Burke v. Management & Training Corporation
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 31 Order on Motion to Certify Class. Signed by Senior Judge Neal B. Biggers on 07/24/2017. (bds)
Case: 3:16-cv-00152-NBB-JMV Doc #: 32 Filed: 07/25/17 1 of 11 PageID #: 269
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
on behalf of himself and all other
similarly situated current and former employees
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:16-CV-00152-NBB-JMV
MANAGEMENT & TRAINING CORPORATION
Presently before the court is the plaintiff’s motion for conditional certification and notice
to putative plaintiffs. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, exhibits, and supporting
and opposing authority, the court is ready to rule.
Factual and Procedural Background
Defendant Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”) currently operates three
correctional facilities within the state of Mississippi.1 The plaintiff, Timothy Burke, is a former
MTC employee who worked as a Lieutenant at MTC’s Marshall County facility. While an MTC
employee, Burke alleges that he was paid on a salary basis, regularly worked in excess of forty
hours a week, and was not compensated for those excess hours.
Burke commenced litigation on July 1, 2016, alleging that MTC violated the Fair Labor
Standards Act (“FLSA”) by willfully misclassifying him as exempt from the statute’s overtime
provisions. Burke seeks to institute this action on behalf of himself, as well as others similarly
situated. Accordingly, he filed the instant motion to conditionally certify this FLSA action as a
collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and to approve notice to putative plaintiffs.
MTC previously operated four Mississippi facilities but one of those has since been closed.
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Pursuant to the FLSA, covered employers are required to compensate non-exempt
employees for overtime when they work in excess of forty hours per week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a).
Further, when an employee is unlawfully denied overtime, section 16(b) of the FLSA permits an
employee to bring suit against an employer “for and in behalf of himself . . . and other employees
similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). However, “no employee shall be a party plaintiff to any
such action unless he gives his consent in writing . . . and such consent is filed in the court in
which such action is brought.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Thus, the FLSA follows an “opt in” format
for collective actions. LaChapelle v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 513 F.2d 286, 288 (5th Cir. 1975).
Although the Fifth Circuit has yet to endorse a particular method for determining whether
a collective action should be certified in FLSA suits, a majority of district courts apply the
Lusardi approach. Lusardi v. Xerox Corp., 118 F.R.D. 351 (D.N.J. 1987). Under this approach,
certification is divided into two stages: (1) the notice stage; and (2) the merits or decertification
stage. Santinac v. Worldwide Labor Support of Illinois, Inc., 107 F. Supp. 3d 610, 614 (2015)
(citing Tice v. AOC Senior Home Health Corp., 826 F. Supp. 2d 990, 994 (E.D. Tex. 2011)).
“In the notice stage, a district court makes a decision, based on the pleadings and any
affidavits, whether to ‘conditionally’ certify the collective action and authorize notice to
potential class members.” Harris v. Hinds Cnty., 2014 WL 457913, at *2 (S.D. Miss. Feb. 4,
2014). “The second stage occurs when and if the defendant files a motion for decertification,
‘after discovery is largely complete and more information on the case is available.’” Tsib v.
Moore Feed Store, Inc., 2015 WL 2415530, at *3 (N.D. Miss. May 21, 2015) (citing Case v.
Danos and Curole Marine Contractors, L.L.C., 2015 WL 1978653 (E.D. La. May 4, 2015)).
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Burke seeks to certify the following class for this lawsuit:
All current and former employees holding the job title of Lieutenant who worked
for Management & Training Corporation  from July 1, 2013, to the present, who
were paid on a salary basis, worked over 40 hours in any given week and were not
paid overtime, excluding only those Lieutenants employed solely as training
lieutenants, investigative lieutenants, ARP lieutenants and fire and safety
To demonstrate that conditional certification is warranted, a plaintiff must provide
competent evidence to show that a group of similarly situated potential plaintiffs exists. Mooney
v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1212 (5th Cir. 1995), overruled on other grounds by Desert
Palace v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003). At the notice stage, the court utilizes a “fairly lenient
standard because of the minimal evidence available at this stage.” Harris, at *2. Thus, the
plaintiff’s burden is low and “courts appear to require nothing more than substantial allegations
that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.”
Id. at 1214.
