A group of asset protection coordinators had filed a class action against Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated, claiming they had been misclassified as exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act; the plaintiffs sought a nationwide class. They sought conditional certification of their class under the “modest factual showing” standard, which is, oftentimes, a very lenient standard for plaintiffs to initially prevail upon. The case is entitled Bramble v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and was brought in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
In denying the motion, the judge referenced the deposition testimony of the plaintiffs, where they tried to cast the theory that they spent most of their time performing non-exempt work. The court was unimpressed, as it found that this testimony was “largely specific to their own experiences at Wal-Mart.” As such, the testimony could not support the contention that their work was the same as was performed by allegedly similarly situated employees across the country.
Moreover, the court ruled that the misclassification issue would necessarily have to center around a fact-intensive analysis of the duties and functions discharged by these employees all over the nation. In other words, the need for individual scrutiny outweighed (significantly) any evidence that there existed a common policy or a common set of job duties for these employees, wherever they might be situate. As the number of potential opt-ins totaled more than five thousand, spread out over more than three thousand stores, the court concluded that individual analysis would be needed and this would not allow for the “the economy of scale envisioned by the FLSA collective action procedure.”
The workers had claimed that they had the same position descriptions and that Wal-Mart evaluated and compensated them under a common set of policies. The Company, however, countered by producing affidavits from twenty-three employees, in three States, that demonstrated that the employees performed a number of managerial functions, including hiring, firing, and training.
I have noted in other postings that the need for individual scrutiny is a solid and winnable defense against even the conditional motion for class certification, which plaintiffs often just support with almost identical affidavits or, as herein, boilerplate testimony about their performance of allegedly non-exempt duties. A carefully mounted defense, which highlights the individual differences in supposedly similarly situated employees, especially if, as here, those employees are widely scattered can defeat class certification and deter the plaintiff’s lawyers from trying the same thing with a different grouping of employees.