Whenever a class action is defended, the main defense is, always, too much individual scrutiny is needed to allow a class to be formed. This is exactly what a group of defendants has just now urged a California federal court to find and thus decertify a conditional class of workers claiming they were denied overtime pay in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The case is entitled Sandoval et al. v. Ali et al.. and was filed in federal court in the Northern District of California.
The workers clam that they were not paid for non-repair-related tasks and they also claim that they were not properly compensated for downtime; the employers claim that each of these claims has to be assessed individually because they are not similar enough to belong to a single class or to opt in to the conditionally certified FLSA class. Indeed, the defendants noted that the court itself already compared the theories of recovery to “shifting sands.”
The defendants brief aptly noted that “each variation has been tied to unique, individualized or specifically anecdotal scenarios based on cases that are dissimilar to the facts of this case, but there has not been any evidence of any class-wide policy, procedure or practice at use [in] all shops let alone a single shop that would warrant the FLSA conditionally certified class to continue as a class action.”
The defendants argued that the standard for conditional certification is much lower because that kind of certification is granted “not on the merits,” but rather because, in that limited and narrow setting, naked allegations can carry the day. However, the defendants cogently argued that “by contrast, [for] the decertification of FLSA collective actions or final certification of FLSA collective actions, the burden on plaintiffs is substantially greater and requires a demonstration of substantial similarity between the plaintiffs and opt-ins.” The defendants conclude by bluntly noting that “plaintiffs cannot meet this burden.”
Anything that can be espoused that will tend to show individuality or that individual scrutiny is needed should be thrown up as a defense. For example, in this case, there were several FLSA class members and a number of opt-in workers that allegedly had claims beyond the statute of limitations period, so their circumstances would also be different. The employer here has cogently asserted that decertification is mandated because proving liability under these circumstances will necessarily default into making numerous individual inquiries over time worked.
Music to my ears. Hope it works.