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Cintas Class Action Defense Cases–Serrano v. Cintas: Michigan Federal Court Denies Class Action Treatment Of Labor Law Class Action Against Cintas Holding Commonality, Typicality And Adequacy Of Representation Elements Not Met

Labor Law Class Actions did not Warrant Class Action Treatment because Hiring Process Involved too many Individual Questions to Meet Requirements for Class Action Certification under Rule 23 Michigan Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed two separate class actions against Cintas Corporation, a company that provides uniforms and other supplies to various businesses across the United States, alleging labor law violations; the class action complaints asserted that Cintas discriminated against employees in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Serrano v. Cintas Corp., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (E.D. Mich. March 31, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying one class action (Serrano), Cintas discriminated against Michigan employees who applied for position of Service Sales Representative (SSR) on the basis of gender; according to the other class action (Avalos), Cintas discriminated against employees nationwide on the basis of race. Id., at 2. The two class actions were consolidated for pretrial purposes, id., at 1. Plaintiffs in the companion cases filed motions with the district court to certify each lawsuit as a class action. Id. The district court determined that class action treatment was not warranted in either lawsuit and therefore denied both plaintiffs’ class action certification motions.

Cintas SSRs perform a wide range of duties, and are used by the company as entry-level sales and customer service representatives. Serrano, at 2. Each SSR reports to a Service Manager, who in turn reports to a General Manager; and in addition to a “common corporate structure,” Cintas also “uses common orientation manuals and policy statements throughout its facilities” and “has standard courses and training sessions for managers and SSRs.” Id. Importantly, the class action complaints allege further that Cintas “has a standard system for hiring SSRs.” Id. The district court summarized the hiring process as including “an initial screening of the application, a series of interviews, a route ride with another SSR, standardized tests, an exchange of information among hiring managers, and a final hiring decision made by the General Manager of the Cintas facility.” Id., at 2-3. Finally, the federal court explained that “[t]he hiring process has both objective and subjective components,” and that some criteria are required while others are preferred. Id., at 3.

After summarizing the requirements for class action certification under Rule 23, see Serrano, at 5-6, the district court turned to the elements of Rule 23(a). It noted that Cintas did not dispute numerosity, id., at 6. But defense attorneys did contest the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2), arguing that “the hiring decisions for SSR positions are made by thousands of individual facility-level managers at hundreds of Cintas facilities” and that “the hiring process involves many different factors, has varied over time and by facility, and depends on the market-driven needs of the particular facility and the available applicant pools.” Id., at 7. And the federal court agreed. The district court found plaintiffs had “failed to demonstrate ‘questions of law or fact common to the class’ that are sufficient to support class certification under either disparate impact or disparate treatment theories.” Id., at 8. The federal court stressed that the hiring decisions made by Cintas were performed by “thousands of Cintas managers at hundreds of Cintas facilities” and that a “diverse range of reasons” and “widely differing circumstances at each facility” defeats the commonality test. Id., at 8-9. The court went through a detailed analysis of plaintiffs’ arguments in support of commonality, id., at 9-12, but in the end concluded that the commonality test had not been met, id., at 12.

The district court additionally found that plaintiffs had failed to establish typicality under Rule 23(a)(3). Serrano, at 12. Put simply, the federal court found that “[a] plaintiff who proves his own discrimination claim against Cintas would not necessarily have proven someone else’s claim of discrimination.” Id., at 13. Accordingly, typicality had not been established, id., at 15. And because the named plaintiffs do not necessarily have common interests with the members of the putative class, the federal court found that they were not adequate class members. Id., at 15-16. We do not here discuss the district court’s analysis of Rule 23(b), and its conclusion that plaintiffs also failed to establish any of those prerequisites. See id., at 16-19. In the end, the district court concluded that plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for class action certification under Rule 23, and denied plaintiffs motions. Id., at 19-20.

Note: The parties filed motions to strike various declarations, and we do not summarize that aspect of the district court opinion. See Serrano, at 3-5.

Download PDF file of Serrano v. Cintas Corp.