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Ingram v. Coach USA

January 28, 2008

JEANINE INGRAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COACH USA, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff Jeanine Ingram's motion to: (1) conditionally certify this case as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); (2) provide judicial notice to all potential plaintiffs; and (3) require the defendants to provide an electronic list of potential plaintiffs and their contact information. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted and the proposed notice shall be disseminated as modified herein.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY/FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On July 26, 2006, plaintiff Jeanine Ingram filed a Complaint against Coach USA, the parent company of bus companies that operate in the northeast of the United States and ONE Bus, Inc., one of its operating companies, which provides public transportation in Orange, Newark, and Elizabeth, New Jersey, for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Docket No. 1. Coach USA has four subsidiaries that operate out of the Elizabeth, New Jersey facility, namely Olympia Trails, ONE Bus, Inc., Red & Tan, and Independent Bus. Deposition of Jaime Rodriguez ("Rodriguez Dep."), dated April 9, 2007, at 22, 227-29; Deposition of Donald Carmichael ("Carmichael Dep."), April 12, 2007, at 34.

Plaintiff worked as an operations supervisor for ONE Bus from November 1999 through June 30, 2005. Deposition of Jeanine Ingram ("Ingram Dep."), dated February 16, 2007, at 37; Rodriguez Dep.at 155-58. From July 23, 2003 to April 12, 2007, approximately fourteen other individuals also held the title of bus dispatcher or operations supervisors at the Elizabeth facility. Rodriguez Dep. at 15-18, 24, 33, 76-77, 91,181-82, 222-27; Carmichael Dep. at 34-35, 54-55.

The title "operations supervisor" has been used since approximately 2004-05 to refer to bus dispatchers, Declaration of Jeanine Ingram ("Ingram Dec."), dated June 18, 2007, at ¶ 3; Rodriguez Dep. at 18, 180-82 (stating that he refers to the operations department as "dispatch" but asserts that he has referred to the individuals who worked there as dispatchers until the job title was changed to operations supervisors) but the duties of a bus dispatcher and operations supervisor are the same. Rodriguez Dep. at 18, 180-82. The operations supervisors sit at windows, id. at 25, and their duties include: (1) ensuring that the driver's report on time and are in uniform, Ingram Dec. at ¶ 4, Rodriguez Dep. at 23, 96; (2) assigning drivers from a pre-approved list to cover routes that were to be handled by drivers who arrive late, Ingram Dec. at ¶¶ 4 and 10, Rodriguez Dep. 96-98, 103-06, 168-76, 185-88, 230-31; (3) answering incoming telephone calls and handling customer problems or inquiries, Rodriguez Dep. at 122; (4) sending buses to pick up passengers when a bus breaks downs, id. at 35-36; (5) reviewing accident forms to be sure they are properly completed, id. at 40; (6) distributing and collecting sign- in sheets and recording the driver's time in/time out, Ingram Dec. at ¶ 20, Rodriguez Dep. at 43-45; (7) checking logs for completeness and compliance with Department of Transportation ("DOT") regulations, such as time limits for certain driving tasks, Ingram Dec. at ¶ 8, Rodriguez Dep. at 48-52; and (8) distributing, collecting and reviewing for completeness Driver Vehicle Inspection Report ["DVIR"] books., Rodriguez Dep. at 130-33, 148.

Operations supervisors can prepare and submit disciplinary reports that record conduct that can result in discipline, which are forwarded to the safety department, and discipline is meted out pursuant to the union contract. Id. at 25, 97, 166. Operations supervisor, however, can send home a driver who arrives late or provide him or her a different route, id. at 104, 214, or hold back a driver suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, id. at 234-35 and can recommend termination. Id. at 28, 31-32.

Operations supervisors do not have the authority to hire, fire, or sign checks, Ingram Dec. at ¶¶ 6, 7; Rodriguez Dep. at 24, 31, 35, nor do they supervise the bus drivers. Rodriguez Dep. at 19-20, 96 (where Mr. Rodriguez explained that, as the assistant operations manager, he supervises the bus drivers and makes sure that all runs are covered); Ingram Dec. at ¶ 5(stating she had no supervisory responsibilities). In addition, they do not set the schedules or the routes, Ingram Dec. at ¶ 10; Rodriguez Dep. at 101, 113-16, 128-29, or train other employees. Ingram Dec. at ¶ 9.

Operations supervisors, like the drivers, receive training on topics such as the proper completion of DVIRs. Rodriguez Dep. at 55. In addition, operations supervisors receive substance abuse training as well as training on the logs and DOT Regulations. Id. at 64-66; Ingram Dec. at ¶ 19 (stating that plaintiff received training on substance abuse but that only her superiors could send a bus driver home for suspected abuse).

Plaintiff was not hired as a bus driver but does possesses a commercial driver's license ("CDL") that allows her to drive a bus, Ingram Dec. at ¶ 15; Ingram Dep. at 50, and, as a result, she is subject to random drug testing and medical certifications as well as certain safety and licensing requirements. Ingram Dep. at 68-69,71-72; Certification of Mark Tabakman, dated July 3, 2007 at Exs. C-G. Other operations supervisors also possess CDLs and therefore are subject to the same requirements and have been called upon during 2007 to drive buses when operational exigencies arise. Rodriguez Dep. at 151-54; Affidavit of Jaime Rodriguez, ("Rodriguez Aff.") dated July 3, 2007, at ¶¶ 3-4. An operations supervisor, however, is not required to possess a CDL. Rodriguez Dep. at 159.

The plaintiff states that she and the other individuals typically worked more than forty hours per week but were not paid overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). Ingram Dec. at ¶¶ 12-14, Rodriguez Dep. at 74-75, 91-92. As a result, she has brought suit and, by way of motion filed June 18, 2007, asks the Court to conditionally certify the class of employees who perform the duties of bus dispatchers/operations supervisors worked more than forty hours per week, and were not paid as required by the FLSA.

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENTS

In support of her motion, plaintiff argues: (1) she and the putative collective action members, namely bus dispatchers at the Elizabeth Depot, are similarly situated as defined by the Section 216 of the FLSA because they share the same job duties, perform them in substantially the same manner, and are paid under the same compensation plan; and (2) notice to the potential plaintiffs is appropriate so that each receives accurate and timely information about the lawsuit and they can make informed decisions about whether to join with the plaintiff to prosecute their claims. In addition, the plaintiff points out that the notice will toll the statute of limitations and prevent the erosion of the claims as well as promote judicial economy by having these similarly situated employees pursue their common claims in one forum. The plaintiff also asserts that requiring the defendants to provide the list of the similarly situated employees in an electronic format will facilitate dissemination of the notice.

The plaintiff also argues that: (1) merits decisions are not to be made at this point and thus a decision as to whether or not these similarly situated employees are exempt "administrators" under the FLSA is not yet before the Court; (2) the need for discovery concerning the individuals is not a factor ; and (3) the standards under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 are not applicable as the ...


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