Why it matters: In a victory for employers facing Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) litigation, a Michigan federal court refused to certify a class of McDonald’s employees the court said would be too difficult to manage as a collective action. The workers – who claimed their numbers to be around 1,000, although the defendants estimated it was closer to 3,000 – sought to conditionally certify a group from two franchises that allegedly committed wage violations. Despite acknowledging that the standard for granting conditional certification was relaxed, the court found two obstacles for the plaintiffs. Not only was the size of the proposed class unwieldy, but also the proposed class members were not similarly situated, the court found – with different pay rates, different schedules, different managers, and “extremely inconsistent” claims regarding wage loss.

Detailed Discussion

Workers at two different McDonald’s restaurants in Michigan filed suit against their employers alleging multiple violations of the FLSA. Specifically, they claimed that they were required to wait off the clock, either at the beginning of a scheduled shift or during an extended break, and had the cost of their uniforms deducted from the paychecks.

As a result of these actions, the plaintiffs said they were compensated less than the minimum wages required by the federal statute. The plaintiffs sought conditional certification of their suits as a collective action to notify what they estimated to be about 1,000 similarly situated workers who currently work or have worked at the two restaurants at issue over the last three years. (The defendants told the court the actual number was closer to 3,000 employees.)

U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara first noted the “lenient standard” courts apply when considering conditional certification. But he said the plaintiffs failed to meet even that light burden.

“Although the case law is clear that standard for granting conditional certification is lenient, this would be [a] very large class to notify,” he wrote. “These 1,000 to 3,000 putative class members had varying pay rates, hours worked and deduction methodologies applied to their pay. They worked for different managers at different restaurants; and the wait times are extremely inconsistent, both in terms of duration and frequency.”

As for the uniform deduction, some of the potential class members were under the age of 20 with a lawful minimum wage $3 per hour less than the older plaintiffs. “Depending upon the hours worked per week, the deduction for uniforms may or may not have dropped their average hourly pay to such an extent that it would violate the FLSA,” the court said, adding that the defendants promised at oral argument to reimburse the employees whose clothing deductions dropped their average hourly pay to an amount violating the FLSA.

Therefore, the court denied the motion to conditionally certify the class.

To read the order in Pullen v. McDonald’s Corp., click here.