Plaintiffs seeking class certification in a wage and hour employment case must do more than simply allege that members of the proposed class are similarly situated, especially where the plaintiffs propose a very broad class. In Farnsworth v. Welspun Tubular LLC, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115398 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 16, 2012) (Marshall, J.), the plaintiffs moved to certify a class of “all current and former Welspun employees in Arkansas who were classified as salaried at some point during the three years before this case was filed.”
The plaintiffs in Farnsworth never made it past the notice stage. At that stage, the court conducts a lenient review of the proposed class to determine whether the members of the proposed class are similarly situated. Here, the plaintiffs argued the proposed class members were similarly situated because: (1) many of the proposed class members were reclassified from exempt to non-exempt even though their job duties did not change and, thus, the employer originally misclassified the employees; and (2) Farnsworth identified a number of employees, across departments and job duties, who he thought were similarly situated. The court rejected both arguments for the same reason – a lack of evidentiary support.
The court found that the employer’s decision to change the exempt status of employees in the particular sub-department where plaintiffs worked did not constitute evidence that the employer’s original classification of the employees was wrong or unlawful. With respect to the plaintiffs’ second argument, the court stated that although plaintiffs faced a light burden, they at least had to demonstrate “a reasonable basis for crediting their assertions that aggrieved individuals exist in the broad class that they propose.” Because the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence to support a finding that members of the proposed class were similarly situated, the court denied certification.
Proper employee classification is something that can impact every employer. Employee classification is also an area where the applicable law is constantly developing and employers sometimes have to make reactionary adjustments. Knowing that employee reclassification does not automatically create a potential class of employees should provide even more encouragement for employers to make sure employee classifications are consistent with the most current law.
Though Judge Marshall’s holding will not prevent future class action filings, it is another arrow in the quiver of employers who must vigorously defend against class actions from their inception. We encourage employers to contact experienced labor and employment counsel with questions and concerns about properly classifying new and current employees.