A federal court in Tennessee recently certified a group of call center employees as a class under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), clearing the first hurdle in their class-action lawsuit. While most federal class-action lawsuits must meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, class-action lawsuits under the FLSA must instead meet the standards of FLSA section 216(b).
In Rice v. Cellco Partnership, the employees seeking to form a class worked in the Cellco Murfreesboro, Tennessee call center, where they claimed that they were routinely required to perform work “off of the clock” that was actually compensable. In particular, the employees needed to arrive at their desks at least 15 minutes (and most often 20 to 30 minutes) before their shift began for the purpose of preparing to log onto the Rockwell phone system and take their first calls. The employees were allegedly disciplined if they were not prepared to take their first call at the start time, and were not allowed to include any time not reflected in the Rockwell phone system. The employees were allegedly required to check for work-related emails before and after work and during their lunch breaks, for which they were not compensated. If they logged the actual time they spent working, the employees were disciplined. Finally, the employees claimed that although they were paid for part of their overtime hours, they were not paid for all of them.
The employees requested that the federal court conditionally certify the action as a collective action under the FLSA and authorize them to send notice to all current and former employees who had worked as customer service representatives for Cellco during the past three years. Meanwhile, Cellco argued that the employees failed to meet their burden for conditional certification, in that they could not establish that they were similarly situated to the proposed class, or that Cellco had a common policy to violate its lawful policies.
The federal court noted that there was a two-step process to determining whether plaintiffs in a class action were similarly situated. For the first step, courts used a fairly lenient standard that usually resulted in the conditional certification of a representative class. That usually occurred at the beginning of the discovery phase, and at that time, courts did not resolve factual disputes, decide substantive issues, or make credibility determinations. For the second step, courts reviewed evidence produced during discovery and determined whether the class should be de-certified. While courts applied a stricter standard at this stage, the FLSA plaintiffs faced a lower burden than those seeking certification under Rule 23.
The court found that the employees in this case had met the first-stage burden by providing a “modest factual showing” that they were potential class members. The federal court therefore conditionally certified the class.
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