersey state court against JEVIC and Sun Capital Partners. Id. Defense attorneys for JEVIC removed the state court class action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA); the district court remanded the class action sua sponte on the grounds that the automatic stay precluded the debtor’s petition for removal. Id. Defense attorneys for Sun Capital then removed the state court class action to federal court under CAFA; the district court again remanded the class action, ruling that “[w]hen an action is initiated after the filing of a Chapter 11 petition, in violation of the accompanying stay, removal is not available.” Id., at 325-26. The Third Circuit granted Sun Capital’s petition for leave to appeal the remand order, id., at 326. The Circuit Court explained at page 325, “In this appeal implicating the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, we consider whether a defendant is precluded from removing a class action to federal court because a co-defendant is in bankruptcy. We hold that it is not.”

The Third Circuit began its analysis by noting that Sun Capital bore the “heavy burden” of establishing federal court jurisdiction. Brown, at 326 (citation omitted). Central to the Circuit Court’s analysis was the fact that Sun Capital was not in bankruptcy, so the district court’s reliance “on cases dealing with debtor defendants who attempted to remove actions” were inapplicable. Id. Also central to its analysis was the fact that the state court class action against JEVIC was improper because it was filed in knowing violation of the automatic stay, so plaintiffs had “improperly joined JEVIC in the [state court class action], [and] that joinder cannot prevent Sun from removing the action.” Id. In essence, plaintiffs fraudulently joined JEVIC in the state court class action. Id., at 326-27. The Third Circuit summarized its holding at page 327: “In sum, because [plaintiffs] had no reasonable basis to believe that JEVIC was amenable to suit, we hold that JEVIC was a fraudulently joined party and its status as a Defendant could not be used to defeat otherwise proper federal jurisdiction.” (The Third Circuit also held that the district court erred in remanding the class action to state court because JEVIC had never been served with legal process and therefore was not properly before the district court. See id., at 327. We do not here analyze that aspect of the Circuit Court’s opinion.) Accordingly, the Circuit Court reversed the district court order remanding the class action to state court, id., at 329.

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FedEx Class Action Defense Cases–Babineau v. Federal Express: Eleventh Circuit Affirms Denial Of Class Action Treatment Of Putative Labor Law Class Action Claims Holding Rule 23(b)(3)’s Predominance Requirement Not Met

Sep 15, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Labor Law Class Action Complaint did not Warrant Class Action Treatment because Individualized Inquiries would Predominate and because Rule 23(b)(1)(A)’s Requirements for Class Action were not Met given Monetary Relief Sought by Plaintiffs Eleventh Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their employer, Federal Express, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that FedEx “failed to pay employees for ‘all hours worked.’” Babineau v. Federal Express Corp., ___ F.3d ___ (11th Cir. July 27, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “FedEx has engaged in a pervasive and long-standing policy of failing to pay hourly employees for all time worked.” Id. The class action claimed “FedEx breached their contracts by failing to pay for three categories of time worked: (1) the interval between an employee’s manual punch in time and his scheduled start time; (2) the interval between an employee’s scheduled end time and his manual punch out time; and (3) the time worked during unpaid breaks.” Id., at 3. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, id., at 2. Originally a class action was filed on behalf of a nationwide class asserting “substantially similar claims,” but the district court denied class action treatment in that case. See Clausnitzer v. Federal Express Corp., 248 F.R.D. 647 (S.D. Fla. 2008). This class action complaint was filed in “[an] attempt[] to address the defects identified in Clausnitzer by limiting the scope of the class to Florida employees, adding a claim for quantum meruit, and altering the theory of their breach of contract claim.” Babineau, at 2-3. As defined, the class action seeks to represent a class that “includes couriers, courier/handlers, service agents, and any other nonexempt employees who are, or were, required during the class period to punch in and out on a manual time clock, but were paid only from their scheduled start time to their scheduled end time.” Id., at 3. The district court again denied class action treatment, holding class certification “was improper primarily because individualized factual inquiries into whether and how long each employee worked without compensation would swamp any issues that were common to the class.” Id. Plaintiffs appealed. The Eleventh Circuit explained at page 2, “The sole question before this Court is whether the district court abused its discretion in declining to certify the class. We hold that the district court acted within the bounds of its discretion and affirm its decision.”

