In Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk, Supreme Court ducks actual mootness issue raised by Rule 68 offers

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Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 allows a defendant to pony up the dough to resolve a claim and avoid the expense of litigation so long as the amount to fully resolve the claim can be clearly calculated in full and is offered in full (more can be offered if the defendant wants to be sure that the full claim under any method of calculation is fully resolved by the offer).  In Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk, 569 U. S. ____ (April 16, 2013), the Supreme Court entirely ducked the issue of whether a Rule 68 offer moots a collective action filed under the FLSA, instead resting on a concession by the plaintiff in the court below.  And thanks for nothing.

To sum up, the plaintiff brought a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) on behalf of herself and “other employees similarly situated.”  She ignored defendant’s offer of judgment under Rule 68.  The District Court, finding that no other individuals had joined and that the Rule 68 offer fully satisfied her claim, concluded that the suit was moot and dismissed it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit reversed. It held that her individual claim was moot but that her collective action was not, explaining that allowing defendants to “pick off” named plaintiffs before certification with calculated Rule 68 offers would frustrate the goals of collective actions. The case was remanded to the District Court to allow the plaintiff to seek “conditional certification,” which, if successful, would relate back to the date of her complaint.

Relying on the case or controversy requirement, the Court ducked the entire "pick off" issue:

While the Courts of Appeals disagree whether an unaccepted offer that fully satisfies a plaintiff ’s claim is sufficient to render the claim moot, we do not reach this question, or resolve the split, because the issue is not properly before us. The Third Circuit clearly held in this case that respondent’s individual claim was moot. 656 F. 3d, at 201. Acceptance of respondent’s argument to the contrary now would alter the Court of Appeals’ judgment, which is impermissible in the absence of a cross-petition from respondent. See Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. County of Kent, 510 U. S. 355, 364 (1994); Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U. S. 111, 119, n. 14 (1985). Moreover, even if the cross-petition rule did not apply, respondent’s waiver of the issue would still prevent us from reaching it.  In the District Court, respondent conceded that “[a]n offer of complete relief will generally moot the [plaintiff ’s] claim, as at that point the plaintiff retains no personal interest in the outcome of the litigation.” App. 93; 2010 WL 2038676, at *4. Respondent made a similar concession in her brief to the Court of Appeals, see App. 193, and failed to raise the argument in her brief in opposition to the petition for certiorari. We, therefore, assume, without deciding, that petitioners’ Rule 68 offer mooted respondent’s individual claim. See Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U. S. 27, 34 (2004).

Slip op., at 5.  So, given that the Supreme Court said that it is refusing to consider the "pick off" issue, what has been the general reaction of the defense bar?  Naturally they have already written that this means the "pick off" is completely acceptable.  I happen to think that this means you shouldn't concede anything ever, even if the court you are before thinks you are a punk for holding fast to your view of the law.

Justice Kagan had a few choice words for the 5-4 majority in her dissent.  She wrote:

The Court today resolves an imaginary question, based on a mistake the courts below made about this case and others like it. The issue here, the majority tells us, is whether a “ ‘ collective action’ ” brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., “is justiciable when the lone plaintiff's individual claim becomes moot.” Ante, at ––––. Embedded within that question is a crucial premise: that the individual claim has become moot, as the lower courts held and the majority assumes without deciding. But what if that premise is bogus? What if the plaintiff's individual claim here never became moot? And what if, in addition, no similar claim for damages will ever become moot? In that event, the majority's decision—founded as it is on an unfounded assumption—would have no real-world meaning or application. The decision would turn out to be the most one-off of one-offs, explaining only what (the majority thinks) should happen to a proposed collective FLSA action when something that in fact never happens to an individual FLSA claim is errantly thought to have done so. That is the case here, for reasons I'll describe. Feel free to relegate the majority's decision to the furthest reaches of your mind: The situation it addresses should never again arise.

