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Frederick Ruffin, Jr., Individually and On Behalf of All Other v. Avis Budget Car Rental

June 28, 2012

FREDERICK RUFFIN, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, LORETTA DONATELLI, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, JESUS SIASOCO, JENNIFER NOONAN, JENNIFER ROLLINS, MARILYN PIZARRO, JOHNNY RAMOS, KRYSTAL L. BECK, TONY HAUGABOOK, RICARDO BARRIGA-GALINDO, ANGELA REYNOLDS, KELVIN L. MARTIN, DARREN BOW, VITTA BARGAINER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AVIS BUDGET CAR RENTAL, LLC, AVIS RENT A CAR SYSTEM, LLC, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wigenton, District Judge.

OPINION

Before the Court is Frederick Ruffin, Jr. ("Ruffin") and Loretta Donatelli's ("Donatelli") (collectively "Plaintiffs") Motion to Conditionally Certify a Class under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("Motion"). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(d)(2)(A) and 1367. Venue is proper in this District pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391. This Motion is decided without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons stated below, this Court grants Plaintiffs' Motion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ruffin and Donatelli were employed by Defendants Avis Budget Car Rental, LLC*fn1 and Avis Rent A Car System, LLC*fn2 (collectively "Defendants" or "Avis"). (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 16). Avis operates auto rental facilities at airports and other locations within the United States. (Id. ¶ 1; Markey Decl. Ex. I, Linnen Decl. ¶ 6.) Ruffin was employed by Defendants as a shift manager*fn3 from March 2010 to September 2010 at Defendants' Lambert-St. Louis International Airport location. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Donnatelli, on the other hand, was in Defendants' employ from December 1995 to December 2008 at Defendants' Chicago O'Hare International Airport location. (Id. ¶ 16.) During her tenure, Donatelli held several positions including preferred services manager, customer service manager and customer loyalty manager. (Id.) Generally, shift managers supervise employees in one or more of the following groups: rental sales associates, courtesy bus drivers, roving rapid return agents, service agents, dispatchers and gate guards. (Markey Decl. Ex. I, Linnen Decl. ¶ 11.) Shift managers are the lowest level on the Avis management hierarchy. After shift manager is an airport manager, then a district manager, followed by a city manager, then a region manager, who is the most senior manager assigned to a region. (Pls.' Br. Ex. A, Labor Dep. 43:12-44:3.)

Plaintiffs allege that Avis "failed to pay them for all hours worked as well as overtime compensation . . . in violation of the [Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.,] and applicable provisions of the Missouri Minimum Wage Law[, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 290.505,] and Illinois Wage Laws[, 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 115/1 et seq. and the Illinois Administrative Code § 210.100 et seq.]" even though they performed non-exempt duties such as "cleaning cars, moving cars around the parking lot, checking inventory, renting cars, and/or installing child car seats." (Compl. ¶¶ 2-4, 17, 44, 50.) Plaintiffs also allege that they did not hire or fire employees and they had minimal input in hiring or firing decisions. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiffs further maintain that their duties "required little skill and no capital investment" and they did not have "managerial responsibilities or . . . exercise . . . independent judgment." (Id. ¶ 47.)

Plaintiffs seek to bring this action on behalf of themselves and all persons who are or were formerly employed by Defendants in the United States at any time since February 24, 2008[,] to the entry of judgment in this case . . . as shift managers, preferred managers, and other comparable positions with different titles (including but not limited to customer service managers and customer loyalty managers), who were non-exempt employees within the meaning of the FLSA. (Id. ¶ 21.)

