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S.D.N.Y.: Because FLSA Collective Action Is Not A Class Action, FLSA Collective Action Subject To Arbitration Despite FINRA Rule Prohibiting Class Actions
Velez v. Perrin Holden & Davenport Capital Corp.
Plaintiff brought this action alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) on behalf of himself and other similarly situated stock brokers employed or formerly employed by defendant Perrin Holden & Davenport Capital Corp. (“PHD Capital”) and its officers and owners. Plaintiff sought designation of the case as as a collective action pursuant to FLSA section 216 for his FLSA claims and as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 for his state law claims.
Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S .C. §§ 3, 4, on the ground that Plaintiff had agreed to arbitrate his FLSA claims at the time he was hired. In line with other courts that have decided the issue, the court held that a “collective action” is not encompassed within the term “class action” as that term is used in FINRA’s rules, and thus compelled arbitration of Velez’s FLSA claims, allowing for a collective action in FINRA arbitration.
After finding that the Plaintiff’s claims were subject to arbitration, the court then discussed whether, under FINRA rules banning class actions, Plaintiff could proceed with an FLSA collective action. Reasoning he could the court explained:
“FINRA Rule 13200 mandates arbitration of disputes between the parties “except as otherwise provided.” (FINRA Rule 13200, Ex. B to Declaration of Matthew D. Kadushin dated Aug. 27, 2010 (“Kadushin Decl.”).) Notably, FINRA Rule 13204 prohibits arbitration of “class action claims.” (FINRA Rule 13204, Ex. A to Kadushin Decl.) It is thus uncontested that Velez’s state law claims-which plaintiff has asserted as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23-are ineligible for arbitration. The parties dispute, however, whether that exemption of class action claims from arbitration also applies to plaintiff’s FLSA collective action claims. While defendants contend that collective actions are distinct from class actions and therefore subject to FINRA arbitration, Velez argues that the phrase “class action” in FINRA Rule 13204 encompasses a collective action and therefore collective action claims are not arbitrable. Velez looks to the interpretation by FINRA staff members of FINRA’s rules to support his position.
Every court to address whether an FLSA collective action is arbitrable pursuant to FINRA’s rules has found in favor of arbitrability. See Gomez v. Brill Securities, Inc., No. 10 Civ. 3503, 2010 WL 4455827 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 2, 2010); Suschil v. Ameriprise Financial Servs., Inc., No. 07 Civ. 2655, 2008 WL 974045, at *5 (N.D.Ohio Apr. 7, 2008); Chapman v. Lehman Bros., Inc., 279 F.Supp.2d 1286, 1290 (S.D.Fla.2003). This Court agrees with its sister district courts.
FINRA Rule 13204 clearly states that “[c]lass action claims may not be arbitrated” under FINRA’s Code of Arbitration Procedure. However, that rule says nothing about collective action claims. Although collective and class actions have much in common, there is a critically important difference: collective actions are opt-in actions, i.e., each member of the class must take steps to opt in to the action in order to participate in it, whereas class actions are opt-out actions, i.e., class members automatically participate in a class action unless they take affirmative steps to opt out of the class action. Collective actions bind only similarly situated plaintiffs who have affirmatively consented to join the action.
Velez urges the Court to defer to the opinions of FINRA staff who have issued letters construing collective actions to come within the ambit of class actions for the purposes of FINRA arbitration. (See, e.g., Letter from Jean I. Feeney, NASD Assistant General Counsel, dated Sept. 21, 1999, Ex. C. to Kadushin Decl.; Letter from George H. Friedman, NASD Executive Vice President, Dispute Resolution, Director of Arbitration, dated Oct. 10, 2003, Ex. D to Kadushin Decl.) However, those letters do not contain any substantial analysis, and the Feeney letter itself includes the disclaimer that “the opinions expressed herein are staff opinions only and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Board of Directors of [the] NASD.” Moreover, FINRA’s website specifically states that “[s]taff-issued interpretive letters express staff views and opinions only and are not binding on FINRA and its Board.” (FINRA-Interpretive Letters, Ex. 1 to Affirmation of Emily A. Hayes dated Sept. 9, 2010). Such “staff opinion letters are not the sort of agency interpretation that is entitled to deference by this Court.” Gomez, 2010 WL 4455827 at *1; see also Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997); Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944). If FINRA wanted to prohibit arbitration of collective action claims, FINRA is certainly able to amend its rules to do so. See FINRA Rulemaking Process, available at http://www.finra.org/In dustry/Regulation/FINRARules/RulemakingProcess (Feb. 2, 2010); see also Gomez, 2010 WL 4455827 at *2.
