United States District Court, D. Arizona
Michael L. Taylor; Dilawar Khan; Volena Glover-Hale; Manuel Montoya, on behalf of themselves and other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
AutoZone Inc., a Tennessee corporation; AutoZone Inc., a Nevada corporation; AutoZoners LLC, Defendants.
FREDERICK J. MARTONE, District Judge.
Before the court is plaintiffs' motion to confirm collective certification (doc. 312), defendants' response (doc. 317), and plaintiffs' reply (doc. 318).
On May 24, 2011, we conditionally certified a class of current and former AutoZone Store Managers whom AutoZone classifies as exempt from the overtime pay requirement under the executive exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1) (doc. 67). We also granted summary judgment in favor of AutoZone, concluding that it had established that the Store Manager position meets each element of the FLSA executive exemption. See 29 C.F.R. § 541.100(a); (doc. 278). On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for trial, concluding that "conflicting evidence" prevents disposition of Plaintiffs' FLSA claims as a matter of law. Plaintiffs now move to confirm certification of the plaintiffs' claims as a collective action.
The Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") requires that employers pay their employees time and a half for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week, unless the employees fall into one of the statutory exemptions. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Exempt employees include "any employee employed in a bona fide executive... capacity." Id . § 213(a)(1). The FLSA authorizes collective actions against an employer "by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). A collective action allows for the "efficient resolution in one proceeding of common issues of law and fact arising from the same alleged activity." Hoffmann-LaRoche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170, 110 S.Ct. 482, 486 (1989).
Applying a two-tiered approach, we have already conditionally certified a class of Store Managers and notice was given (doc. 67 as amended by doc. 87). Subsequently, 1, 476 current or former AutoZone Store Managers opted into this action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). At step two-the decertification stage-we apply a more rigorous analysis, with the benefit of a more fully developed record, to determine whether the plaintiffs are "similarly situated" to justify proceeding as a collective action. Plaintiffs must "provide substantial evidence to demonstrate" that they are "similarly situated" to the individuals whom they intend to represent. Reed v. County of Orange, 266 F.R.D. 446, 449 (C.D. Cal. 2010); Anderson v. Cagle's, Inc., 488 F.3d 945, 953 (11th Cir. 2007).
Similar does not mean identical. Grayson v. K Mart Corp., 79 F.3d 1086, 1096 (11th Cir. 1996). "The FLSA does not require class members to hold identical positions." Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1261-62 (11th Cir. 2008). Instead, a named plaintiff may show that putative plaintiffs are similarly situated when their claims are "unified by common theories of defendants' statutory violation, even if the proofs of these theories are inevitably individualized and distinct." O'Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enters., 575 F.3d 567, 585 (6th Cir. 2009).
Although the "similarly situated" requirement is more stringent at the second stage, it remains less stringent than the requirement that common questions predominate in certifying class actions under Rule 23, Fed.R.Civ.P. "All that need be shown... is that some identifiable factual or legal nexus binds together the various claims of the class members in a way that hearing the claims together promotes judicial efficiency and comports with the broad remedial policies underlying the FLSA." Hutton v. Bank of America, 2007 WL 5307976, at * 1 (D. Ariz. Mar. 31, 2007); O'Brien, 575 F.3d at 585 (Plaintiffs are similarly situated when "they suffer from a single, FLSA-violating policy, and when proof of that policy... proves a violation as to all the plaintiffs."). On the other hand, "where there appears to be substantially different employment experiences among the various [claimants], the procedural advantages of a collective action cannot be realized." Hernandez v. United Auto Credit Corp., 2010 WL 1337702, *5 (N.D. Cal. April 2, 2010).
In determining whether plaintiffs are "similarly situated, " we consider factors such as (1) disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) whether defendants' various defenses will require individual proof; and (3) fairness and procedural considerations. Leuthold v. Destination Am., Inc., 224 F.R.D. 462, 467 (N.D. Cal. 2004). Ultimately, the issue is whether plaintiffs are similarly situated such that the key elements of the FLSA claim can be addressed through representational proof.
The executive exemption applies to an employee (1) who is compensated on a salary basis of not less than $455 per week; (2) whose primary duty is management; (3) who "customarily and regularly directs the work of two or more other employees"; and (4) who "has the authority to hire or fire other employees or whose suggestions and recommendations... are given particular weight." 29 C.F.R. § 541.100(a). The primary duty analysis is based on the totality of the circumstances, "with the major emphasis on the character of the employee's job as a whole." 29 C.F.R. § 541.700(a).
AutoZone argues that the propriety of the Store Managers' exempt executive classification hinges on the "intensely factual nature" of their individual job duties, which would require individualized scrutiny, resulting in hundreds of mini-trials, and that without this individualized scrutiny, it will be deprived ...