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Rowe v. Hamilton

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

February 16, 2017

GREGORY ROWE, CODY PILKINTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
CRAIG HAMILTON, d/b/a HAMILTON PAINTING Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification and Notification of All Putative Class Members. (Doc. 18.) The Court finds for purposes of conditional certification, Plaintiffs have established a colorable basis for their claim that the putative class members were victims of a single decision, policy, or plan implemented by Defendant Craig Hamilton, d/b/a/ Hamilton Painting (“Hamilton”) resulting in violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Upon consideration of the parties' briefing and exhibits, and for the reasons stated below, the motion (doc. 18) is GRANTED in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs brought this collective action under the FLSA on behalf of themselves and “similarly situated” employees of Hamilton.[1] (Doc. 26.) Plaintiffs allege they, along with other painters employed by Hamilton, were subject to Hamilton's compensation policy and practice resulting in compensation that did not meet the overtime requirements of the FLSA. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs move for conditional certification of the collective action. (Doc. 18.) Plaintiffs request the Court conditionally certify this matter as a collective action for unpaid wages pursuant to the FLSA and authorize Plaintiffs to send notice under FLSA § 216(b) to all current and former painters who worked for Hamilton within the past three years. (Doc. 18-1.) Plaintiffs also request the Court appoint their counsel as interim class counsel. (Doc. 18.)

         II. Discussion

         The FLSA requires employers to pay most employees a regular hourly rate for up to forty (40) hours a week and overtime compensation at a rate of one and one-half times the regular rate for hours worked in excess of forty (40). 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207(a)(1). Additionally, it provides a private right of action to recover damages for violations of the FLSA's overtime provisions, including unpaid wages, plus an equal amount in liquidated damages for violations of §§ 206 and 207. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Such action may be brought by an employee for himself and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated.” Id. In an FLSA collective action, plaintiffs must “opt-in” to participate. Young v. Cerner Corp., 503 F.Supp.2d 1226, 1228-29 (W.D. Mo. 2007).

         A. Conditional Certification of the Class

         “A district court may certify a case as a collective action only if members of the collective are ‘similarly situated' or raise similar legal issues regarding coverage, exemption, or nonpayment of wages[.]” Taylor v. Bear Communs., LLC, No. 4:12-CV-01261-BCW, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90352, at *4 (W.D. Mo. June 27, 2013) (citation omitted). “The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing he or she is similarly situated to other members of the proposed class.” Id. (citation omitted).

         The FLSA does not define the term “similarly situated, ” and federal courts have applied varying standards to determine whether potential opt-in plaintiffs are “similarly situated” under § 216(b). Kautsch v. Premier Communs., 504 F.Supp.2d 685, 688 (W.D. Mo. 2007). Although the Eighth Circuit has not articulated a standard for conditionally certifying FLSA classes, the majority of the district courts in the Eighth Circuit use a two-step process. Id. (collecting cases); see also Taylor, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90352 at *5 (collecting cases).

         Under the two-step process, during the first stage, plaintiffs move for class certification for the limited purpose of providing notice to putative class members. Kautsch, 504 F.Supp.2d at 688. During this stage, the “similarly situated” threshold requires only a “modest factual showing.” Id. at 690 (citing Realite v. Ark. Rests. Corp., 7 F.Supp.2d 303, 306 (S.D.N.Y. 1998); Davis v. Novastar Mortg., Inc., 408 F.Supp.2d 811, 816 (W.D. Mo. 2005) (other citations omitted)). Courts do not evaluate the merits of the plaintiffs' claim at this early stage. Polzin v. Schreiber Foods, Inc., No. 10-1117-CV-SW-GAF, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142955, at *7 (W.D. Mo. Aug. 15, 2011). Instead, plaintiffs “need only establish a colorable basis for [a] claim that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Id. (citing Kautsch, 504 F.Supp.2d at 688) (internal quotations marks omitted). This “lenient standard generally results in conditional certification of a representative class[.]” Polzin, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142955, at *9. As such, any doubts in the notice stage should favor granting of conditional certification. Id.

         If the court allows conditional certification of a class, “putative class members are given notice and the opportunity to ‘opt-in, ' and the action proceeds as a collective action throughout discovery.” Id. at *7-8. “At the second step of the process, the defendant may move to decertify the class.” Id. This step generally occurs after discovery is complete when the parties and court have more information. Kautsch, 504 F.Supp.2d at 688.

         Here, the Court's analysis is limited to the notice step, or first step in the process. Applying a lenient standard, and based on the Plaintiffs' pleadings and affidavits, the Court finds, at this stage in the litigation, Plaintiffs have established a colorable basis for their claim that the putative class members were the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan by Hamilton. Although Plaintiffs provide varying painting duties, the basic claim is that the employees' painting activities which regularly lasted over forty (40) hours a week, along with Hamilton's policy, resulted in unpaid overtime compensation. Such allegations indicate Hamilton may have implemented a uniform decision, policy, or plan consistently failing to properly compensate employees for overtime work in violation of the FLSA. Therefore, the Court will grant conditional certification.

         B. Statute ...


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