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Kuznyetsov v. West Penn Allegheny Health System

July 15, 2009

ANDREW KUZNYETSOV, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WEST PENN ALLEGHENY HEALTH SYSTEM, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER OF COURT

On June 1, 2009, I afforded the parties the opportunity to develop and agree upon a mutually acceptable Fair Labor Standard Act ("FLSA") notice. (Docket No. 81, p. 10). If the parties could not agree on a notice, then they were to cross file proposed notices. Id. The parties did note not reached an agreement and have cross filed motions for approval of notice. (Docket Nos. 106 and 109).

The Supreme Court has noted that the content details of a proposed notice under § 216(b) should be left to the broad discretion of the trial court. Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170 (1989). "By monitoring preparation and distribution of the notice, a court can ensure that it is timely, accurate, and informative." Id. at 172. "In exercising the discretionary authority to oversee the notice-giving process, courts must be scrupulous to respect judicial neutrality. To that end, trial courts must take care to avoid even the appearance of judicial endorsement of the merits of the action." Id. at 174. With this standard in mind, I now turn to the case at hand.

On June 1, 2009, Judge Bissoon issued an order in a similar case approving the contents of a notice. See, Camesi v. University of Pittsburgh Medial Center ("UPMC"), Civil Action No. 09-85J, Docket No. 154. Plaintiffs urge me to enter an identical order altering only the name of the Defendant. (Docket No. 107, pp. 3-4). Along the same lines, Defendants urge me to enter a similar order to the Camesi order, but request that I make a "few" changes to further "the goals of judicial neutrality and precision." (Docket No. 110, pp. 3-10). As a result, I will use the final notice approved by Judge Bissoon in the Camesi case as a starting point and address Defendants' suggested changes.

The first necessary amendment to the Camesi notice is to change the identity of the Defendants. Plaintiffs suggest to switch the name "UPMC and related entities" to "West Penn Allegheny Health System and related entities." (Docket No. 108-5). Defendants argue that the name UPMC should be changed to "West Penn Allegheny Health System, Inc., Allegheny General Hospital, The Western Pennsylvania Hospital, Alle-Kiski Medical Center or Canonsburg General Hospital ("West Penn")". (Docket No. 110, p. 4). Defendants submit that because of the complex merger among the Defendants in January of 2008, it may be confusing to potential plaintiffs to list only West Penn Allegheny Health System and related entities. After a review, I agree with Defendants that a short listing of West Penn Allegheny Health System, Inc. plus the four hospitals accurately describes the named Defendants in this action and eliminates potential confusion by those employed by the named hospitals as to whether that they have a right to opt in. Therefore, the Camesi approved notice shall be altered at the top of the first page to read as follows:

If you worked for West Penn Allegheny Health System, Inc., Allegheny General Hospital, The Western Pennsylvania Hospital, Alle-Kiski Medical Center or Canonsburg General Hospital ("West Penn") as an hourly employee in the last three yeas, a lawsuit may affect your rights.

Additionally, every time thereafter that UPMC occurs in the Camesi approved notice, it is to be changed to "West Penn."

The next change requested by Defendants is to add a sentence to the end of the first bullet paragraph on page one. (Docket No. 110, p. 4-5). Specifically, Defendants submit that I add the following sentence: "West Penn denies that it did anything wrong and says that it paid all overtime wages required in such situations." Id. at 5. In support of the same, Defendants argue that their position only appears once "and not until the third page of the notice, which the recipient may not even reach if only the first page is read," thus making the notice less unbalanced. Id. I agree with Defendants that their position appears nowhere on the first page and it would be more balanced if it did. As a result, the sentence proposed by Defendants set forth above shall be added to the end of the first bullet paragraph on page one.

Next, Defendants request I change the second bullet paragraph on page one and the paragraphs contained under the first and second points of basic information. (Docket No. 110, p. 5). Specifically, Defendants claim that as stated the notice suggests that I certified a claim for all unpaid compensation when I only conditionally certified a claim for overtime compensation. I agree with Defendants and the affected paragraphs shall read as follows:

Page 1 The Court has allowed the lawsuit to be conditionally certified as a collective action on behalf of employees who have been subject to automatic meal break deductions and who have or may have worked through or during unpaid meal breaks but did not receive overtime compensation.

Point 1 On April 1, 2009, a group of former and/or current employees of West Penn filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Civil Action No. 09-379), claiming, among other things, that they were hourly employees who did not receive overtime compensation for work performed during meal breaks. West Penn's records show that you currently work, or previously worked, for West Penn in an hourly-paid position.

Point 2 In this case, the Court has determined preliminarily that hourly employees, who were subject to automatic meal period deductions and who are alleged to be owed overtime compensation as a result of having worked through or during unpaid meal breaks during the past three years, may have sufficiently similar claims that it makes sense to send this notice of rights to such employees.

Defendants next argue that the paragraph in the first box and the second paragraph under the seventh point of basic information inaccurately suggest that if an individual does not join the lawsuit he/she will lose his/her means of obtaining overtime compensation for West Penn. In addition, Defendants argue that the term "benefits" should be deleted because there are no other remedies that Plaintiffs have sought. (Docket No. 110, p. 6). I disagree with Defendants that there are no other "benefits" that Plaintiffs could derive from joining the lawsuit. As a result, I decline to make this alteration.

With regard to the first argument, however, I agree with Defendants that the first box and the second paragraph under the seventh point of basic information inaccurately suggest that if an individual does not join the lawsuit he/she will lose his/her means of obtaining overtime compensation ...


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