Relevant factors to guide the court are whether (1) potential plaintiffs have been
identified, (2) affidavits of potential plaintiffs have been submitted, and (3) evidence of a
widespread plan has been submitted. Brown v. United Furniture Industries, Inc., 2015 WL
1457265, at *6 (N.D. Miss. March 30, 2015) (citing White v. NTC Transp., Inc., 2013 WL
5874566 (N.D. Miss. Oct. 31, 2013)). Further, conditional certification is permissible despite
some level of heterogeneity, as the positions compared “need not be identical, but similar” with
respect to “job requirements and with regard to  pay provisions.” Aguilar v. Complete
Landscultpure, Inc., 2014 WL 2293842 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 7, 2004).
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In support of his motion, Burke has attached his affidavit, as well as the affidavits of four
other former MTC Mississippi employees. According to the affidavits, each affiant held the
position of Lieutenant at a MTC facility located in Mississippi; was classified as exempt from
the FLSA’s overtime requirements; regularly and repeatedly worked in excess of forty hours and
was not paid for those excess hours; did not clock in or out and was not aware of any lieutenants
clocking in or out; was paid on a salary basis; had no hiring authority or other type of managerial
authority; and personally observed the work of other lieutenants and found it to be similar to
Burke also relies upon the deposition testimony of MTC’s Human Resources Director
Stephanie Hall. Hall’s testimony demonstrates that the job duties and responsibilities of all
lieutenants at MTC’s Mississippi facilities are substantially the same. According to Hall, they
may be only “slightly different” on a “day-to-day level” depending on what circumstances might
arise at a particular facility. Hall further testified that, as far back as 2008, MTC has classified
all of its employees holding the position of lieutenant as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime
requirements. According to Hall, MTC applies its exempt employee pay policy and paid time
off policy uniformly to all lieutenants.
In addition, MTC’s responses to Burke’s Request for Admissions confirm that it
classifies all lieutenants at its Mississippi facilities as exempt without an individualized
assessment of job duties and responsibilities of each lieutenant. MTC further admits that it
classifies all lieutenants at its Mississippi facilities as exempt without a facility by facility inquiry
as to job duties and responsibilities of lieutenants at those facilities.
Having considered these exhibits and the applicable authority, the court finds that Burke
has satisfied the “fairly lenient standard” necessary for conditional certification. Burke has
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shown the existence of a group of similarly situated potential plaintiffs who were subjected to the
same policy or practice. The complaint and exhibits show a putative class of lieutenants
employed at MTC’s Mississippi facilities who performed similar duties and had similar
responsibilities, were paid on a salary basis, were classified as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime
provisions, regularly and repeatedly worked in excess of forty hours a week, and were denied
compensation for those excess hours.
The court now briefly addresses MTC’s arguments made in opposition to conditional
certification. MTC first contends that the affidavits relied upon by Burke are “largelyconclusory, virtually-identical” and “contain nothing more than unsupported, boilerplate
generalizations.” The court finds this argument to be unpersuasive, particularly considering the
low burden placed upon Burke at this stage. To be sure, “[i]f the [c]ourt required more proof at
this stage, it would be overlooking the purpose behind the two-stage inquiry.” SalinasRodriguez v. Alpha Services, L.L.C., 2015 WL 3557178, at *3 (S.D. Miss. Dec. 27, 2005)
(finding affidavits in generalized terms to be sufficient to satisfy the notice stage).
MTC next opposes conditional certification by arguing that “whether the plaintiff and any
other potential opt in plaintiffs satisfied the exemption criteria will necessitate a detailed,
factually intensive analysis of their actual daily, weekly and monthly work duties, rather than a
generalized consideration of what may be set out in their written job description.” The court
finds this argument to be irrelevant at this stage as such an inquiry is more appropriate if and
when a defendant moves for decertification. See Santinac, 107 F. Supp. 3d at 615 (citing
Huaman v. Ojos Locos Sports Cantina LLC, 2014 WL 4081554, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 19,
2014)). Moreover, MTC concedes that it engaged in no such individualized assessment when it
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made the categorical decision to classify all of its lieutenants as exempt. Thus, the court believes
it disingenuous for MTC to now suggest that such an inquiry is necessary.
Lastly, MTC contends that Burke has failed to demonstrate that others want to opt in, or
join, the instant lawsuit. Many courts, however, do not require such a showing because “the best
way to determine whether a party is interested in joining a lawsuit is to send her notice and allow
her to opt in.” Brooks v. Illusions, Inc., 2016 WL 6781244, at *2 (S.D. Miss. Nov. 16, 2016); see
also Harris, 2014 WL 457913, at *3; Santinac, 107 F. Supp. 3d at 616.
For these reasons, the court finds MTC’s arguments in opposition to be without merit.
