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No Steak Sauce For Steak N Shake Workers As Judge Rejects Class Action: No Common Policy Or Practice

Posted in Class Actions

I happily note that a positive trend, in my view, is continuing.  That is to say, the defeating of FLSA collective actions by defendants asserting that there is not enough similarity in the putative plaintiffs to warrant their conditional certification into a class.  A federal judge has just rejected a motion for conditional certification, in which 65,000 employees, nationwide, tried to sue Steak N Shake, for overtime.  The case is entitled Beecher v. Steak N Shake Operations Incorporated and was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia.

This was another of these off-the-clock cases, where hourly employees charge that they were not paid for all time worked.  The suit also charged that managers altered time records in order to “save” the overtime that would have otherwise been due.  Parenthetically, I should note that in these chain-store cases, so-called Burger King cases, the individual stores run on tight labor budgets and managers are judged by whether they adhere to these budgets, so there is intense pressure to stay within budget, sometimes resulting in off-the-clock work being done, or allegedly being done.

With that said, the Court concluded that that the plaintiffs had not shown that they were similarly situated to each other or that there was not a commonality, a system wide policy or company practice that could be the “glue” to hold the action together.  This was particularly applicable to the contention that a nationwide practice to falsify and alter records existed.

The court concluded that “even assuming, arguendo, that there exists a nationwide practice of reviewing and sometimes revising hours clocked in and out, and tips received, that is not enough glue to hold this proposed class together; neither is the fact that defendant generally discourages managers from allowing overtime work.”

Thus, the court found that the plaintiffs’ allegations required individual scrutiny because to adjudge the claims would mean to be to call numerous supervisors to testify to their particular practices on these matters.  Merely showing that the putative class members all utilized the same reporting system (and that all of the stores used the same internal reporting system) would not answer the key question of whether the employees were similarly situated or treated.  Thus, given the size of the class and the individualized nature of the allegations, there would have to be several thousand mini-trials, which would make the case unmanageable.  Thus, dismissal was warranted.

What I take away from this is that when faced with a nationwide class action, with thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of possible plaintiffs, the opportunity to argue no commonality/need for individual scrutiny may be actually enhanced.  Instead of being the terrifying specter that such a suit initially raises, it could actually be the salvation of the defendant-employer.