Slip diss. op., at 1-2.  Justice Kagan then observed that the underlying issue was already answered indirectly by the Supreme Court recently:

We made clear earlier this Term that “[a]s long as the parties have a concrete interest, however small, in the outcome of the litigation, the case is not moot.” Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. ––––, ––––, 133 S.Ct. 1017, 1023, –––L.Ed.2d –––– (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[A] case becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). By those measures, an unaccepted offer of judgment cannot moot a case. When a plaintiff rejects such an offer—however good the terms—her interest in the lawsuit remains just what it was before. And so too does the court's ability to grant her relief. An unaccepted settlement offer—like any unaccepted contract offer—is a legal nullity, with no operative effect. As every first-year law student learns, the recipient's rejection of an offer “leaves the matter as if no offer had ever been made.” Minneapolis & St. Louis R. Co. v. Columbus Rolling Mill, 119 U.S. 149, 151, 7 S.Ct. 168, 30 L.Ed. 376 (1886). Nothing in Rule 68 alters that basic principle; to the contrary, that rule specifies that “[a]n unaccepted offer is considered withdrawn.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 68(b). So assuming the case was live before—because the plaintiff had a stake and the court could grant relief—the litigation carries on, unmooted.

Slip diss. op., at 3.  Don't forget this admonition from Justice Kagan when you receive the inevitable pick-off attempt, followed by a motion to dismiss.

In Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Ninth Circuit joins others to hold that FLSA and Rule 23 Classes are not incompatible

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Today the Ninth Circuit, in Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. (9th Cir. April 12, 2013) joined other circuits in concluding that FLSA opt-in collective actions are not incompatible with state law claims asserted as Rule 23 class actions:

In sum, we agree with the other circuits to consider the issue that the fact that Rule 23 class actions use an opt-out mechanism while FLSA collective actions use an opt-in
mechanism does not create a conflict warranting dismissal of the state law claims.

Slip op., at 9.  I will write up a bit more later, but this holding should put an end to the wasteful motion practice around this issue in the Ninth Circuit.  Given the agreement manifesting between the Circuits, it is unlikely that we will see Supreme Court review of this issue any time soon.

In the "Pitts" of despair, a "Terrible" attempt to pick off a class representative fails

I remember when what was probably the first Terrible Herbst gas station opened a mere block from my home in Las Vegas.  Refilled a lot of bike tires there.  But enough about my childhood.  Terrible Herbst isn't the friendly local gas station of my youth.  Now it's just another corporate slave to the whisperings of defense counsel skilled in the dark arts.  In Pitts v. Terrible Herbst, Inc. (August 9, 2011), the Ninth Circuit considered whether a rejected offer of judgment for the full amount of a putative class representative's individual claim moots a class action complaint where the offer precedes the filing of a motion for class certification.  The Ninth Circuit concluded that it did not.

Pitts filed a hybrid FLSA and Nevada labor law class action.  The defendant removed it to federal court.  With a discovery motion pending, Terrible made a Rule 68 offer of judgment in the amount of $900.  Pitts claimed $88.00 in damages but rejected the offer.  Terrible then sought to have the matter dismissed.  The Ninth Circuit rejected this attempt to impede consideration of the class certification question:

An inherently transitory claim will certainly repeat as to the class, either because “[t]he individual could nonetheless suffer repeated [harm]” or because “it is certain that other persons similarly situated” will have the same complaint. Gerstein, 420 U.S. at 110 n.11. In such cases, the named plaintiff’s claim is “capable of repetition, yet evading review,” id., and “the ‘relation back’ doctrine is properly invoked to preserve the merits of the case for judicial resolution,” McLaughlin, 500 U.S. at 52; see also Geraghty, 445 U.S. at 398; Sosna, 419 U.S. at 402 n.11.

Slip op., at 10453.  The Court then discussed the argument that the claims in this matter were not "inherrently" transitory:

We recognize that the canonical relation-back case—such as Gerstein or McLaughlin—involves an “inherently transitory” claim and, correspondingly, “a constantly changing putative class.” Wade v. Kirkland, 118 F.3d 667, 670 (9th Cir. 1997). But we see no reason to restrict application of the relation-back doctrine only to cases involving inherently transitory claims. Where, as here, a defendant seeks to “buy off” the small individual claims of the named plaintiffs, the analogous claims of the class—though not inherently transitory—become no less transitory than inherently transitory claims. Thus, although Pitts’s claims “are not ‘inherently transitory’ as a result of being time sensitive, they are ‘acutely susceptible to mootness’ in light of [the defendant’s] tactic of ‘picking off’ lead plaintiffs with a Rule 68 offer to avoid a class action.”

Slip op., at 10454.  Interestingly, the Court essentially found that the right to certify a class was an additional right not satisfied by the Rule 68 offer, and that right could not be extinguished unless certification were denied and all appellate efforts were exhausted.

