Motion to Decertify Collective Action Comprised of Over 300 Cable Installation Technicians Denied

United States District Judge Bernice Bouie Donald from the Western District of Tennessee recently issued an opinion in Monroe v. FTS USA, LLC, No. 2:08-cv-2100, wherein she held that 300 cable installation technicians could continue pursuing their claims for overtime compensation as a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Judge Donald denied Defendant’s motions for summary judgment and for decertification. The case involved over 300 current and former employees of FTS USA, LLC and UniTek USA, LLC – both with offices in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. The Plaintiffs alleged that they were not paid proper overtime compensation of one and one-half times their regular hourly rate for all hours worked over forty within a single workweek pursuant to the FLSA.

Plaintiffs alleged that they were directed by their managers to understate the amount of hours worked and that they would have a lunch break automatically deducted from their timesheets regardless of whether they actually took a lunch. Moreover, Plaintiffs alleged that managers altered their timesheets to reduce or remove overtime hours worked. Plaintiffs were compensated on a “piece-rate” system, meaning they were paid a set percentage of the overall billing and revenue produced.

After discovery had been conducted as to 50 Plaintiffs, Defendants argued within their motion for decertification that damages could not be determined on a class-wide basis as the amount of damages for each employee would obviously differ among the 300 plus opt-ins. The Court dismissed this argument stating that representative testimony is completely sufficient and adequate in a case brought pursuant to Section 216(b). Thus, individual testimony from numerous Plaintiffs as to how much time overtime they worked can form the basis for determining the amount owed to other Plaintiffs.  “Evidence from every member of the plaintiff class is not required for this task and, if required, would be so burdensome as to make trial of this case, or any other large collective action under § 216(b), impracticable.”

Further, the Court noted that because Plaintiffs allege that Defendants’ records are inaccurate, Plaintiffs’ burden of proof is relaxed and the individual Plaintiffs can rely upon their memory in determining the amount of overtime owed.  Further, whether Defendants’ failure to pay proper overtime compensation to Plaintiff was wilful, a factor under the FLSA, is itself “clearly amenable to classwide determination,” Judge Donald held, as testimony at trial could show that Defendants had a policy of denying such overtime to its employees. Lastly, the Court rejected Defendants’ argument that individual determinations would have to be made as to whether Defendant had knowledge regarding each individual Plaintiff’s FLSA violation:  “The Court squarely rejects this contention. So long as Defendants were generally aware-either actually or constructively-of the types of practices that Plaintiffs allege were used to deny them overtime, there is no requirement in the law to compel each member of the plaintiff class to establish that he or she individually complained of the FLSA violation.”

Interestingly, the Court made the acute observation that Defendants’ arguments within their summary judgment motion were at odds with arguments set forth in their motion for decertification: “The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is in tension with their motion to decertify since one seeks to conclude the case on a classwide basis while the other argues that classwide adjudication is improper.”

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