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Lopez v. G.A.T. Airline Ground Support

September 13, 2010

EDWEN R. LOPEZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL CURRENT AND FORMER EMPLOYEES OF G.A.T. AIRLINE GROUND SUPPORT, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
G.A.T. AIRLINE GROUND SUPPORT, INC.; JEAN RAINES; AND JAMES BAGGETT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [Doc. 41]; Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' Motion for Collective Action Certification [Doc. 48]

Plaintiffs Edwen Lopez, Michael Jordan, John Forbes, and Ozell Clark move the Court for certification of a class under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 and also for certification of a collective action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Defendant filed an opposition as to each motion, and Plaintiffs filed a reply. Oral argument was heard on Plaintiffs' motions before Chief Judge Irma E. Gonzalez on Tuesday, September 3, 2010.

Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, for the reasons explained herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART both of Plaintiffs' motions.

Background

Former employees of Defendant G.A.T. Airline Ground Support, Inc. ("GAT") bring this action for systematic wage and hour violations in violation of federal and state law. GAT is a corporation headquartered in Alabama, which provides services to airlines, including ground transportation, aircraft maintenance, and cargo operations management. The four named Plaintiffs are former ramp agents employed by GAT in California. Plaintiff Lopez was employed as a ramp agent in San Diego. Plaintiff Jordan was employed as a ramp agent in Orange County. Plaintiff Forbes was employed as a ramp agent in Burbank. Plaintiff Clark was employed as a ramp agent in Sacramento.

On July 2, 2008, Plaintiff Lopez filed a putative class and representative action against GAT in state Superior Court, and on August 21, 2008, he filed a First Amended Complaint. On October 9, 2009, Plaintiff Lopez filed a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") adding Plaintiffs Jordan, Forbes, and Clark, and adding additional causes of action. The SAC alleges fifteen causes of action for violation of the California Labor Code, the California Private Attorneys General Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), as well as breach of contract. The SAC also added Defendants Jean Raines ("Raines") and James Baggett ("Baggett"), co-owners and board members of GAT. Plaintiffs bring this suit individually and on behalf of a proposed class of GAT employees in California.

Defendants GAT, Raines, and Baggett (collectively, "Defendants") removed the case to this Court. [Doc. No. 1.] The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the Court granted in part and denied those motions by order filed July 19, 2010. [Doc. No. 38]. The Court granted Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment on the following claims and issues:

a. Plaintiffs' fifth cause of action for failure to pay vested vacation pay in violation of Labor Code § 227.3 (the Court found Defendants' policy, requiring employees to forfeit vested vacation pay if they were employed for less than a year prior to their termination, violated § 227.3);

b. Plaintiffs' sixth cause of action for civil penalties under the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 ("PAGA"), California Labor Code §§ 2698 et seq., for violating Labor Code § 227.3;

c. Plaintiffs' first, third, fifth, seventh, and eleventh causes of action insofar as each of these causes of action allege Defendants failed to furnish accurate itemized wage statements in violation of Labor Code § 226(a) (the Court found GAT's paychecks did not indicate the applicable hourly rate of pay for the employee's regular, overtime, or double-time rate of pay and also failed to indicate the beginning date of the pay period);

d. Plaintiffs' claim for civil penalties under PAGA based upon Defendants' violation of Labor Code § 226(a);

e. Plaintiffs' ninth cause of action for failure to issue proper form of payment in violation of Labor Code § 212 (the Court found GAT paid its employees with outof-state checks which did not state the name and address of a place of business in California where employees could cash the checks on demand without discount); and

f. Plaintiffs' tenth cause of action for civil penalties under PAGA based upon Defendants' violation of Labor Code § 212 insofar as employees were able to cash checks without a fee or hold.

The Court denied Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' first cause of action for failure to record meal periods, finding Plaintiffs had not provided any evidence that Defendants failed to record their meal periods or that Defendants recorded meal periods that were not actually taken. The Court also granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding the individual defendants Raines and Baggett were not employers under the FLSA.

Plaintiffs now move for class certification under Rule 23 and also for collective action certification pursuant to the FLSA.

Legal Standards

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the certification of a class in federal court. As a threshold matter, the court may certify a class only if plaintiffs meet the requirements of Rule 23(a):

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;

(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;

(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and

(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a).

In addition, the plaintiff must demonstrate one of the three conditions set forth in Rule 23(b) is met. Here, Plaintiff seeks certification under Rule 23(b)(3), which requires a finding "that the question of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." In considering whether certification is appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3), the court should consider:

(A) the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;

(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;

(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and

(D) the likely difficulties in managing a class action.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3).

When conducting a Rule 23 inquiry, "the question is not whether the plaintiff or plaintiffs have stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met." Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177 (1974). The district court has wide discretion in determining whether an action is appropriate for class treatment. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 603 F.3d 571, 594 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc). In performing its evaluation of whether plaintiffs have shown the four requirements of Rule 23(a), the court may analyze the merits of a claim only insofar as necessary to determine whether the requirements of that Rule have been met. Id. Under Rule 23(b)(3), however, the court must "formulate 'some prediction as to how specific issues will play out in order to determine whether common or individual issues predominate in a given case'." Id. at 593 (quoting In re New Motor Vehicles Canadian Export Antitrust Litigation, 522 F.3d 6, 20 (1st Cir. 2008)).

In addition to Rule 23, the court may certify a collective action under § 16 of the FLSA for workers who are "similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). That statute does not define "similarly situated" or provide any guidance for when a collective action is appropriate. Courts, however, generally utilize a two-step approach involving an initial notice to prospective plaintiffs followed by a final evaluation of whether such plaintiffs are similarly situated. Leuthold v. Destination Am., Inc., 224 F.R.D. 462, 467 (N.D. Cal. 2004). At the final stage, the court considers the following factors: "(1) the disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) the various defenses available to the defendants with respect to the individual plaintiffs; and (3) fairness and procedural considerations." Id.

Motion for Class Certification

Plaintiffs seek certification under Rule 23 on behalf of the following classes:

All current and former employees employed by G.A.T. Airline Ground Support, Inc. at the San Diego International Airport, Orange County John Wayne Airport, Burbank International Airport and Sacramento International Airport in California for the period July 2, 2004 to the present ("Vacation/Uniform/Paycheck/Wages/ Breach of Contract Class").

The Vacation/Uniform/Paycheck/Wages/Breach of Contract Class applies to the fifth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, and fourteenth causes of action. Plaintiffs propose treating this as a single class, but acknowledge not all class members will have claims under each cause of action. See Ortega v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., 258 F.R.D. 361 (C.D. Cal. 2009) (certifying single class of all local and regional drivers, although complaint alleged a variety of Labor Code violations including failure to pay minimum or agreed rates, failure to provide ...


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