Next, the Court ruled that it was error to find that Pitts failed to timely file a motion for class certification when the trial court refused to rule on a pending discovery motion to obtain evidence necessary for certification.

Other issues raised in the appeal were not addressed by the Court once it concluded that the trial court erred in its ruling regarding the timing of certification.

Sullivan v. Oracle Corporation addresses how California law applies to nonresident employees working both in and outside California

Today, the California Supreme Court issued an Opinion following its acceptance of questions about the construction of California law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In Sullivan v. Oracle Corporation (June 30, 2011), the Court addressed (1) whether the Labor Code's overtime provisions apply to plaintiffs' claims for compensation for work performed in this state [with the ancillary question of whether the same claims can serve as predicates for claims under California's unfair competition law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.)], and (2) whether the plaintiffs' claims for overtime compensation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) (29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; see id., § 207(a)) for work performed in other states can serve as predicates for UCL claims.

The Court responded "yes" to the first question group, and "no" to the second.

On the first issue, the Court said:  "The California Labor Code does apply to overtime work performed in California for a California-based employer by out-of-state plaintiffs in the circumstances of this case, such that overtime pay is required for work in excess of eight hours per day or in excess of forty hours per week. (See Sullivan III, supra, 557 F.3d 979, 983.)"  (Slip op., at 18.)

On the related UCL question, the Court said: "Business and Professions Code section 17200 does apply to the overtime work described in question one. (See Sullivan III, supra, 557 F.3d 979, 983.)"  Slip op., at 19.)

The full answer to the last issues was:  "Business and Professions Code section 17200 does not apply to overtime work performed outside California for a California-based employer by out-of-state plaintiffs in the circumstances of this case based solely on the employer's failure to comply with the overtime provisions of the FLSA."  (Slip op., at 23.)

The Opinion was issued by a unanimous Court.

Seymore v. Metson Marine, Inc. offers guidance on 7th day overtime, on call work

Plaintiffs worked consecutive 14-day “hitches” on Metson's ships, providing emergency clean up of oil spills and other hazardous chemical spills off the California coast.  This arrangement gave rise to questions about how Metson calculated pay for the seventh consecutive workday in a week and compensation for employees when on call.  In Seymore v. Metson Marine, Inc. (February 28, 2011), the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division Three) reversed an order granting summary judgment in favor of Metson.

On the seventh day of overtime issue, Metson set the start time of the workweek so that employees only worked one "workweek" of seven consecutive days in the 14-day hitch.  On an issue of first impression, the Court rejected that manipulation:

Metson's attempt to evade the requirements of sections 500 and 510 is no different from the method struck down in the Wal-Mart case. Under the plain language of section 510, plaintiffs are entitled to premium pay “on the seventh day of work in any one workweek” and according to section 500, a workweek is defined to mean “any seven consecutive days, starting with the same calendar day each week.” The clear intent of this statute is to provide premium pay for employees who are required to work a seventh consecutive day in a “fixed and regularly” occurring workweek. Metson's attempt to circumvent this requirement cannot be condoned. (Huntington Memorial Hospital v. Superior Court (2005) 131 Cal.App.4th 893, 910 [“The bottom line is this: An employer may not engage in a subterfuge or artifice designed to evade the overtime laws”].)

Slip op., at 5.  The Court found a DLSE memorandum on the issue to be in potential conflict with the statutory language and disregarded it.

Turning to whether Metson's control was sufficient to establish an obligation to pay for on-call time, the Court reviewed the evidence de novo, finding one fact in particular to be the key determinant, the obligation to sleep on Metson's premises:

Metson cites a number of cases in which courts have concluded that on-call employees able to engage in such personal activities and subject to even shorter response time requirements were not entitled to compensation. (See Gomez, supra, 173 Cal.App.4th 508 [30-minute telephone response time]; Dinges v. Sacred Heart St. Mary’s Hosps. (7th Cir. 1999) 164 F.3d 1056 [7-minute response time]; Bright v. Houston Northwest Medical Center Survivor, Inc. (5th Cir. 1991) 934 F.2d 671 [20-minute response time].) However, there is one critical difference between each of those cases and the present situation —in none of those cases was the employee required to sleep at the employer's premises. In Bright, the court observed that the situation there was “wholly different” from cases in which employees were required to serve their on-call time at the employer's premises because “Bright did not have to remain on or about his employer's place of business, or some location designated by his employer, but was free to be at his home or at any place or places he chose, without advising his employer, subject only to the restrictions that he be reachable by beeper, not be intoxicated, and be able to arrive at the hospital in 'approximately' twenty minutes.” (934 F.2d at p. 676.)