The resolution of this case is very fact-specific, so the Eleventh Circuit spent considerable time on claims and facts supporting and contradicting those claims. See Babineau, at 3-11. We give only a brief summary. The Circuit Court noted that FedEx provides two manuals to its employees – a “People Manual” and an “Employee Handbook.” Id., at 4. Each manual states, “It is the policy of FedEx [] to compensate for all time worked in accordance with applicable state and federal law,” and the People Manual also provides that “[e]xcept for certain approved preliminary and post-liminary activities, no employee should perform work ‘off the clock’ for any reason, whether on their own initiative or at the request of management.” Id. The Eleventh Circuit also explained that FedEx tracks employee time three ways: “First, employees track their time by entering various codes corresponding to different work activities into a hand-held computerized tracking device (a ‘tracker’). Employees manually enter into the trackers their scheduled start times and end times as well as the times at which they start and finish a break…. Additionally, as a backup for the tracker data, employees manually write on a time card the time codes for each task, as well as the start and end time for that task. [¶] FedEx also requires employees to punch in and out on a manual punch clock before and after their shifts. Until 2007 the trackers did not automatically time stamp the employees’ entries, so an employee who was supposed to commence work at 8:00 a.m. but arrived for work at 8:05 a.m. could hide his tardiness by entering an 8:00 a.m. start time into the tracker. Thus, FedEx claims that the manual punch records were simply used to verify the integrity of time entries that employees entered into the trackers. FedEx paid its employees only for the time between the scheduled start and end times as entered into the trackers, which did not necessarily coincide with employees’ manual punch in and punch out times. The periods of time between the start/end times entered into the tracker and the punch in/out times are referred to as ‘gap periods.’” Id., at 5-6.

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Class Action Defense Cases–Garza v. Swift: Arizona Supreme Court Holds Court Of Appeals Lacked Jurisdiction To Hear Appeal From Trial Court Order Denying Class Action Certification Motion

Sep 8, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Trial Court Order Denying Class Action Treatment not Appealable because not “Final Judgment” so Court of Appeals Erred in Exercising Appellate Jurisdiction to Review Order Denying Class Action Certification Arizona Supreme Court Holds Plaintiff filed a putative class action in Arizona state court against his former employer, Swift Transportation, a trucking company, alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Swift paid its truck drivers per “dispatched mile” but “systematically underestimated mileage and, by doing so, routinely underpaid its drivers.

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FLSA Class Action Defense Cases–Boucher v. Shaw: Ninth Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Labor Law Class Action Claims Against Individual Managers But Reverses As To Class Action’s FLSA Claims Against Individuals

Aug 24, 2009 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Labor Law Class Action Seeking to Hold Individual Managers Liable for Wages due Employees Properly Dismissed as to Class Action Claims under Nevada State Law, but Improperly Dismissed as to Class Action Claims under Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Ninth Circuit Holds

Plaintiffs, former employees and their local union, filed a putative class action in Nevada state court against individual managers of the Castaways Hotel, Casino and Bowling Center alleging violations of state and federal labor laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that That the three individual managers – the Chairman and CEO, who had a 70% ownership interest in Castaways, the CFO, who had a 30% ownership interest in the Castaways, and the head of labor and employment matters for the Castaways – were personally liable for the state and federal labor law violations because “each defendant had custody or control over the ‘plaintiffs, their employment, or their place of employment at the time that the wages were due.’” Boucher v. Shaw, ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. July 27, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 9731, 9734-36]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, plaintiffs were not paid for their final pay period or were paid late, and were not paid for accrued vacation and holiday time. Id., at 9735. Plaintiffs had filed the lawsuit against the individuals because the Castaways was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings at the time the plaintiffs were fired, and subsequently went through a Chapter 7 liquidation. Id. Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court, and moved to dismiss the class action complaint for failure to state a claim. Id., at 9736. The district court dismissed the class action because it found “that the defendants were not ‘employers’ under Nevada law, Local 226 lacks standing to bring a claim under Nevada law and the plaintiffs cannot maintain a cause of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act [(FLSA)] against the defendants.” Id. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, but reversed as to the class action’s FLSA claim.

The Ninth Circuit opened its opinion as follows: “This appeal raises three issues: (1) whether the Castaways’ individual managers can be held liable for unpaid wages under Nevada law; (2) whether the union has standing to raise the state law claim; and (3) whether the managers can be held liable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).” Boucher, at 9734. Because the question of whether individual managers may be liable under Nevada law for unpaid wages was a matter of first impression, the Circuit Court certified the issue to the Nevada Supreme Court – the Nevada Supreme Court held that “individual managers cannot be held liable as ‘employers,’ and therefore that claim was properly dismissed by the district court.” Id., at 9734, 9737-38. That decision rendered moot the second issue on appeal, as it did not matter whether the local union had standing to raise a state law claim that did not exist. Id., at 9734-35. The issue became, then, whether individual managers may be held liable under the FLSA. Id., at 9735. 9738-39. This was not a matter of first impression in the Ninth Circuit. The Court noted at pages 9739 and 9740 that in Lambert v. Ackerley, 180 F.3d 997, 1011-12 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc), the Ninth Circuit held:

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