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Fair Labor Standards Act and Class Certification – Kopera v. Home Depot.

March 17, 2011 • Posted By Rosalyn Maldonado • Complex Litigation

Recent trends in the courts have given the defense bar the impression that defeating class certification in Fair Labor Standard Act cases is highly unlikely.  But then there is the decision in Kopera v. Home Depot, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3382, *7 (S.D.N.Y. 2011), that demonstrates that when the defendants are able to put forth sufficient evidence to contest the underlying facts relating to class certification, defendants can successfully defeat class certification, a huge victory because it significantly reduces the number of potential claims against a defendant-corporation. 

Kopera was denied class certification because Judge William H. Pauley, III, of the Southern District of New York, followed the reasoning of the Second Circuit in Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537 (2d Cir. 2010).  In Myers, the Second Circuit found that plaintiffs failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that common questions of law and fact would “predominate” over questions affecting only individual members of the class.  624 F.3d at 537.

Kopera was an assistant store manager trainee who claimed that he worked in excess of 40 hours per week and that Home Depot failed to pay him overtime in violation of New York Labor Law.  Kopera moved to certify a class and that certification was denied because Home Depot was able to produce evidence that the experiences of assistant manager trainees differed widely, as Hertz was able to establish with respect to station managers in Myers

“[Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (hereinafter, “Rule”)] Rule 23 requires that a proposed class action (1) be sufficiently numerous, (2) involve questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) involve class plaintiffs whose claims are typical of those of the class, and (4) involve a class representative or representatives who adequately represent the interests of the class.  Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537, 547 (2d Cir. 2010).  Moreover, Rule 23(b)(3) . . . requires the party seeking certification to show that questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members and that class treatment would be superior to individual litigation.  Myers, 624 F.3d at 547.”  Kopera, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3382 at *7.            

Home Depot argued that its assistant store manager trainees were exempt employees under the New York Labor Law executive exemption.  Id. at *8-10.  New York law has specific criteria that must be met for employees to qualify for executive exemption.  Id. at *8-9.  Judge Pauley found that to determine whether or not the Home Depot assistant store manager trainees were properly classified under the executive exemption based upon their duties would “likely be overwhelmed by a case-by-case inquiry.”  Id. at *10.  Case by case inquiries are not for class actions but rather individual litigation.  Id. at *7.  Of note in Kopera was that plaintiff’s counsel had unsuccessfully represented other plaintiffs in similar actions in other jurisdictions against Home Depot.  Id. at *10-11.  Judge Pauley looked unfavorably upon the fact that Kopera’s counsel failed to mention those decisions in its moving papers.  Id

When defendants, such as Home Depot and Hertz, produce sufficient evidence to establish that class certification will result in an individual, case-by-case analysis, courts have shown that they are likely to deny certification based upon Rule 23(b)(3) which eliminates the necessity to conduct an analysis under Rule 23(a).