Slip op., at 10.  (As an aside, I find it amusing that two cases I handled, one on the prevailing side and one on the losing side, factored into the Court's discussion of this on-call issue.  Glad I didn't completely screw it up for the plaintiffs here.)  In any event, after an extended discussion of how California parallels but does not exactly follow FLSA precedent surrounding this issue, the Court then spent a moment discussing the fact that, in California, an employer may agree with an employee to designate eight sleeping hours as uncompensated time when an employee works a 24-hour shift.  The Court concluded by suggesting that Metson's arguments about the need for revised exceptions to current wage orders (or a new wage order) were worthy of consideration but did not provide a basis for the Court to disregard existing law.

District Court (E.D. Cal.) certifies a collective action of grape farm workers

United States District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill (Eastern District of California) granted a motion to certify a collective action of grape farm workers pursuant to he Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 210 et seq.  Gomez v. H & R Gunlund Ranches, Inc., 2010 WL 5232973 (E.D.Cal. Dec 16, 2010).  The Court applied the more common two-stage certification approach used in FLSA actions.  The Court rejected the defendant's argument that the plaintiffs were obligated to provide evidence that other would opt-in if given the opportunity to do so.  The Court then issued instructions on required revisions to the proposed notice, including removal of all references to state law claims.  The Court refused to grant the defendant's request to limit the plaintiffs' ability to communicate with opt-in Plaintiffs.  The Court also refused to preclude additional notice through Spanish language media, noting that maximizing notice was beneficial and rejecting the argument that such media, often used in class actions, would somehow constitute a violation of professional responsibility rules.

Chinese Wang decision is big news

Wrong, but necessary somehow.  A little later than promised, but Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc. (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010) has too much going on not to receive some additional attention.  At the outset, Wang was a basic wage & hour case.  The plaintiffs alleged that employees were made to work in excess of eight hours per day and/or forty hours per week. They alleged that they were wrongfully denied overtime compensation, meal and rest breaks, accurate and itemized wage statements, and penalties for wages due but not promptly paid at termination.  The subsequent procedural twists and turns were anything but standard.  But despite the many moving parts in the decision, the Ninth Circuit summarized the case in a few sentences:

The district court certified the FLSA claim as a collective action. It certified the state-law claims as a class action under Rule 23(b)(2) and, alternatively, under Rule 23(b)(3). In the state-law class action, it provided for notice and opt out, but subsequently invalidated the opt outs. It granted partial summary judgment to plaintiffs; held jury and bench trials; entered judgment for plaintiffs; awarded attorney’s fees to plaintiffs; and conducted a new opt-out process. CDN appeals, challenging aspects of each of these rulings, as well as the jury’s verdict.

Slip op., at 16393.  After the trial court certified a narrowed class under Rule 23(b)(2) (finding that injunctive relief was on "equal footing" with monetary relief), the trial court approved a notice that authorized class members to opt into the FLSA action and out of the state law-based class action.  The notice precipitated the first major upheaval in the case:

Forms were mailed to 187 individuals, and notice was posted and forms made available at CDN’s Monterey Park facility. Plaintiffs received back about 155 opt-out forms, including 18 from individuals not on the original list of class members.  Plaintiffs filed a motion to invalidate the opt outs, for curative notice, and to restrict CDN’s communication with class members. On June 7, 2006, the court granted the motion, finding that “the opt out period was rife with instances of coercive conduct, including threats to employees’ jobs, termination of an employee supporting the litigation, the posting of signs urging individuals not to tear the company apart, and the abnormally high rate of opt outs.” Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., 236 F.R.D. 485, 491 (C.D. Cal. 2006). The district court deferred any future opt-out procedure until after the trial on the merits.

Slip op., at 16395.  Facing cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court then ruled that news reporters were not exempt professionals.  Next, the matter proceeded to a trial.  The defendant contended that only the FLSA claims should be tried and that UCL claims were pre-empted by the FLSA, but the trial court elected to retain supplemental jurisdiction, rejected the pre-emption argument and tried the state law claims as well.

