Cruz v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, Plaintiffs move for an order certifying the following class: “All persons who were employed by Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. as California retail Store Managers at any time on or after December 12, 2004.” Starting the class period from December 12, 2004, ensures that any eventual awards to Dollar Tree Store Managers (“SMs”) in this case will not overlap with the awards that resulted from a previous settlement. Plaintiffs alleged the class consists of at least 655 members. Defendant contended that the number is likely to be less, and that there are currently 273 SMs in California.
Of note, was the Court’s analysis of the Predominance and Superiority requirements under Rule 23. The Court stated:
“Because all of Dollar Tree’s California SMs are required to perform a common set of tasks, Dollar Tree’s reliance on Sepulveda v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is misplaced. 237 F.R.D. 229 (C.D.Cal.2006) rev’d in part, aff’d in part, 275 Fed. Appx. 672 (9th Cir.2008). In that case, the court found that individual questions predominate over common issues because of the “voluminous evidence that there actually was a great deal of variance in AM [Assistant Manager] duties … AM duties varied based on the characteristics of the store, its workforce, and the surrounding community.” Sepulveda, 237 F.R.D. at 249. Here, by contrast, Dollar Tree requires its SMs to certify every week that they spend most of their time performing a finite number of duties. Also, the class size in this case is considerably smaller than in Sepulveda, where there were approximately 2750 putative class members. Id. at 242.
Dollar Tree presents evidence suggesting variations in how SMs go about performing those tasks. For example, Dollar Tree submits a detailed comparison of twenty-five California stores showing they vary considerably in size, number of different products available for SMs to order, sales, and average monthly payroll hours. Dollar Tree filed a document showing the differing roles and experiences of California SMs. Dollar Tree submitted twenty SM declarations to show that SMs have substantially different day-to-day experiences and duties. Dollar Tree contrasts the deposition testimony of the Plaintiffs with the testimony of other SMs to show they perform their jobs in different ways. Dollar Tree also submits deposition testimony of SMs to show they have considerable autonomy and discretion in fulfilling their tasks and responsibilities.
Despite this evidence of variation, Dollar Tree does not, and cannot, deny that all California SMs are required to spend a majority of their time performing a set of seventeen tasks. See Tierno v. Rite Aid Corp., No. 05-2520, 2006 WL 2535056, at *9 (N.D.Cal. Aug. 31, 2006) (noting that Rite Aid’s self-audits and study, which were designed to show variations in how store managers performed specified tasks, also counted as concession “that a single set of tasks is applicable to all Store Managers”). For example, while one SM declares that he spent only thirty minutes per week preparing employee schedules, and another SM declares he spent four hours per week preparing employee schedules, this comparison also shows that both SMs spent time every week engaged in one of the common duties on the Payroll Certification, namely, “[ s] chedul[ ing] and assign[ ing] work to store personnel.” While one SM declares that he spent five hours per week hiring new employees, and another SM spent only thirty minutes per week on hiring, hiring is also one of the common duties on the Payroll Certification. This Court can resolve the question of whether SMs who spend most of their time performing these seventeen duties are exempt from California’s overtime laws. This question is a common one for all California SMs. There is therefore a clear justification for handling this dispute on a representative rather than an individual basis.
The Court notes the irony of relying on Dollar Tree’s certification process to find that the case is suitable for class-wide treatment, when Dollar Tree implemented that process after its earlier settlement, and precisely in order to ensure that its SMs were properly classified. Those certifications certainly support Dollar Tree’s contention that it is not liable for improperly classifying SMs. SMs will have to explain why they consistently certified “yes” on the Payroll Certifications if in fact they were spending most of their time stocking shelves and cashiering. However, that liability question is not presently before the Court, and a class certification motion is not an occasion to “advance [to] a decision on the merits.” See Moore v. Hughes Helicopters, Inc., 708 F.2d 475, 480 (9th Cir.1983). Here, the question is whether common issues predominate, and the fact that all California SMs share the same job description, which requires them to spend most of their time performing tasks on a list consisting of seventeen duties, supports the conclusion that they do.
Plaintiffs’ evidence of Dollar Tree’s standardized practices and procedures provides further evidence in support of the contention that common issues predominate. Dollar Tree’s training program for SMs is standardized throughout California. Dollar Tree’s SM training program for new hires lasts eight weeks, and its SM training program for assistant managers who are being promoted lasts four weeks. The corporate office in Virginia develops the written materials for the training program. Dollar Tree does not formally retrain SMs when they are transferred to other stores. SMs are given the same training, irrespective of which store they might be assigned to down the road.
SMs use common tools in performing their duties at Dollar Tree. SMs have online access to “plan-o-guides” which recommend, but do not require, that a certain kind of merchandise be displayed in a particular location. SMs can also access information and bulletins online via “Dollar Tree Central.” Using Dollar Tree Central, SMs can access newsletters, merchandising suggestions, forms, policies, and information relating to benefits. All store managers in California use a computer application called “COMPASS” to create schedules for their staff. Dollar Tree maintains an auto replenishment system which automatically generates orders for some products. Store managers are also encouraged to use a playbook, which provides information on ordering, scheduling, and basic general information about Dollar Tree.
Dollar Tree relies on Jimenez v. Domino’s Pizza, 238 F.R.D. 241 (C.D.Cal.2006), but the Court finds that the case is distinguishable. In Jimenez, the Court was not confronted with evidence of standardized policies and practices. 238 at 251-53. Where, as here, there is evidence that the duties of the job are defined by standardized procedures and policies, district courts have routinely certified classes of employees challenging their classification as exempt, despite arguments about individualized differences in job performance. See, e.g., Krzesniak v. Cendant Corp., No. 05-05156, 2007 WL 1795703, at *3 (N.D.Cal. Jun. 20, 2007) (branch managers at car rental chain); Alba v. Papa John’s USA, Inc., No. 05-7487, 2007 WL 953849, at *1 (C.D.Cal. Feb. 7, 2007) (store managers at pizza delivery chain); Whiteway v. FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Services, Inc., No. 05-2320, 2006 WL 2642528, at *1 (N.D.Cal. Sep. 14, 2006) (managers at shipping and print services retail chain); Tierno, 2006 WL 2535056, at *5-10 (N.D.Cal. Aug. 31, 2006) (store managers at drug store chain). The Court finds that Plaintiffs have satisfied the prerequisite of predominance.”