I have written several times about Assistant Manager class actions being quite difficult to defend because these employees often perform a great deal of “subordinate” type work, making the issue of “primary duty” a tricky one. In a recent class action involving these employees, a federal judge has denied a motion for conditional certification (which does not often happen) on the basis that the lead plaintiff Assistant Manager was not similarly situated to the people he tried to represent. The case is entitled Guillen v. Marshalls of MA Inc and was filed in the Southern District of New York.
The plaintiff had claimed that the violations were willful, thereby entitling him (and the other opt-ins) to a third year of recovery. Then, going after the primary duty requirement, the plaintiff alleged that he devoted the bulk of his time to non-exempt tasks such as janitorial work and unloading trucks.
The deficiency in the plaintiff’s motion, however, was that he failed to show that Assistant Managers throughout the country were performing their jobs in precisely the same manner. Put differently, there was not a strong showing that Assistant Managers elsewhere were discharging non-exempt duties. The court stated that “Guillen’s latest motion adds virtually no evidence suggesting that Guillen is similarly situated to ASMs in Marshalls stores nationwide with respect to the main contention in this case: that he was required to perform tasks that rendered him nonexempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements.”
The court noted that there was nothing in the job description for this classification that required the performance of non-exempt work that the plaintiff alleged was done. There was no evidence of any nationwide requirement(s) in this area as well. The plaintiffs could not find a companywide policy that would apply to all of these employees. As I have often noted, that is the anathema for an employer defending such a case. In this case, there could have been thousands of employees employed in these jobs across the country and without a showing of commonality (i.e. a policy), there would be a need for individual scrutiny of what each employee actually did.
What this case again reinforces for me is that the knee jerk reaction of any company defending a FLSA collective action should be to look for and solidify all evidence of the dissimilarity of the lead plaintiff and the “others.” Company compensation policies should also be examined and, if need be, appropriately revised.