Zaborowski et al v. MHN Government Services, Inc. et al

Filing 80


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1 2 3 4 5 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 9 THOMAS ZABOROWSKI, et. al., on behalf of themselves and a putative class, United States District Court For the Northern District of California 12 13 14 ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR CONDITIONAL FLSA COLLECTIVE ACTION CERTIFICATION Plaintiffs, 10 11 No. C 12-05109 SI v. MHN GOVERNMENT SERVICES, INC. and MANAGED HEALTH NETWORK, INC., Defendants. / 15 Currently before the Court is plaintiffs’ motion for certification of a conditional FLSA collective 16 action and issuance of notice. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court determines that these 17 matters are appropriate for resolution without oral argument and VACATES the hearing scheduled for 18 April 26, 2013. Having carefully considered the papers submitted, the motion is GRANTED, for the 19 reasons set forth below. 20 21 BACKGROUND 22 Plaintiffs, as Military Family Life Consultants (“MFLCs” or “MFL Consultants”), provide 23 financial counseling, child services, and victim advocacy counseling at U.S. military installations across 24 the country and internationally. They filed this suit against their employers, MHN Government 25 Services, Inc. and Managed Health Network, Inc. (collectively “MHN”), alleging that MHN 26 misclassified them as independent contractors, exempt from overtime payment. They argue that they 27 should instead be classified as employees and entitled to overtime compensation. They assert claims 28 1 under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and similar state labor laws. 2 On November 1, 2012, defendants moved to compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration clause 3 in the employment contract between the MFL Consultants and MHN. The Court denied the motion on 4 April 3, 2013, and defendants appealed that order (the “Arbitration Order”). On March 14, 2013, plaintiffs filed a motion for conditional FLSA collective action certification. 6 The proposed class is defined as: “All individuals who have worked as MFLCs for MHN while 7 classified as independent contractors, at any time from October 2, 2009 to the time of trial, in any 8 territory subject to the coverage of the FLSA.” Pls.’ Mot. at 1. Plaintiffs argue that they are similarly 9 situated to the proposed class members with respect to their FLSA claims, and therefore conditional 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 5 certification is warranted. Defendants make two arguments against conditional certification: (1) the 11 motion for conditional certification is premature because of defendants’ pending appeal of the 12 Arbitration Order, and (2) the differences between and amongst MFLCs is so great that they are not 13 “similarly situated.” 14 15 LEGAL STANDARD 16 Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides that one or more employees may bring a collective action 17 “on behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see 18 also Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 2013 WL 1567370, at *3 (U.S. 2013). To determine whether 19 plaintiffs are “similarly situated,” courts in this circuit have applied a “two-step approach involving 20 initial notice to prospective plaintiffs, followed by a final evaluation whether such plaintiffs are similarly 21 situated.” Leuthold v. Destination America, Inc., 224 F.R.D. 462, 467 (N.D. Cal. 2004). “The first step 22 under the two-tiered approach considers whether the proposed class should be given notice of the action. 23 This decision is based on the pleadings and affidavits submitted by the parties.” Adams v. Inter-Con 24 Sec. Systs., Inc., 242 F.R.D. 530, 536 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (citations omitted). “In the second step, the party 25 opposing certification may move to decertify the class once discovery is complete and the case is ready 26 to be tried.” Id. 27 “Courts have held that conditional certification requires only that plaintiffs make substantial 28 allegations that the putative collective action members were subject to a single illegal policy, plan or 2 1 decision.” In re Wells Fargo Home Mortg. Overtime Pay Litig., 527 F. Supp. 2d 1053, 1071 (N.D. Cal. 2 2007); see also Grayson v. K Mart Corp., 79 F.3d 1086, 1096 (11th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 3 982 (1996) (finding that “plaintiffs need show only that their positions are similar, not identical, to the 4 positions held by the putative class members”) (internal citation and quotation omitted). “The standard 5 for certification at this [first] stage is a lenient one that typically results in certification.” Russell v. 6 Wells Fargo & Co., No. C 07-3993 CW, 2008 WL 4104212, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2008) (citing 7 Wynn v. Nat’l Broad. Co. Inc., 234 F. Supp. 2d 1067, 1082 (C.D. Cal. 2002)); see also Adams, 242 8 F.R.D. at 536 (“The court makes this [first stage] determination under a fairly lenient standard due to 9 the limited amount of evidence before it. The usual result is conditional class certification.”) (citations United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 omitted). 11 Collective actions under the FLSA are not subject to the requirements of Rule 23 for certification 12 of a class action. See Thiessen v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1102 (10th Cir. 2001). 13 Indeed, “[t]he requisite showing of similarity of claims under the FLSA is considerably less stringent 14 than the requisite showing under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Wertheim v. 15 Arizona, No. CIV 92-453 PHX RCB, 1993 WL 603552, *1 (D. Ariz. Sept. 30, 1993) (citations omitted) 16 (finding that “[a]ll that need be shown by the plaintiff is that some identifiable factual or legal nexus 17 binds together the various claims of the class members in a way that hearing the claims together 18 promotes judicial efficiency and comports with the broad remedial policies underlying the FLSA”). 19 20 21 DISCUSSION I. Delaying Decision on the Motion During Pending Appeal 22 First, defendants argue that the Court should not consider plaintiff’s motion for conditional 23 FLSA collective action certification, because it is not “mature.” Defs.’ Opp’n at 1. They argue that the 24 pending appeal of the Court’s Arbitration Order warrants a delay on the decision of plaintiffs’ motion. 25 Otherwise, they argue, judicial resources may be wasted and the MFL Consultants will be needlessly 26 contacted if the Arbitration Order is reversed. 27 The Court is unpersuaded by defendants’ arguments. It is the hallmark of the conditional 28 certification process that often members will be contacted to opt in to a class, and then the class may 3 1 later become disbanded. This could occur in many ways, such as if a court grants a defendant’s motion 2 to decertify the class, if claims become moot, or if an appellate court reverses an order of the district 3 court. The possibility that this Court’s Arbitration Order may be reversed is not a persuasive reason to 4 delay the decision on plaintiffs’ motion for conditional FLSA collective action certification, as a class 5 could not materialize in many other different scenarios. Moreover, plaintiffs have filed declarations from six MFL Consultants and documentary 7 evidence from MHN. Defendants have also filed declarations from MHN employees and numerous 8 pieces of documentary evidence. There is sufficient evidence for the Court to decide this motion, and 9 no need for delay. Furthermore, a prompt decision will promote justice and efficiency by notifying 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 6 potential class members of this action early so that documents and memories can be more carefully 11 preserved, and discovery can proceed forward. 12 congressional purpose in enacting the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 [which] was to protect all 13 covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours.” Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best 14 Freight Sys., Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981). Prompt notification advances “the principal 15 16 II. Similarly Situated Class Members 17 The Court finds that the MFL Consultants are similarly situated to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs and other 18 MFL Consultants all share the same job title and similar duties. MHN has standard policies, set forth 19 in the MFLC Provider Manual and MFLC Program Summary, that apply to all MFL Consultants. 20 Sagafi Decl., Exs. A & B. They also are all subject to the same employment agreement with MHN, the 21 Provider Services Task Order Agreement. Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), Ex. A. MHN 22 classifies all MFL Consultants as exempt employees, and therefore does not pay them for overtime 23 hours. SAC ¶ 48. 24 Additionally, plaintiffs have made a showing that the MFL Consultants have similar duties, 25 regardless of the type or location of assignment they are given. One MHN document explains that the 26 MFL Consultants’ main role is to “[p]rovide short term, situational, problem solving non-medical 27 counseling services in support of military personnel and their families.” SAC ¶ 54. MFL Consultants 28 testify that their work on different assignments is fundamentally similar, and MHN treated them as 4 1 interchangeable units. See Supp. Gliedt-Peter Decl., ¶¶ 9-14 (describing working “interchangeably” 2 with an MFLC doing an adult assignment while he was working on a child assignment, and also 3 participating in training with MFLCs on rotational, embedded, and surge assignments); Supp. Platt 4 Decl., ¶¶ 6, 9, 12-13 (describing the work performed on rotational, embedded, and surge assignments, 5 and services for children and adults, as “fundamentally the same”). Indeed, one MFL Consultant 6 explained that the “MFLC position was, by design, standardized so that any fully trained MFLC could 7 step in and perform the job duties of any other MFLC with little to no disruption in services.” Hennis 8 Decl. ¶ 8. Defendants argue that the individual differences among the MFL Consultants’ work experiences 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 9 means that they are not “similarly situated” for the purposes of conditional FLSA collective action 11 certification. They point to the changing goals of the military, declarations from MHN supervisors that 12 dispute the fact that MHN had control over the MFL Consultants, and the different locations, types of 13 clients, and types of assignments that varied amongst the MFL Consultants. 14 The Court is unpersuaded that these differences preclude a finding that the MFL Consultants are 15 similarly situated under the lenient FLSA standards. See, e.g., Hill v. R+L Carriers, Inc., 690 F. Supp. 16 2d 1001, 1004 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (certifying FLSA class of individuals who were “City Dispatchers” 17 “and any other position(s) who are either called, or work(ed) as, dispatchers”); Adams, 242 F.R.D. at 18 537-38 (certifying a nationwide FLSA class of employees working in over “500 different locations, 19 under more than fifty different contracts and in thirty-six different states,” and emphasizing that the 20 plaintiffs were similarly situated because they were “subject to the same alleged policy”). Here, the 21 MFL Consultants have the same job title; perform substantially similar activities; are governed by the 22 same Provider Services Task Order Agreement, Provider Manual, and Program Summary; and, most 23 importantly, are all considered exempt employees that MHN does not pay for overtime. Plaintiffs have 24 made the requisite showing that the MFL Consultants are in a substantially similar position; they need 25 not show that the position is identical. 26 27 28 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS plaintiffs’ motion for conditional FLSA collective 5 1 action certification. The Court ORDERS the parties to meet and confer regarding the notice and notice 2 procedures, and jointly file a proposed notice by no later than May 3, 2013. Additionally, the Court 3 ORDERS defendants to produce to plaintiffs in Microsoft Excel or comparable format the names, all 4 known addresses, all known e-mail addresses, and all known telephone numbers of all known MFLCs, 5 by no later than May 17, 2013. This resolves Docket No. 54. 6 7 IT IS SO ORDERED. 8 9 Dated: April 25, 2013 SUSAN ILLSTON United States District Judge United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 6

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