W.D.Mo.: Minor Differences In Plaintiffs’ Situations Do Not Warrant Decertification

Fast v. Applebee’s Intern., Inc.

This case was before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Decertify the class (stage 2). The Court denied Defendant’s Motion, finding that the Plaintiffs were similarly situated, such that the case should proceed as a collective action, notwithstanding minor differences in each employees situation.

The Court identified three factors to consider on a Motion to Decertify: “(1) individual plaintiff’s disparate factual and employment settings, (2) defenses which are individual to each plaintiff, and (3) fairness and procedural considerations. See Keef v. M.A. Mortenson Co., No. 07-CV-3915 (JMR/FLN), 2009 WL 465030 (D.Minn. Feb. 24, 2009).”

Evaluating the evidence before it the Court stated, “Plaintiffs have shown that they are similarly situated with respect to their job requirements and pay provisions. First, they have demonstrated that their claims involve substantially similar factual and employment settings, despite minor variances restaurant-to-restaurant. Applebee’s applied national uniform policies and practices relevant to its servers and bartenders, including policies concerning the tip credit, manager bonuses for productivity, complaint resolution, and job descriptions. Plaintiffs performed substantially the same job tasks under national guidelines. Plaintiffs were subject to similar pay structures.

The minor differences in Plaintiffs’ situations do not warrant decertification. See generally Frank v. Gold’N’Plump Poultry, Inc ., No. 04-CV01018 (PJS/RLE), 2007 WL 2780504 (D.Minn. Sept. 24, 2007). Applebee’s focuses on differences in Plaintiffs’ situations which vary by restaurant. Any challenges which might be posed by these differences will be addressed through dividing the class into subclasses by restaurant.

Second, liability in this case turns on class-wide claims and defenses, most notably whether Applebee’s improperly took the tip credit for general maintenance and preparation work done by the class. Evidence contradicting Plaintiffs’ claims may be resolved by a finder of fact at trial. See Pendlebury v. Starbucks Coffee Co., 518 F.Supp.2d 1345, 1363 (S.D.Fla.2007) (finding that conflicts in evidence concerning the amount of time store managers spent performing nonmanagerial work did not require decertification). Both Applebee’s and the Plaintiffs benefit from having these matters resolved collectively. As to due process concerns, representative testimony is contemplated by the FLSA and Applebee’s can defend with representative testimony just as Plaintiffs can seek to prove their claims with representative testimony.

Third, fairness and other procedural considerations weigh in favor of maintaining class certification. The FLSA is a remedial statute which should be read in favor of coverage. Kelly v. Alamo, 964 F.2d 747 (8th Cir.1992). The judicial system will benefit from efficient resolution of the common issues in Plaintiffs’ claims which arise from the same alleged FLSA violations. See Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170 (1989) (evaluating ADEA class). Applebee’s interest in defending Plaintiffs’ small claims individually must be balanced against the rights of Plaintiffs, many of whom could not bear the costs of individual trials to redress the alleged violations. Id.

Plaintiffs have established that they are sufficiently similarly-situated. No fairness or procedural considerations raised by Applebee’s warrants disturbing the Court’s conclusion that this case should proceed to trial collectively.” Accordingly the Court denied Defendant’s Motion to Decertify.

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