As noted above, the parties here have agreed in writing to arbitrate certain disputes as required by FINRA. In light of other district court opinions, this Court’s own interpretation of FINRA rules, and the federal policy favoring arbitration as an alternative forum in which to resolve disputes, this Court finds that FLSA collective actions are within the scope of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate. In addition, no congressional intent precludes arbitration of the federal FLSA claims. See, e.g., Gomez, 2010 WL 4455827 at *2; Coheleach v. Bear, Stearns & Co., 440 F.Supp.2d 338, 240 (S.D.N.Y.2006).”
Accordingly, defendants’ motion was granted to the extent that the court compelled arbitration of Plaintiff’s FLSA claims.
E.D.N.Y.: FLSA Defendants Not Entitled To Discovery Of Plaintiffs’ Full Tax Returns; Motion For Protective Order Granted
Melendez v. Primavera Meats, Inc.
Before the court was plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order barring defendants from obtaining their income tax returns. Reasoning that the defendants failed to show a compelling need for same to overcome the plaintiffs’ privacy rights, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion.
Framing the issue, the court explained:
“Defendants have served a discovery demand seeking production of federal and state income tax returns for various time periods for each plaintiff. Plaintiffs seek a protective order arguing that the tax returns are not relevant and that the requests are improper attempts to ascertain the immigration status of each plaintiff. Defendants respond that they are uninterested in the immigration question, but seek the information to determine the identity of plaintiffs’ employers.”
The court reasoned:
“Although income tax returns are not inherently privileged, courts are typically reluctant to compel their disclosure because of both ‘the private nature of the sensitive information contained therein’ and ‘the public interest in encouraging the filing by taxpayers of complete and accurate returns.’ “ Carmody v. Village of Rockville Centre, 2007 WL 2042807, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. July 13, 2007) (quoting Smith v. Bader, 83 F.R.D. 437, 438 (S.D.N.Y.1979)). In determining whether to compel discovery of tax returns, the court applies a two prong test: “(1) the tax returns must be relevant to the subject matter of the action, and (2) a compelling need must exist because the information is not readily obtainable from a less intrusive source.” Sadofsky v. Fiesta Prods., LLC, 252 F.R.D. 143, 149 (E.D.N.Y.2008) (citations omitted). The modern trend places the burden on the party seeking the discovery to establish both prongs of this test. See Uto v. Job Site Servs., Inc., — F.Supp.2d —-, 2010 WL 3700239, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2010); see also Carmody, 2007 WL 2043807, at *2.
As the party seeking discovery in this case, the defendants first bear the burden of showing the relevance of the tax returns to the instant action. Defendants argue that the tax returns are relevant since they will identify other employers of the plaintiffs. As defendants apparently claim that they never employed these plaintiffs, they further argue that the tax returns are “relevant as to how much the plaintiffs were paid by these defendants, if they were paid by these defendants at all.” Defs.’ ltr at 1. Plaintiffs respond that the tax returns are irrelevant because even if they reflect the existence of other employers, the returns would not indicate how many hours plaintiffs worked for a particular employer.
Even assuming, arguendo, that the tax returns are relevant, defendants must also establish the second prong of the test-that they have a compelling need for these items because the information is not readily obtainable from a less intrusive source. Sadofsky, 252 F.R.D. at 150 (citations omitted). Defendants offer only a conclusory statement that “there is no other means by which the defendants in this case can establish that someone other than themselves were the plaintiffs’ employer” and a rhetorical question posed to plaintiff’s counsel as to what less intrusive methods might exist. Defendants have singularly failed to establish that the information sought cannot be obtained from a less intrusive source and thus have not met their burden.
