Maybe a trend is developing. Maybe employer-defendants are starting to turn the tide of what seems like an incessant trend towards the granting of conditional certification in FLSA cases and the maintenance of those classes in the face of motions to de-certify. I say this because a federal district court in Alabama recently decertified a class of Dollar Tree Stores managers who claimed they were misclassified as exempt employees. The case is entitled Knott v. Dollar Tree Stores Inc. filed in the Northern District of Alabama.
The defendant argued that the duties of each of the managers would need to be scrutinized and investigated to determine if their primary duty was management and if they fit within the exemption. Thus, the necessary and fundamental element needed to sustain a class—a common pattern, practice or policy, was missing. The judge agreed.
The judge noted that “while Dollar Tree applied its executive exemption across-the-board, the defense is individuated in this case as plaintiffs’ job duties and employment experiences vary dramatically. Although some may have performed uniform tasks mandated by a corporate manual, others routinely exercised their independent judgment, and the amount of time they spent performing managerial duties is a matter of individual.”
The court also sounded the death knell of the plaintiffs’ action by asserting that “because they performed a wide array of differing exempt job duties with varying degrees of importance, one group of them cannot reasonably be said to be representative of them all.”
The plaintiffs had argued that because an alleged majority of their time was spent doing manual labor, they could not be exempt. However, this premise proved to be the plaintiffs undoing as the contention called for the very individual scrutiny that dooms a class action. It should be noted that the plaintiffs had been granted conditional certification, which entails meeting a much lower, “lenient” standard. The judge made plain, however, that the plaintiffs did not meet the more stringent second tier standard for the maintenance of a collective action.
The lesson, the strategy, is (again) plain for defense counsel. Attack the alleged commonality.