The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas refused certify a class of GM employees alleging Title VII religious accommodation claims because the class was not ascertainable and plaintiffs failed to satisfy the numerosity and commonality requirements of Rule 23(a). Plaintiffs are members of different religious groups that observe certain holy days on which members are prevented from working and accepting compensation. They alleged that GM failed to accommodate their religious beliefs in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying them and other similarly situated GM employees’ requests for unpaid time off to observe religious holy days. In addition to compensatory damages, plaintiffs sought an injunction that would require them to take unpaid days off on religious holy days. Plaintiffs sought to certify a class of “all General Motors workers within the United States subject to the 2011 UAW-GM National Agreement and who may seek unpaid leave for a holy day because of a religious belief.”
The court held that it was impossible to ascertain membership in the class under plaintiffs’ proposed definition because “the class includes any GM employee who might request unpaid religious leave in the future.” Membership thus could not be determined with reference to objective criteria; rather, the putative class would include hypothetical employees who might seek unpaid religious leave at some time in the future. The proposed class definition therefore lacked the clarity and definiteness required under Fifth Circuit precedent. The court further noted that, in order to determine whether an individual employee was a class member, the court would need to parse through thousands of requests for time off in order to analyze whether, among other things, each request was for unpaid leave and based on religion. Thus, the court denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, holding that “[s]uch a class is not adequately defined or ascertainable.”
In addition, the court held that, even if the putative class had been ascertainable, certification would still be inappropriate because plaintiffs failed to satisfy the numerosity and commonality requirements of Rule 23(a). Plaintiffs failed to establish numerosity because they relied solely on speculation in support of their argument that the numerosity requirement has been satisfied. Plaintiffs speculated, without evidentiary support, that the court should estimate that four employees from each of GM’s 396 plants would fit the class definition, and then, by further guess, the court could multiply this number by five to 10 times to reach a class size of 7,290-15,840. The court held that relying on speculation is insufficient to establish numerosity. The court further held that, because the merits of the religious accommodation claims would require the court to conduct individualized inquiries into each putative class member’s religion and leave requests, the commonality requirement could not be satisfied.