LEGAL STANDARD

The FLSA seeks "to aid the unprotected, unorganized and lowest paid of the nation's working population; that is, those employees who lack[] sufficient bargaining power to secure for themselves a minimum subsistence wage." Symczky v. Genesis Healthcare Corp., 656 F.3d 189, 192 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Pursuant to the FLSA's collective action mechanism, an individual asserting a violation of the FLSA "may bring an action 'on behalf of himself . . . and other employees similarly situated,' subject to the requirement that '[n]o employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.'" Id. (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)) (alteration in original). The Third Circuit describes the legal framework and level of proof necessary for conditional certification as follows:

In deciding whether a suit brought under § 216(b) may move forward as a collective action, courts typically employ a two-tiered analysis.*fn4 During the initial phase, the court makes a preliminary determination whether the employees enumerated in the complaint can be provisionally categorized as similarly situated to the named plaintiff. [I]f the plaintiff carries her burden at this threshold stage, the court will "conditionally certify" the collective action for the purposes of notice and pretrial discovery. In the absence of statutory guidance or appellate precedent on the proper definition of "similarly situated," a divergence of authority has emerged on the level of proof required at this stage. Some trial courts within our circuit have allowed a plaintiff to satisfy her burden simply by making a "substantial allegation" in her pleadings that she and the prospective party plaintiffs suffered from a single decision, plan or policy, but the majority of our circuit's trial courts have required the plaintiff to make a "modest factual showing" that the proposed recipients of opt-in notices are similarly situated.

Under the "modest factual showing" standard, a plaintiff must produce some evidence, "beyond pure speculation," of a factual nexus between the manner in which the employer's alleged policy affected her and the manner in which it affected other employees. We believe the "modest factual showing" standard-which works in harmony with the opt-in requirement to cabin the potentially massive size of collective actions -best comports with congressional intent and the Supreme Court's directive that a court "ascertain[] the contours of [a collective] action at the outset." After discovery, and with the benefit of "a much thicker record than it had at the notice stage," a court following this approach then makes a conclusive determination as to whether each plaintiff who has opted in to the collective action is in fact similarly situated to the named plaintiff. "This second stage is less lenient, and the plaintiff bears a heavier burden."

Symczky, 656 F.3d at 192-93 (emphasis added) (alteration in original) (footnote omitted) (citations omitted); see also Troncone v. Velahos, Civ. A. No. 10-2961, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82672, at *7 (D.N.J. July 28, 2011) ("Certification of a collective action occurs in two stages: (1) conditional certification and notice, and (2) final certification."); Morisky v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 111 F. Supp. 2d 493, 497 (D.N.J. 2000) (courts addressing the issue of whether plaintiffs are similarly situated "have generally explicitly adopted or implicitly recognized a two-step approach").

It is generally established that "the standard applied at this [first] stage is fairly lenient." Holesapple v. E-Mortgage Mgmt., LLC, Civ. A. No. 11-0769, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149297, at *7 (D.N.J. Dec. 29, 2011); see also Morisky, 111 F. Supp. 2d at 497 (the determination of whether conditional certification is proper "is made using a fairly lenient standard"). Furthermore, in determining whether the plaintiffs have made a "modest factual showing," "the merits of the plaintiffs' claims are not addressed." Bishop v. AT&T Corp., 256 F.R.D. 503, 507 (W.D. Pa. 2009).

DISCUSSION

Here, Defendants contend that conditional certification should be denied because the members of the putative class are not similarly situated. (Defs.' Opp'n Br. 14.) This Court disagrees because Plaintiffs have satisfied their burden under the "modest factual showing" standard. Although Avis maintains that shift managers' duties and responsibilities differ depending on a number of factors including the location, location size, rental volume and geography, (see generally Markey Decl. Ex. I, Linnen Decl.), these variations are not evident in the job descriptions Avis promulgates. Rose Ann Labor ("Labor"), Avis's Director of Compensation, testified that the Compensation Department prepares the job descriptions for shift managers. (Pls.' Br. Ex. A, Labor Dep. 51:13-15.) Labor also testified that the job description and the essential duties and responsibilities of shift managers are the same regardless of the state, location type, location size, shift managers' hours, location's sales volume, or the supervising airport manager. (Id. at 51:23-52:15, 56:20-24, 57:11-22.) She also testified that the job description was accurate and that Avis expected shift managers to perform the work ...


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