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Class Action Defense Cases–Keller v. Tuesday Morning: California Appellate Court Affirms Decertification Of Labor Law Class Action Because Evidence Supported Finding That Individualized Inquiries Would Predominate

Class Action Alleging Employer Misclassified Managers as Exempt and Failed to Pay them Overtime Wages Properly Decertified as Class Action because Amount of Time Spent on Managerial Duties Required Individual Inquiry and because “Individualized Issues of Liability and Damages will Predominate” California Appellate Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against their employer, Tuesday Morning, alleging violations of California labor laws; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendant misclassified its managers as exempt employees and failed to pay them overtime wages. Keller v. Tuesday Morning, Inc., ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. November 4, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1-2.] Plaintiffs’ motion for class action certification was granted. Id., at 1. Two years later, defense attorneys moved the trial court to decertify the class. Id. Defendant filed the motion after the parties had conducted “extensive discovery” and supported the motion with 10 declarations and references to the deposition testimony of 49 managers. Id., at 2. “A different trial judge granted the motion on the ground that individual issues predominated over common issues, thus a class action was not the appropriate mechanism by which to litigate the managers’ claims.” Id., at 1. The new trial judge issued his ruling after conducting a three-day evidentiary hearing on the motion. Id., at 6. Based on the evidence, the court concluded that even though there were some common issues, “the amount of time a manager spent performing [various] acts and his or her exercise of discretion are matters of individual inquiry.” Id. Specifically, “the time spent in a managerial duty is an individual inquiry,” and “[e]ach manager’s background and management style varied from store to store.” Id., at 7. Plaintiffs appealed the class action decertification order, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.

The appellate court summarized the evidence presented by defense attorneys in support of the decertification motion. See Keller, at 2-5. The Court of Appeal also discussed two appellate court decisions that similarly concerned “unpaid overtime in retail chain operations” – Walsh v. IKON Office Solutions, Inc., 148 Cal.App.4th 1440 (Cal.App. 2007), and Dunbar v. Albertson’s Inc., 141 Cal.App.4th 1422 (Cal.App. 2006) – each of which affirmed trial court orders denying or decertifying class action treatment. See Keller, at 9-10. Based on Walsh and Dunbar, and the evidence presented in support of the motion to decertify the class, the Court of Appeal held that “[s]ubstantial evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that individualized issues of liability and damages will predominate over issues common to the class if the overtime claims are tried as a class action.” Id., at 11. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court order decertifying the litigation as a class action. Id.

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