Some months back, I blogged about a FLSA class action filed against Life Time Fitness based on a theory that personal trainers were compelled to work off-the-clock and were not paid.  Well, a federal judge has just denied the motion to conditionally certify a proposed class of personal trainers and instructors.  The Judge found that there allegedly improper working conditions varied too much from employee to employee to permit the conditional certification of the class.  The case is entitled Steger et al. v. LTF Club Operations Co. Inc. et al., and was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois.

Fitness club and treadmill
Copyright: adam121 / 123RF Stock Photo

U.S. District Judge Sharon J. Coleman concluded that assessing the workers’ claims would mandate “highly individualized” scrutiny and defenses because the employees were paid pursuant to a complicated commission system, thereby rendering a collective action inefficient.  The Court noted that testimony from the workers demonstrated that their working conditions varied, again requiring individualized attention.

The Judge wrote that “the pressure that each [personal trainer] felt to work off the clock depended on his or her location, his or her job title and responsibilities, his or her department head at the particular moment, his or her productivity, and his or her personal decisions.”  She asserted that “although two putative plaintiffs might share one or two of these factors in common, a highly individualized analysis would nonetheless be necessary to determine the extent to which each employee worked off the clock and whether that conduct was attributable to Life Time.”

The proposed class would have stretched to more than one-hundred locations across the country, going back to 2011.  The Judge did find that the supervisors of the employees received commissions based on department revenues and she did note that some of these supervisors pressured their employees to report fewer hours so as to minimize the “draws” taken from their particular division’s cash flow.  Countered against this was the undisputed fact that the Employee Handbook required workers to report all hours worked.  Moreover, the testimony indicated that the five job titles sought for inclusion in the proposed class did not have “substantially identical” experiences.  Thus, the Court denied the motion.

The Takeaway

The employer’s best defense (sometimes, indeed, the only defense) is that a class is inappropriate because there is too much of a need for individual scrutiny.  Consider what was at stake here—more than one hundred locations, nationwide, and several hundred employees.  The potential liability for the employer would have been staggering, but now that possibility is (likely) gone forever.

The employer still has some stuff to clean up here, as noted by the Judge.  But now it has the time to do it.  Thanks to the magic bullet defense!