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Galt v. Eagleville Hospital

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 2, 2017

ADRIENNE GALT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
EAGLEVILLE HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Rufe, J.

         Named Plaintiffs Adrienne Galt and Nancy Murphy, former Registered Nurses at Defendant Eagleville Hospital, and opt-in Plaintiff Nina Johnson, a former Nursing Assistant at Eagleville, bring this case under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).[1] Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Order Authorizing Notice to Similarly Situated Persons Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant violated the FLSA by requiring them to work during 30-minute unpaid meal breaks and then automatically deducting that time from their shift totals, depriving them of compensation, including overtime pay.[2] Employees were entitled to such meal breaks for each shift of five hours or more under Eagleville's written policies.[3] However, Plaintiffs allege that their supervisors often required them to work through meal breaks, did not inform them that they could request compensation for missed meal breaks, and implied that employees would be punished if they sought pay for missed meal breaks.[4] Plaintiffs now seek conditional certification of a collective action on behalf of “[a]ll persons who have worked for Defendant as a Registered Nurse, Nursing Assistant, Licensed Practical Nurse, or Mental Health Technician during any workweek in the past three years.”[5]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Plaintiffs alleging FLSA violations may bring a collective action on behalf of similarly situated employees provided that such employees give their consent in writing to become a party to the lawsuit.[6] Thus, unlike a class action brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, “a collective action brought under the FLSA is an ‘opt-in' action.”[7] “The district court has discretion to authorize notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs by conditionally certifying the matter as a collective action.”[8]

         To qualify for conditional certification, Plaintiffs must make a “modest factual showing” that they and the proposed opt-in employees are similarly situated.[9] “Under the ‘modest factual showing' standard, [plaintiffs] must produce some evidence, beyond pure speculation of a factual nexus between the manner in which the employer's alleged policy affected [them] and the manner in which it affected other employees.”[10] This is a “fairly lenient standard, ” and courts may revisit the issue of whether Plaintiffs and other opt-ins are similarly situated after granting conditional certification.[11]

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant argues both that Plaintiffs have failed to make a modest factual showing that the proposed opt-in employees are similarly situated and that Plaintiffs' proposed class is overbroad.

         A. Whether Plaintiffs Have Made a Modest Factual Showing that Proposed Class Members Are Similarly Situated

         Defendant argues that Plaintiffs have not made a modest factual showing that the proposed collective members are similarly situated because Plaintiffs' motion is based largely on Plaintiffs' own declarations, which Defendant claims do not show that other employees suffered similar FLSA violations.[12] The Court disagrees.

         Plaintiffs' declarations provide sufficient details that, if true, would tend to show that other proposed collective members were forced to work through meal breaks without compensation and thus were similarly situated. The declarations explain that Defendant's timekeeping system left employees with no method of tracking meal breaks, allowing their supervisors to require them to work through breaks with little recourse.[13] This practice allegedly resulted from Defendant's prioritization of patient-care responsibilities over the ability of its workers to take meal breaks, which was embodied in Defendant's Employee Handbook and reaffirmed by Plaintiffs' supervisors.[14] Plaintiffs further explain that their supervisors discouraged them from seeking compensation for missed meal breaks.[15] These allegations are based upon Plaintiffs' personal experience working in multiple units at Eagleville as well as their contacts with other employees, and they describe common conditions of employment that allegedly affected proposed class members similarly.[16] That is sufficient for conditional certification.[17]

         Defendant points to cases in which declarations by plaintiffs were insufficient to establish conditional certification, but these cases are inapposite because they concerned situations where the plaintiffs either offered no proof of a factual nexus between their claims and those of potential collective members or relied upon assertions that were far more generalized than those here. For example, in White v. Rick Bus Co., the court denied the plaintiff's motion for conditional certification because the plaintiff failed to identify any other similarly situated employees and relied entirely upon his own conclusory assertion that others had suffered a similar harm.[18] And in Dreyer v. Altchem Environmental Services, Inc., the lead plaintiff admitted that he had fabricated the statements in his affidavit in order to curry favor with a local union, leaving only the vague and unsubstantiated assertions of the other plaintiffs that they had all suffered similar FLSA violations, which were insufficient to justify collective certification.[19]

         Here, in contrast, Plaintiffs' claims are based upon a common policy of deducting meal-break time that is reflected in Defendant's Employee Handbook, and are supported by specific allegations regarding the directives of Plaintiffs' supervisors, who also supervised other employees. Courts in similar FLSA meal-break cases have conditionally certified classes based largely on declarations showing the existence of an automatic deduction policy, and the same result obtains here.[20]

         Defendant also argues, based on the declarations of two of its supervisors, that employees were encouraged to take full, uninterrupted meal breaks, and thus that Plaintiffs' claims are unique rather than representative of all employees in the proposed collective action.[21] However, such evidence does not provide a basis to deny conditional certification, but “is more appropriately reviewed pursuant to a decertification motion or a motion for summary judgment after more discovery has been completed.”[22] Defendant will have the opportunity to revisit the merits of Plaintiffs' claims at a ...


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