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Cooper v. Integrity Home Care, Inc.

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

May 1, 2017

DANA COOPER, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
INTEGRITY HOME CARE, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER CONDITIONALLY CERTIFYING COLLECTIVE ACTION AND REJECTING PLAINTIFF'S PROPOSED NOTICE

          GREG KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         This action arises from Plaintiff Dana Cooper's (“Plaintiff”) allegations that Defendant Integrity Home Care, Inc. (“Integrity”), which provides home healthcare, unlawfully withheld overtime wages from hourly, non-exempt home healthcare workers in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Missouri Minimum Wage Law (“MMWL”), Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.500, et seq.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Conditional Collective Action Certification, Approval of Notice, and Expedited Consideration (Doc. 11). Plaintiff requests the Court conditionally certify this matter as a collective action under the FLSA. Plaintiff further requests that the Court authorize her to send notice under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) to all current or former home healthcare workers employed by Integrity and its affiliated entities from January 1, 2015, to the present. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART. Plaintiff's collective is conditionally certified, and Plaintiff is directed to file a revised proposed notice, plaintiff consent form, email, and follow-up correspondence within 14 days of this order. Integrity shall provide the full name, address, email address, dates of employment, and employee number or unique identifier for each potential collective member to Plaintiff within 14 days of this order.

         Background

         Integrity Home Care, Inc., provides healthcare services in private homes “in order to help [an] individual manage, among other things, special health needs, injury or illness, chronic illness, aging, infirmity, or disability.” Def.'s Br. in Opp. at 1 (Doc. 19). Home healthcare services may include care from personal care aides (“PCA”) or advanced personal care aides (“APCA”) employed by Integrity. PCAs provide “a wide variety of services including, but not necessarily limited to, companionship, respite, meal preparation, transportation, assistance with house work, arranging for medical care, and assistance with activities of daily living including dressing, grooming, toileting, feeding, laundry and bathing.” Stepp Aff., Def.'s Ex. A ¶ 13 (Doc. 19-1). APCAs “provide additional services including, but not necessarily limited to, ostomy care, catheter care, bowel programs, and range of motion services, among other things.” Id. ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff began working for Integrity as a PCA in February of 2002. Cooper Aff., Pl.'s Ex. D at 1 (Doc. 11-4). It is undisputed that Plaintiff was exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the FLSA until 2015. A Department of Labor (“DOL”) Final Rule set to take effect on January 1, 2015, may have entitled Plaintiff, other PCAs, and APCAs to overtime pay under the FLSA.[1] But, because the new rule was vacated before it was set to take effect and only later reinstated by the courts, Integrity did not begin paying its PCAs and APCAs overtime until November 12, 2015.[2]

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on December 14, 2016, alleging Integrity unlawfully withheld overtime wages from hourly, non-exempt home healthcare workers in violation of the FLSA and the MMWL. She now seeks conditional certification of a proposed collective defined as:

[A]ll current or former Personal Care Aides and Advanced Personal Care Aides who were employed directly by Defendant and provided companionship services to elderly persons and others . . ., and who were not paid overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week . . . at any time from January 1, 2015 to November 12, 2015. Excluded are any persons who worked as a CDS Attendant.

Am. Compl. ¶ 1 (Doc. 23).[3]

         Standard

         The purpose of the FLSA is to eliminate unfair labor practices by barring “customs and contracts which allow an employer to claim all of an employee's time, while compensating him for only part of it.” 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; Tennessee Coal Iron & R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 602 (1944). Sections 206 and 207 of the FLSA require employers to pay employees a regular hourly rate for up to forty 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. 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207(a)(1). The FLSA includes an exemption from these overtime requirements for “domestic service employ[ees]” that “provide companionship services for individuals who (because of age or infirmity) are unable to care for themselves.” Id. § 213(a)(15); see Id. § 213(b)(21) (exempting “any employee who is employed in domestic service in a household and who resides in such household” from FLSA overtime requirements).

         The FLSA provides a private right of action to recover damages for violations of the Act's overtime provisions, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and Plaintiff now seeks to collectively pursue her claim and the claims of similarly-situated employees against Integrity pursuant to § 216(b), which provides that:

An action to recover the liability prescribed in [§§ 206 or 207] may be maintained against any employer … in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.

         Thus, unlike Rule 23 class action requirements where potential plaintiffs are included in a class if they fail to “opt out, ” plaintiffs in a collective action must “opt-in” to participate. Id.

         A court may conditionally certify a case as a collective action if plaintiff and the members of the collective raise similar legal issues regarding the alleged FLSA violations. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 168-71 (1989). “Conditional certification may be granted if the Plaintiff can show common facts among the claims or can make a showing that there is a common unlawful policy that affects all of the collective members.” Montez-Freeman v. B&C Rest. Corp., No. 4:14-CV-0144-DGK, 2015 WL 12745795, at *1 (W.D. Mo. Jan. 5, 2015).

         A motion for conditional certification is usually filed early in the litigation. Where, as here, the parties have not yet engaged in substantial discovery, the Court will apply a lenient standard of review to the motion. Cf. McClean v. Health Sys., Inc., No. 6:11-CV-03037-DGK, 2011 WL 6153091, at *3-5 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 12, 2011) (discussing the Court's use of an intermediate standard of review in matters where the parties have engaged in substantial discovery). This lenient standard “is ‘considerably less stringent than Rule 23(b)(3) class action standards.'” Id. at *3 (quoting Kautsch v. Premier Commc'n, 504 F.Supp.2d 685, 688 (W.D. Mo. 2007)). The Court will not consider the merits of a plaintiff's allegations, and the “plaintiff can essentially sustain its burden by alleging that ‘the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision policy or plan . . . .'” Id.

         If the class is conditionally certified, putative class members are sent notice and given an opportunity to “opt-in.” See id.; Kautsch, 504 F.Supp.2d at 688. The Court must ensure this notice is fair and accurate, and will not alter the proposed notice unless necessary. Montez-Freeman, 2015 WL 12745795, at *2.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff seeks conditional certification based on the allegation that Integrity failed to pay Personal Care Aide and Advanced Personal Care Aide employees overtime from January 1, 2015, to November 12, 2015. Defendant argues the collective should not be conditionally certified and, if certified, Plaintiff's proposed notice to the collective is improper and should be rejected. These arguments are addressed in turn below.

         I. Plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence illustrating she and putative collectivemembers were subject to a single overtime pay policy, and the ...


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