For those of us on the management side, we have been fighting back from a seemingly endless stream of Fair Labor Standards Act class actions, where, in many cases, conditional certification seems to be too easily granted. The case then proceeds on dangerous ground for the employer, because to fight a case to trial entails tremendous possible exposure, but to settle the case, after conditional certification is granted, will also involve no small sum, particularly as the FLSA is a fee-shifting statute and there is often intense negotiation and debate over legal fees for plaintiffs’ counsel. Well, as I have been writing about recently, perhaps the tide is turning the other way, just a bit.
I say this because a federal judge has last week dismissed a class action filed against hospitals affiliated with the Caritas Christi network, where the allegation was improper payment of overtime to a class that encompassed more than 12,000 employees. The court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to adequately state their claims under the FLSA. The case is entitled Pruell et al. v. Caritas Christi and was filed in federal court for the District of Massachusetts.
The court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Complaint did not make out a collective action under the statute. The judge stated that “it is not sufficient simply to repeat the statutory standard in other language; in other words, to say, ‘I worked over 40 hours and wasn’t paid’ is equivalent to saying. ‘ The statute requires payment for over 40 hours. I have a claim under the statute.”
The defendants had essentially contended that the allegations were “pressed from a mold” and were “almost entirely hollow recitations of legal elements and provided no information about even the entities for which the named plaintiffs worked, much less the activities that they claimed they were due compensation for.” The judge agreed and dismissed the class action.
I have seen many cases where the plaintiffs submit canned, cookie-cutter affidavits in their attempts to secure conditional certification. This case presents a hard lesson for future plaintiffs and is instructive for defense attorneys in that they now have another weapon to defeat a motion for conditional certification.