Accordingly, the court finds that Burke’s motion for conditional certification should be granted
and that notice to putative plaintiffs should be sent.
Scope of the Class
MTC argues that the scope of Burke’s proposed class should be limited to only those
lieutenants working at MTC’s facilities located within the state of Mississippi. As Burke does
not oppose this request, the court finds that the scope of the class should be amended
MTC further contends that certain types of lieutenants, security threat group and
disciplinary hearing officer in particular, should be excluded from the proposed class because
they are specialized lieutenant positions and, thus, are not similarly situated to Burke. MTC,
however, was given the opportunity to identify particular groups to be excluded during
discovery, yet failed to include these two. For this reason, the court finds that no additional
exclusions are warranted.
Contact Information of Potential Plaintiffs
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Burke requests that MTC be directed to provide names, addresses, telephone numbers,
and e-mail addresses of all potential plaintiffs. MTC objects only to the disclosure of telephone
numbers and e-mail addresses. Courts often approve the disclosure of telephone numbers and email addresses. See Minyard v. Double D Tong, Inc., 2017 WL 1193666 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 27,
2017); Ramos v. Capitan Corporation, 2016 WL 8674617 (W.D. Tex. May 18, 2016); Brown v.
Phenix Transportation West, Inc., 2016 WL 3648274 (S.D. Miss. March 31, 2016 ). MTC fails
to demonstrate that disclosure of such information would be overly burdensome or unnecessary
to facilitate notice. The court, therefore, directs MTC to provide to Burke the names, addresses,
telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of all potential opt-in plaintiffs.
Substance of the Proposed Notice
A plaintiff is typically allowed to use his preferred language in drafting the notice. See
Birdie v. Brandi’s Hop Community Services, LLC, 2017 WL 2588089; Ramos, 2016 WL
8674617, at *4; Reyes v. Quality Logging, Inc., 52 F. Supp. 3d 849, 852 (S.D. Tex. 2014). MTC
advances several objections to the substance of Burke’s proposed notice. Burke has agreed to
modify in accordance with a small number of these objections. Consequently, the court will
address only those objections remaining that it believes merit discussion.
“What is the Current Status of the Lawsuit?” section
MTC first takes issue with Burke’s proposed language in the “What is the Current Status of
the Lawsuit?” section that provides “[t]he . . . [c]ourt has ordered this [n]otice be distributed . . .
.” According to MTC, the term “ordered” gives the impression that the court has ruled on the
merits or otherwise has a favorable opinion as to Burke’s claims. The court disagrees.
Moreover, Burke has included a section within the proposed notice that clearly advises potential
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plaintiffs that the court has expressed no opinion as to the merits of the case. This sufficiently
addresses MTC’s concerns.
“How do I Join the Lawsuit?” section
MTC next objects to certain language contained in the “How do I join the lawsuit?”
section. The final sentence in that section provides “if you fail to return [a consent form] on or
before the deadline, you cannot participate in any settlement or judgment for damages . . . .”
MTC argues such language indicates that a monetary settlement or judgment is guaranteed. The
court believes MTC’s objection can be easily remedied by amending the language as follows:
However, if you fail to return and have filed a Plaintiff Consent Form on or before
the deadline, you cannot participate in any settlement or judgment for damages
under the FLSA as part of this lawsuit, if any such settlement is reached or
The court finds that Burke should amend his proposed notice accordingly.
“What is the Legal Effect of Joining the Lawsuit?” section
MTC requests that Burke include additional language advising potential plaintiffs of the
“legal effect” of joining the instant law suit. MTC first contends that language should be added
to advise potential plaintiffs that they may be required to participate in discovery and/or attend
trial if they choose to opt in. MTC further asserts that the notice should inform potential
plaintiffs that they could be held responsible for litigation costs if they opt in and MTC were to
Burke opposes the inclusion of such language because he believes it is unnecessary and “is
only sought . . . to discourage individuals from joining the lawsuit.” Regardless of MTC’s
motives for this request, courts generally approve the inclusion of such language on the basis that
it allows potential plaintiffs to “make an informed decision about whether to join the lawsuit.”
Santinac, 107 F. Supp. 3d at 618; see also Ramos, 2016 WL 8671617; Snively v. Peal Pressure
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Control, LLC, 174 F. Supp. 3d 953 (W.D. Tex. 2016); Leyva v. 35 Bar & Grill, LLC, 2015 WL
5751638 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 22, 2015); Slamna v. API Restaurant Corp., 2013 WL 3340290
(S.D.N.Y. July 2, 2013). The court agrees with this logic and finds that Burke’s proposed notice
should be amended to include language advising potential plaintiffs of the possible legal
consequences should they choose to opt in.