As to defendants’ argument regarding the amounts paid by them to the plaintiffs, their own records should reflect this information. Interrogatories, demands for non-tax return documents, and/or inquiries during depositions are discovery devices that apparently have not yet been utilized by defendants. The same devices can be used to obtain discovery regarding any other entities that may have employed the plaintiffs during the relevant time periods. Defendants could, for example, pose interrogatories to determine plaintiffs’ employment history during the relevant time period or question plaintiffs during depositions concerning the number of hours they worked. Carmody, 2007 WL 2042807, at *3 (citing Sabetelli v. Allied Interstate, Inc., 2006 WL 2620385, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 13 2006)). Here, there is no representation from defendants that they have attempted to retrieve the information sought from plaintiff’s through discovery of other documentary evidence such as financial records, or “through the use of any other, less intrusive, discovery device.” Carmody, 2007 WL 2042807, at *3.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order is granted. This ruling may be re-visited upon motion by the defendants, provided they can demonstrate that they have unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the information by other methods.”
S.D.N.Y.: NYLL Unpaid Gratuities and FLSA Overtime Claims Not Precluded By LMRA or CBA; No Interpretation of CBA Required To Determine Whether Defendant Violated Law
Alderman v. 21 Club Inc.
Plaintiffs, unionized waitstaff who worked Defendant’s private banquets filed suit seeking the recover of unpaid tips, pursuant to the New York Labor Law, and unpaid overtime, pursuant to the FLSA. Plaintiffs specifically sought the portion of service charges charged by Defendant, but not paid to Plaintiffs as “tips” as required by New York law. The Defendant moved to dismiss, asserting that Plaintiffs’ claims for unpaid tips were precluded by the LMRA (the CBA stated that banquet waitstaff would receive the equivalent of 18% of the gross price of any banquet they worked). The Court denied Defendant’s Motion, because the claims were pendant not on the CBA, but on the NYLL.
The Court explained:
“As described earlier, plaintiffs’ first claim is under NYLL § 196-d for unpaid gratuities to plaintiffs who worked banquet events at the ’21’ Club. Defendants contend that this claim in reality is one under Section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185, which preempts the application of state labor law. Section 301 of the LMRA provides:
Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce … may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.
The Supreme Court has interpreted Section 301 “as a congressional mandate to the federal courts to fashion a body of federal common law to be used to address disputes arising out of labor contracts.” Allis-Chalmers Group v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 209 (1985). When a state law claim alleges a violation of a labor contract or when the resolution of a state law claim depends on an interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, Section 301 preempts that claim. See Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 261 (1994). But if a state “prescribes rules or establishes rights and obligations that are independent of a labor contract, actions to enforce such independent rights or rules would not be preempted by section 301.” Vera v. Saks & Co., 335 F.3d 109, 115 (2d Cir.2003). Indeed, the “bare fact that a collective-bargaining agreement will be consulted in the course of state-law litigation plainly does not require the claim to be extinguished.” Livadas v.. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 124 (1994). In order to determine whether a state law claim is preempted because it requires interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, the court must analyze whether the “legal character” of the state law claim is truly independent of the rights conferred under the collective bargaining agreement. Salamea v. Macy’s East, Inc., 426 F.Supp.2d 149, 153-54 (S.D.N .Y.2006).
In the present case, plaintiffs bring their gratuities claim under NYLL § 196-d and not under the CBA. Both § 196-d and the CBA give employees rights in respect to gratuities, although they are worded differently in ways that have significance in this case. Specifically, the CBA guarantees gratuities in the amount of 18% of the total bill for the function. Section 196-d guarantees to the employees whatever has been charged to provide gratuities, without reference to a specific percentage. It is necessary, therefore, for the court to define exactly what plaintiffs’ claim is and then to determine whether it fits under § 196-d or under the CBA or both.