The Court of Appeal first tacked the exemption analysis.  After examining decisions from other Circuits, the Court concluded that the reporters did not satisfy the creative professionals exemption.

Although the evidence submitted revealed disputes over how to characterize CDN’s journalists, we agree with the district court that, even when viewing the facts in the light most favorable to CDN, the reporters do not satisfy the criteria for the creative professional exemption.

Slip op., at 16400.  Next, the Court examined whether the trial court had applied the correct criteria for determining whether certification under Rule 23(b)(2) was appropriate.  The Court concluded that, although the matter was decided prior to Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 603 F.3d 571 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc), the trial court applied essentially identical standards and correctly decided the issue.

The Court then turned to the invalidation of opt-outs.  The Court first held that a trial court's authority to regulate class communications and the notice process implicitly confers that power to take corrective action when that process has been tainted.  The Court then considered whether the evidence submitted was sufficient to support the trial court's decision.  The Court noted in particular the evidence submitted by a class action notice company regarding normal opt-out rates:

Finally, plaintiffs submitted a declaration from the president of a class action notice company explaining that ordinarily opt-out rates do not exceed one percent. In this case, the district court found that current employees opted out at a 90 percent rate, whereas former employees opted out at a 25 percent rate.

Slip op., at 16407.  After concluding that the decision to invalidate the opt-outs was supported, the Court examined whether deferring a new opt-out period until after the trial was appropriate.  Again the Court noted the trial court's broad discretion to regulate the notice process: "The ordinary procedure is to give notice at the time of class certification. But the rule does not mandate notice at any particular time. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(c)(2)."  Slip op., at 16408.  The Court then affirmed the trial court's conclusion that it was necessary to delay a new notice and opt-out process in order to avoid the taint imposed during the initial process.

Finally, after observing that the evidence supported the jury verdict regarding meal periods under either the "provide" or "ensure" standards currently up for review by the California Supreme Court, the Court ended its Opinion by explicitly holding what most courts in the Ninth Circuit had already concluded: the FLSA does not preempt state law claims like the UCL.

Breaking News: Ninth Circuit issue two class action opinions addressing novel issues in the Ninth Circuit

After a bit of a lull on the class action front, the Ninth Circuit had a busy morning.  Two major opinions on class action issues were just issued by Ninth Circuit panels, and both opinions are sure to generate a good deal of discussion.  Both address areas of unsettled law among various federal courts.  The first is of interest to wage & hour practitioners and the second addresses the argument that large statutory damage awards defeat "superiority" of the class action procedure:

  • Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc. (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010) is something of a kitchen sink of class action issues.  Among other things, the Ninth Circuit affirmed (1) the concurrent prosecution of a FLSA opt-in collective action and a Rule 23 opt-out class action, (2) the invalidation of Rule 23 opt-outs due to coercion, (3) the decision to conduct a corrective opt-out process after the trial, and (4) certification under Rule 23(b)(2).  The Court also held that the UCL was not preempted by the FLSA.
  • Bateman v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc. (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2010) concerned the singular issue of a class certification denial on superiority grounds.  The Ninth Circuit concluded that none of the three grounds relied upon by the district court — the disproportionality between the potential statutory liability and the actual harm suffered, the enormity of the potential damages, or AMC’s good faith compliance — justified the denial of class certification on superiority grounds.

Both opinions are substantial, and I will try to give both an extended treatment this evening.  Full disclosure: Greg Karasik of Spiro Moss represents Plaintiff Bateman.

While the Ninth Circuit still hasn't defined "similarly situated" under the FLSA, California's federal courts continue to apply the two-stage process

United States Magistrate Judge Edward M. Chen (Northern District of California) granted plaintiff's motion to conditionally certify a collective action of Sales Representatives working for Defendant Vector Marketing Corporation.  Harris v. Vector Marketing Corp., 2010 WL 1998768 (N.D. Cal. May 18, 2010).  In doing so, Magistrate Judge Chen added his name to the long list of federal courts in California that have adopted a two-step approach for determining whether a class is “similarly situated.” Under this approach, a district court first determines, based on the submitted pleadings and, perhaps, a few declarations, whether the proposed class should be notified of the action.  At the first stage, the determination of whether the putative class members will be similarly situated is made using a "fairly lenient" standard, and typically results in "conditional certification" of a representative class. District courts have held that conditional certification requires only that “ ‘plaintiffs make substantial allegations that the putative class members were subject to a single illegal policy, plan or decision.’ ”

