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Coates v. Dassault Falcon Jet Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

November 21, 2017

CRAIG COATES; MOLLY WARRINGTON; and EDWIN SMITH, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated PLAINTIFFS
v.
DASSAULT FALCON JET CORPORATION DEFENDANT

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a collective action brought by former employees of Dassault Falcon Jet Corporation alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 11-4-201, et. seq. The plaintiffs-Craig Coates, Molly Warrington, and Edwin Smith-allege that Falcon Jet wrongfully classified them as exempt from the FLSA and AMWA overtime requirements. Though they worked more than forty hours per week, they were not paid a higher rate for those overtime hours. They have filed a motion for conditional class certification and court-authorized notice. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I.

         The FLSA authorizes “similarly situated” employees to proceed collectively to recover damages for violations of the FLSA's overtime provisions. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The FLSA does not expressly define “similarly situated.” Although the Eighth Circuit has not addressed the issue, this Court and others within the Eighth Circuit have applied the two-step approach set out in Lusardi v. Xerox Corp., 118 F.R.D. 351 (D.N.J. 1987) to determine whether class certification is proper. See Maclin v. Montgomery and Sons Const., Inc., No: 4:12CV5, 2012 WL 5818163 at *1 (E.D. Ark. Nov. 15, 2012) (applying the two-step approach); In re Pilgrim's Pride, No. 1:07CV1832, 2008 WL 4877239, at *2 (W.D. Ark. Mar. 13, 2008) (citing to federal courts that follow the two-step approach and adopting it); Davis v. NovaStar Mortgage, Inc., 408 F.Supp.2d 811, 815 (W.D. Mo. 2005) (applying the two-step approach); Kalish v. High Tech Inst., Inc., No. Civ. 041440, 2005 WL 1073645, at *1 (D. Minn. Apr. 22, 2005) (applying the two-step approach); McQuay v. Am. Int'l Group, No. 4:01CV00661, 2002 WL 31475212, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Oct. 25, 2002) (noting that “a majority of courts have adopted a two-step process”). “This approach provides for a two-step determination as to whether class certification is proper.” Davis, 408 F.Supp.2d at 815. Generally, the plaintiffs move for conditional certification at an early stage in the litigation, and a class is conditionally certified for notice purposes. Id. Then, the defendant is allowed the opportunity to move for de-certification at the close of discovery. Id.

         Falcon Jet argues that the Court should not apply the two-step procedure because it is contrary to the plain text of section 216(b) and the relevant legislative history does not indicate that Congress intended for courts to conditionally certify collective actions. Falcon Jet says that employers are unduly burdened by the two-step process because they are required to move for decertification after conducting discovery.

         Section 216(b) does not specify the procedure courts should follow to certify collective actions. See Davenport v. Charter Commc'ns, LLC, 4:12CV00007 AGF, 2017 WL 878029 at *8 (E.D. Mo. March 6, 2017). It simply provides that one or more employees, on behalf of themselves and other employees similarly situated, may bring an action to recover unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation and that employee is a party unless he gives his written consent and that consent is filed in the court in which the action has been brought. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         Furthermore, Falcon Jet's argument ignores one of the purposes of the FLSA collective action, which is to reduce the burden on plaintiffs through the pooling of resources. See Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170, 110 S.Ct. 482, 107 L.Ed.2d 480 (1989) (noting a collective action affords plaintiffs the “advantage of lower individual costs to vindicate rights by the pooling of resources”). The two-step procedure with a lenient standard at the initial stage recognizes that the statute of limitations for opt-in plaintiffs continues to run until they opt-in. If the Court imposed a more stringent standard, like the more traditional Rule 23-style analysis, the parties would need to conduct discovery before the certification issue became ripe and during that time the statute of limitations would continue to run, working to the detriment of employees who were not paid overtime. Judicial economy is another concern. The Third Circuit explained: “A district court's early intervention in the preparation and distribution of notice to potential participants serves legitimate purposes, including avoidance of a multiplicity of duplicative suits and establishing cutoff dates to expedite disposition of the action.” Halle v. West Penn Allegheny Health Sys., Inc., 842 F.3d 215, 224 (3rd Cir. 2016). This Court, as it has done in the past, will follow the majority of courts and continue to apply a two-step approach to certification. See Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537, 554-55 (2d Cir. 2010); Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1259-60 (11th Cir. 2008); Comer v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 454 F.3d 544, 546 (6th Cir. 2006).

         II.

         In the first stage, or “notice stage, ” courts apply a lenient standard to determine whether persons similarly situated to the named plaintiffs exist and should receive notice. Chin v. Tile Shop, LLC, 57 F.Supp.3d 1075, 1082 (D. Minn. 2014). The plaintiffs bear the burden of proof at this stage, and they “can meet this burden by making a modest factual showing sufficient to demonstrate that they and potential plaintiffs together were victims of a common policy or plan that violated the law.” Kautsch v. Premier Commc'ns, 504 F.Supp.2d 685, 689 (W.D. Mo. 2007) (quoting Realite v. Ark Rests. Corp., 7 F.Supp.2d 303, 306 (S.D.N.Y. 1998)). The plaintiffs can satisfy their burden through the use of affidavits, supported by admissible evidence. Jost v. Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co., No. 4:08CV734, 2009 WL 211943, at *2-3 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 27, 2009). “The plaintiffs may not meet this burden through unsupported assertions of additional plaintiffs and widespread FLSA violations.” Littlefield v. Dealer Warranty Servs., LLC, 679 F.Supp.2d 1014, 1017 (E.D. Mo. 2010). However, the Court “does not make any credibility determinations or findings of fact with respect to contrary evidence presented by the parties.” Chin, 57 F.Supp.3d at 1083.

         The plaintiffs propose three classes for conditional certification:

(1) All Team Leaders (internal job code TEAM LDR and similar positions) employed by Defendants since June 6, 2014.
(2) All Office Personnel Employees (internal job codes ANALYST, ASSOC ANALYST, SPEC and similar positions) employed by Defendants since June 6, 2014.
(3) All Liaisons (internal job codes LIAISON PRODUCTION, COORD-SHOP FLOOR and similar positions) employed by Defendants since June 6, 2014.

         The named plaintiffs have each submitted an affidavit to show that they and employees similarly situated to them were ...


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