The parties disagree as to what limitations period applies to the instant case. MTC contends
that the standard two-year limitations period for FLSA actions is warranted. See 29 U.S.C. §
255(a). However, when a defendant is alleged to have willfully violated the FLSA, as has been
done here, a three-year statute of limitations applies. See 29 U.S.C. § 255(c). Thus, the court
finds that the three-year limitations period is appropriate in the instant case.
Where to Send Opt-In Forms
Burke argues that the opt-in forms should be sent to Plaintiff’s counsel, while it is MTC’s
position that those forms should be sent to the Clerk of Court. District courts in this circuit
typically direct opt-in forms be sent to the Clerk. See Santinac, 107 F. Supp. 3d at 618;
Tolentino v. C & J Spec-Rent Servs., Inc., 716 F. Supp. 2d 642, 655 (S.D. Tex. 2010). The court,
therefore, finds that opt-in forms should be sent to the Clerk of Court.
The parties also disagree as to the duration of the opt-in period. Burke has requested a sixtyday opt-in period. MTC objects, argues that sixty days is too long, and asserts that a thirty-day
opt-in period is more appropriate. A notice period of sixty days is the default notice period in
this circuit and, in fact, some courts have permitted more than sixty days. See Santinac, 107 F.
Supp. 3d 610 (noting that the default notice period is 60 days); Owens v. Southern Hens, Inc.,
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2008 WL723923 (S.D. Miss. March 17, 2008) (permitting a 120-day opt-in period); SalinasRodriguez, 2005 WL 3557178 (allowing plaintiffs 180 days within which to file consent forms).
Accordingly, the court finds that Burke’s request for a sixty-day (60) opt-in period should be
Identification of Counsel
MTC requests that its counsel be identified in the notice sent to potential plaintiffs. Burke
objects and argues that including defense counsel’s information would likely confuse potential
plaintiffs, possibly leading them to contact defense counsel and “make statements adverse to
their interests which could be used against them.”
There is a split among district courts as to whether the inclusion of defense counsel’s
contact information is appropriate. Courts that have found such inclusions to be improper
“generally cite ethical concerns about post-certification communication between defense counsel
and class members.” Ramos, 2016 WL 8674617, at 5 (citing Garcia v. TWC Admin., LLC, 2015
WL 1737932, at *7 (W.D. Tex. Apr. 16, 2015)). Including such information “risks violation of
ethical rules and inadvertent inquiries” and leads to “needless confusion.” Id. (citing Harris v.
Vector Mktg. Corp., 716 F. Supp. 2d 835, 847 (N.D. Cal. 2010)). The court finds this reasoning
to be persuasive. Consequently, MTC’s request on this matter is denied.
Burke’s Proposed Distribution of Notice
In addition to sending notice by mail, Burke requests that the court order MTC to post a
copy of the notice on its lunch room or break room bulletin boards. MTC objects and contends
that Burke has failed to demonstrate that this form of additional notice is necessary. Courts,
however, routinely approve such requests. See Minyard, 2017 WL 1193666, at *4; Ramos, 2016
WL 8674617, at *6; Pacheco v. Aldeeb, 2015 WL 1509570, at *9 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 31, 2015);
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Romero v. Producers Dairy Foods, Inc., 235 F.R.D. 474, 493 (E.D. Cal. 2006); Johnson v. Am.
Airlines, Inc., 531 F. Supp. 957, 961 (N.D. Tex. 1982). As MTC has failed to show that such a
request would be burdensome or otherwise unfair, the court finds that Burke’s request shall be
granted. Thus, MTC is directed to post notice accordingly.
Burke further requests that MTC be ordered to attach notice and opt-in forms to all
potential plaintiffs’ pay stubs. MTC objects and argues that complying with this request would
be unduly burdensome. Burke cites no authority approving similar requests and fails to
demonstrate the necessity of such measures. Burke’s request in this regard is, therefore, denied.
For the foregoing reasons, the court finds that the plaintiff’s motion for conditional
certification and notice to putative plaintiffs is well-taken and should be granted. The parties are
directed to comply with the court’s rulings on the defendant’s objections. The court further
directs the parties to follow the plaintiff’s proposed timeline for disclosures and notice found
within the instant motion. A separate order in accord with this opinion shall issue this day.
This, the 24th day of July, 2017.
/s/ Neal Biggers
NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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