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Poehler v. Fenwick

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 18, 2015

Robin L. Poehler, Plaintiff,
v.
Debra Fenwick; Cleaning Solution Service LLC, Defendants.

ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTION AT DOCKET 15]

JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. MOTION PRESENTED

At docket 15, Plaintiff Robin Poehler (“Plaintiff” or “Poehler”) filed a motion to conditionally certify her Fair Labor Standards Act collective action. Defendants Cleaning Solution Service LLC (“CSS”) and Debra Fenwick (“Fenwick”; collectively, “Defendants”) respond at docket 20. Plaintiff replies at docket 21. Neither party requested oral argument, and it would not be of additional assistance to the court.

II. BACKGROUND

Poehler is a former employee of CSS. She worked as a cleaner with CSS from May 2013 through April 2014. She filed a lawsuit against CSS and Fenwick in May 2015 for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)[1] and Arizona’s minimum wage law[2] based on her allegations that she was not paid for overtime and that Defendants made illegal deductions of pay and hours worked that caused her compensation to fall below minimum wage. After the case was removed to federal court, Defendants filed counterclaims against Poehler for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. The court dismissed those claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[3] Plaintiff now asks the court to conditionally certify her FLSA minimum wage claim against Defendants as a collective action under section 16(b) of the FLSA on behalf of other “similarly situated” employees.[4] While Plaintiff raises a separate individual claim under Arizona’s minimum wage law and the FLSA’s overtime provisions, she is only pursuing collective action certification for her FLSA minimum wage claim.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The FLSA authorizes an employee to bring a collective action on behalf of “similarly situated” employees.[5] The FLSA requires that each employee opt-in to the collective action by filing a consent to sue with the court.[6] “In order to make certain that potential collective class members are notified of the action and their right to take part, the courts may authorize the issuance of notice by the named plaintiffs in an FLSA action to all other putative class members.”[7] The decision to certify the class and issue the notice is within the discretion of the court.[8]

The issue presented in a motion to certify is whether Plaintiff and the proposed class members are “similarly situated” under the FLSA. What constitutes “similarly situated” employees is not defined in the statute, and the Ninth Circuit has not construed the term for purposes of FLSA class certification.[9] District courts in the Ninth Circuit, however, including this district, generally follow a two-step approach when making such a determination. First, the court makes a preliminary “notice stage” determination of whether the plaintiff and the putative class members are similarly situated.[10] At the notice stage, “the court ‘require[s] nothing more than substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.’”[11]

Plaintiff’s burden at the notice stage is “light.”[12] Indeed, given the easy burden, motions to conditionally certify are usually granted.[13] “The evidence must only show that there is some ‘factual nexus which binds the named plaintiffs and the potential class members together as victims of a particular alleged policy or practice.’”[14] The evidence considered during the notice stage is “‘based primarily on the pleadings and any affidavits submitted by the parties.’”[15] The court does not resolve factual disputes or review the merits of the action.[16]

If the plaintiff meets its burden at the notice stage, the court will conditionally certify the class and will authorize notification so that the potential class members can join the lawsuit. Once the notification period ends and after discovery has produced more information regarding the nature of the claims, the defendant can move for decertification, and the court can reexamine whether the class members are similarly situated using a more stringent standard.[17]

IV. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff seeks conditional certification of a class consisting of “[a]ll current and former cleaning crew members and cleaning crew supervisors employed by Defendants . . . in Arizona, at any point from May 22, 2013 through the present date.” In support of her request, Plaintiff has relied on her complaint and Defendants’ answer, Defendants’ employee manual from 2011 and 2013, and an affidavit. Based on these materials, the court concludes that Plaintiff has met her light burden of showing that the potential member of the class are similarly situated to her. The pleadings show that during her time working for Defendants she held a position as a cleaning crew member and a cleaning crew supervisor. The pleadings, affidavit, and manual show that there was very minimal differences between a cleaning crew member and cleaning crew supervisor, with the supervisor performing the same cleaning tasks but with additional responsibilities such as driving and quality control.[18] Indeed, Defendants admit that all cleaning employees were subject to the same policies and practices set forth in the employee manual, which forms the basis of Plaintiff’s minimum wage complaint.[19]Specifically, Defendants acknowledge that all employees were subject to the pay deductions outlined in the manual.

Defendants argue that their cleaning employees cannot be similarly situated to each other because “employees perform their actual cleaning services at various commercial and residential clients all over the Phoenix metropolitan area rendering each job notably different from the next.”[20] Similarly, Defendants stress that cleaning crew supervisors are not similarly situated to cleaning crew members because they have more job responsibilities. Defendants’ positions are unavailing, because identical job descriptions and tasks are not required for conditional certification.[21] Rather, as noted above, the essential factor in the “similarly situated” analysis at this first stage is whether the Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that members of the putative class were all subject to an illegal policy or practice. Plaintiff has clearly done so here.

Defendants also set forth some objections to the specifics of Plaintiff’s proposed notice. They request that the proposed putative class be further limited by date. Defendants stress that the employee manual, which is the subject of Plaintiff’s complaint, was formally rescinded as of May 22, 2015, and thus the class should not include employees that started working after that time. However, as noted above, this court does not resolve issues of fact at this initial notice stage. Plaintiff has not had an opportunity to test the veracity of ...


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