This is an interesting case because it combines the elements of necessary, but not proven, commonality of situation for class certification and a quirky element of overtime calculation based on a unique FLSA provision. The bottom line is that the two workers who sought a class action on both the federal and state levels lost both because of the need for too much individual scrutiny of worker claims. The case is entitled Sinclair et al. v. PGA Inc., and was filed in federal court in the Western District of Wisconsin.
The Judge rejected the claim, for a class, that the Company should have paid the higher wage rates for skilled labor (e.g. trade work, such as carpentry) as opposed to generic wage rates. The Judge also agreed to decertify a FLSA collective whose overtime rates were allegedly miscalculated or underestimated. The Judge opined that the state-law part of the suit did not possess several elements of a viable class action under Rule 23, citing to the need for too much individual attention needed for each worker’s situation. The Judge also observed that no other worker had opted into the suit, and this fact “undermines the entire purpose of a collective action.”
The theory was that the employer violated the Wisconsin prevailing wage law by paying workers at a lower, general for work done to support more skilled work. The plaintiffs alleged that this practice violated the FLSA because the rate should have been that which they earned before overtime kicked in as opposed to the lower-rated work they were actually performing in the overtime hours.
Importantly, the Judge denied the request for class certification on the prevailing wage claims. The Court held that the workers failed to meet the numerosity requirement, as they could not make a showing as to the actual number of workers who worked the lower-rated support work. They also could not meet the “predominance” requirement, meaning that the underpayment theory applied to most members of the class.
The Judge stated that the claim of the employees is based “not just on the amount, but also on the type of work” each class member did, and would force the court to make “an individual determination of whether an employee’s work on a specific week, day and even hour made possible, supported or cleaned up after a skilled trade worker.” The Court added that a trial would focus on individual workers’ “unique work on an hourly, daily or weekly basis” and whether it should have been paid at higher wages, the workers did not meet the “superiority” requirement that they show a single class case would be better than a series of individual cases.
Here, the workers lost the federal and state class actions. The state case is quite interesting because it shows a path for employers sued in class actions in prevailing wage cases how they can defeat the motion for class certification. I have preached this dogma for years and repeat it proudly now, again.
Individual scrutiny destroys a class!