In two companion orders in Pruell v. Caritas Christi, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts dismissed the claims against multiple healthcare institutions in the Caritas Christi healthcare network because they were not the named plaintiff’s employer; dismissed claims against two high-level individual defendants for failure to plead sufficient facts; and struck the collective action allegations in the complaint based on the submission of false affirmations in support of the plaintiff’s motion for class certification.
As in many recent class actions (see here, here, here, and here), the court dismissed the claims against all of the named defendants except the hospital for which the plaintiff actually worked, finding that none of the other institutions were the plaintiff’s employer, as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). To be an employer within the meaning of the FLSA, an entity must:
- Have the power to hire and fire the employee;
- Supervise and control employee work schedules or conditions of employment;
- Determine the rate and method of payment; and
- Maintain employment records.
The general allegation that the healthcare system has centralized payroll and human resources globally was not enough, the court held, to state a plausible case of joint employment against any of the defendants other than the hospital where the named plaintiff worked.
As to the claims against the individual defendants, the district court emphasized the need to examine allegations of personal liability for FLSA violations carefully to determine “the individual’s ownership interest, degree of control over the corporation’s financial affairs and compensation practices, and role in causing the corporation to compensate (or not compensate) employees in accordance with the FLSA.” The court found no factual allegations in the complaint to satisfy these requirements.
In a separate opinion, the court found that the affidavits (affirmations) submitted in support of class certification by the two named plaintiffs (one of whom had been dismissed on other grounds) had been clearly contradicted by their deposition testimony and were false. Accordingly, both affirmations were stricken from the record. Based on the falsity of those affirmations, the court concluded “there is no reason to have confidence in the truth of the twelve other boilerplate affirmations that were filed. They are also stricken from the record.” As an additional sanction, the plaintiff’s collective action allegations were stricken, and the court ordered plaintiff’s counsel to pay the costs and attorney fees incurred by defendants in litigating the motion for sanctions.
This case serves as a reminder to defendants of the importance of scrutinizing the relationship of the plaintiffs to the alleged defendants in the lawsuit, as well as the role of any individuals named as defendants. Moreover, it is critical to question the assertions in plaintiffs’ affidavits and to challenge them when there is evidence of their falsity.