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Class Action Defense Cases-Bishop v. Heartland Services: Kansas Federal Court Rejects Defense Opposition To Conditional Certification Of FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) Class Action

Plaintiffs in Class Action Alleging Failure to Pay Overtime in Violation of Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Demonstrated that they were “Similarly Situated” to Putative Class Members thus Supporting Court Order Granting Motion to Conditionally Certify Lawsuit as a Class Action and to Provide Notice to Class Members Kansas Federal Court Holds

Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint in Kansas federal court against their employer, Heartland Services, alleging failure to pay overtime in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Bishop v. Heartland Services, Inc., 242 F.R.D. 612, 613 (D. Kan. 2007). Plaintiffs filed a motion requesting the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action and to authorize notice to putative class members, id.; defense attorneys opposed the motion on the grounds that (1) the class involved only 21 people, and (2) “there has been no indication of interest by other potential class members,” id., at 614. The district court held that the employees were similarly situated with the putative class sufficient to warrant notice to the class of conditional certification of a class action.

Under the FLSA, class action treatment is governed by 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), which provides: “An action to recover the liability prescribed in either of the preceding sentences may be maintained…by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.” However, the statute fails to define the critical phrase, “similarly situated.” The district court noted that the Tenth Circuit has adopted the “ad hoc” method for determining whether the employee seeking class action treatment is “similarly situated” to members of the putative class, Bishop, at 613 (citing Thiessen v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1105 (10th Cir. 2001)). The “ad hoc” method allows the district court to make a preliminary “notice stage” determination, which “‘require[s] nothing more than substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.’” Id., at 614 (citation omitted). The district court explained that “[t]his standard is a lenient one,” id., and that while Thiessen suggests that “substantial allegations” are sufficient, plaintiffs in the current case “presented limited evidence in support of their claims.” Id. After the court “conditionally” certifies the lawsuit as a class action for purposes of notice, then the parties complete discovery and present evidence to support “a stricter ‘similarly situated’ standard.” Bishop, at 614 (citing Thiessen, 267 F.3d at 1102-03).

In analyzing plaintiffs’ motion for conditional certification of a class action, the district court held that plaintiffs’ allegations – viz., that all putative class members are employees with “same or similar job titles” who performed “same or similar job duties” at the same Kansas facility and were paid under a common Employee Compensation Agreement – adequately established that plaintiffs were similarly situated for purposes of notice stage conditional class action certification. Bishop, at 614. The court rejected defense arguments that the class was too small – allegedly consisting of only 21 people – because the defense failed to provide admissible evidence supporting its claim, id. The court rejected defense claims that “there has been no indication of interest by other potential class members” on the same ground, id. Accordingly, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion to conditionally certify the lawsuit as a class action and approved notice to putative class members, id., at 614-15.

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