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De-Certification Attempt Depends Upon Ostensible Need For (Too Much) Individual Scrutiny

Posted in Class Actions

A FLSA class is usually conditionally certified.  The next tactical step for the employer is to seek that class’ decertification. If it succeeds in doing so, the case is over (subject to appeals).  The key to that effort is to convince the district court that too much individual scrutiny of class members is required so there does not exist the commonality, the “pattern or practice” that binds all class members together.

An employer has adopted this very technique in contending that a class of workers who claim they were misclassified as exempt should be de-certified because the court would be compelled to look at the duties discharged by each employee to ascertain what their primary duties were.  The Court would then have to determine they, that is to say, for each one of them, are exempt or not. The case is entitled Heffelfinger et al. v. Electronic Data Systems Corporation and was filed in federal court in the Central District of California.

The Ninth Circuit had upheld certification for one class of EDS workers but remanded this case to the district court judge, due to a concern relating to significant differences in the job duties/tasks of information technology employees.  The defense argued that ” the mere descriptions of those job categories” could not address or resolve the issue of whether all putative class members were exempt.  In this regard, the company contended that this class sought to include employees whose position descriptions were very similar to employees in another EDS class action where class certification was denied.

Thus, the company argued that individual scrutiny would be required for every member of the class, thus making its continuation as a class action inappropriate.  The plaintiffs have countered by alleging that these employees “do basically the same kind of thing, that is, computer programming, and that is the kind of duty the Ninth Circuit has said is not in and of itself qualitatively exempt.”

The issue has been joined on whether these employees fit within the administrative exemption, which is often the grayest and toughest to fit within.  This decision will turn on whether the putative class members performed administrative work for the Company’s customers.  The employer contends that this fact no longer supports a class, but rather the need for individualized scrutiny.

I can’t wait for the decision, hoping we get another defendant’s road map for finding our way to the need for individual attention, and, therefore, the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ FLSA collective action.