The second-step usually occurs after discovery is complete, at which time the defendants may move to decertify the class.  In the second step, the court makes a factual determination about whether the plaintiffs are similarly situated by weighing such factors as (1) the disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs, (2) the various defenses available to the defendant which appeared to be individual to each plaintiff, and (3) fairness and procedural considerations. If the court determines that the plaintiffs are not similarly situated, the court may decertify the class and dismiss the opt-in plaintiffs' action without prejudice. Even when the parties settle, the court must make some final class certification finding before approving a collective action settlement.

Conditionally certified FLSA class of United Auto Credit Corporation Supervisors classified as exempt

United States District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte (Northern District of California) granted United Auto Credit Corporation's motion to decertify a class of California-based Supervisor (and related) employees after the class was conditionally certified under the FLSA.  Hernandez v. United Auto Credit Corporaiton (N.D. Cal. Apr. 2, 2010) 2010 WL 1337702.  In FLSA actions, many Courts employ a two-phase process for "certification" of FLSA classes, an approach used by the trial court here:

Under the two-step approach, the court first considers whether to certify a collective action and permit notice to be distributed to the putative class members. See Thiessen, 267 F.3d at 1102; Russell v. Wells Fargo & Co., 2008 WL 4104212, at *2-3 (N.D.Cal. Sept.3, 2008). At this first stage, the standard for certification is fairly easy to satisfy. Courts have required only “substantial allegations, supported by declarations or discovery, that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Russell, 2008 WL 4104212, at *2.

At the second stage, after discovery has been taken, the court may decertify the class if it concludes that the class members are not similarly situated. Id. at *3. The court can consider a number of factors in deciding whether an action should ultimately proceed collectively, including: (1) the disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) the various defenses available to the defendant and whether they appear to be individual to each plaintiff; (3) fairness and procedural considerations; and (4) whether plaintiffs made the required filings before filing suit. Thiessen, 267 F.3d at 1103. However, a requirement that the class members be identical would be inconsistent with the intent of FLSA's provision that a case can proceed as a collective action. Pendlebury v. Starbucks Coffee Co., 518 F.Supp.2d 1345, 1361 (S.D.Fla.2007).

Slip op., at 2.  The motion filed by the defendant in this case concerned the more rigorous showing required in the second stage.  (Side Note:  The Ninth Circuit has not yet explicitly held that it concurs with the two-stage approach, but District Courts have been employing that approach in the Ninth Circuit for many years without opposition.)

In the course of briefing, the plaintiffs apparently advanced the novel argument that the supervision requirement included in the executive exemption test created a ratio requirement where an employer had to show that there were at least two non-exempt employees for every executive:

Plaintiffs' argument overstates the requirement of the pertinent FSLA regulation. Plaintiffs are correct that in order to qualify for the executive exemption, an employee must “customarily and regularly direct[ ] the work of two or more other employees.” 29 C .F.R. § 541.100(a)(3). The language of the regulation, however, does not require a strict mathematical ratio between an “employee employed in a bona fide executive capacity” and “other employees.” All the regulation requires is that an employee customarily or regularly direct the work of two or more other employees. The other employees whose work the executive directs may or may not themselves be executives. Thus, the FLSA does not create a “ratio requirement.” Whether the present conditional class should be decertified, then, depends on the individualized assessment of whether the class members are “similarly situated.” The court now turns to that inquiry.

Slip op., at 3.  No dice.  Turning to the merits of the motion by defendant, the Court, as did the District Court in Weigele v. Fedex (discussed here), placed little weight on the uniform classification of employees by a central office:  "[T]he recent decision of In re Wells Fargo Homes Mortg. Overtime Litig., 571 F.3d 953 (9th Cir.2009), which involved certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), cautions against placing too much weight on an internal policy of classifying all members of a particular class of employees as exempt."  Slip op., at 5.  More importantly, however, the Court discussed the plaintiffs' inability to rebut substantial evidence showing great disparity in the job duties of different Supervisors.

Are there really that many large businesses out there that let their employees do whatever they want?