The relevant portions of the complaint are paragraphs 21 and 22 in the factual allegations and paragraphs 33 and 34 stating the claim:
21. For private events, Defendants charged gratuities to the hosts of the events equal to a percentage of the cost of the events.
22. While Defendants distributed a potion of these gratuities to the service staff that worked these parties, Defendants did not distribute all of the gratuities. Thus, Defendants illegally retained substantial portions of the gratuities paid by private event hosts, instead of distributing them in their entirety to service staff.
33. Defendants received gratuities from customers for all private banquets.
34. Defendants retained portions of Plaintiffs’ tips and Class members’ tips.
On their face, the allegations of the complaint do not refer to 18%. However, they are not precise in excluding the possibility that in fact plaintiffs are seeking the 18% referred to in the CBA. But the court believes that the December 29, 2008 letter of union president Bill Granfield is relevant in construing the nature of the gratuities claim. This letter makes a demand that the ’21’ Club pay to employees “the difference between your service charge rate and the 18% gratuity rate contained in the contract.” The reference to “the contract” presumably means the CBA. Thus, in late 2008, the Union was claiming that the service charges were greater than the 18% referred to in the CBA and was demanding that the entire amount be paid to the employees.
The court concludes that the complaint should be taken on its own terms and cannot properly be construed as actually referring only to the 18%.
The complaint asserts that it is made under NYLL § 196-d. That statute provides:
No employer or his agent or an officer or agent of any corporation, or any other person shall demand or accept, directly or indirectly, any part of the gratuities, received by an employee, or retain any part of a gratuity or of any charge purported to be a gratuity for an employee. This provision shall not apply to the checking of hats, coats or other apparel. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed as affecting the allowances from the minimum wage for gratuities in the amount determined in accordance with the provisions of article nineteen of this chapter nor as affecting practices in connection with banquets and other special functions where a fixed percentage of the patron’s bill is added for gratuities which are distributed to employees, nor to the sharing of tips by a waiter with a busboy or similar employee.
The first sentence of the statute prevents an employer from taking the gratuities received by an employee. The relevant part of the last sentence states that nothing in the statute affects the practice in connection with functions where a fixed percentage is added to the patron’s bill for gratuities which are distributed to employees. The statute is somewhat confusing because the assurance of the employee’s rights in the first sentence is followed by the latter portion of the last sentence which states that the statute is not applicable to functions where an amount is added to the patron’s bill for gratuities.
Plaintiffs cite authorities that they contend give them rights under the statute. It is not the province of the court on the present motion to resolve questions which may arise as to the exact construction of the statute. It is sufficient to say that, as far as state law is concerned, plaintiffs would surely be entitled to attempt to recover under the statute. What defenses there may be under state law, and how the issues are resolved, remains to be seen. One thing is clear under § 196-d, and that is that there is no reference to 18% or any limit of 18%.
On the question of whether plaintiffs’ gratuities claim should be construed as in reality coming under the CBA so that federal law applies, the language of the CBA was quoted earlier in this opinion. The CBA only guarantees 18%. Consequently, a claim for more than 18% is not properly one under the CBA. It is properly made under § 196-d.
The result is, and the court so holds, that the gratuities claim is not preempted by federal law.
The court notes the contention that the history of the Union submissions by way of grievances constitutes an admission that the gratuities claim in the present case properly falls within the ambit of the CBA. The court rejects this argument. The employees did not give up their right to assert a gratuities claim under § 196-d in the present action.”
The Court also ruled that Plaintiffs were not required to submit their claims to arbitration, based on the language in the CBA.
To read the entire opinion, click here.
The New York Times is reporting that, “[a] New York carwash chain agreed to pay $3.4 million in back wages and liquidated damages to 1,187 current and former employees to resolve part of a lawsuit brought by the United States Department of Labor in August 2005.
The suit was filed against the chain, the Lage Management Corporation, based in Pelham Manor, N.Y., after an investigation found that its carwashes were not paying employees minimum wage, not paying them for overtime and not keeping adequate employment records. In three previous settlements in the case, more than 200 employees had already received more than $1.3 million in back wages and damages.”
To read the full article go to the New York Times website.