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Hensley v. Eppendorf North America, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 6, 2014

DAVID HENSLEY, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
EPPENDORF NORTH AMERICA, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR CONDITIONAL COLLECTIVE ACTION CERTIFICATION AND NOTICE PURSUANT TO 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)

ROGER T. BENITEZ, District Judge.

Before this Court is a Motion for Conditional Collective Action Certification and Notice Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). (Docket No. 11). For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff David Hensley (Hensley) filed a putative class action against his former employer, Defendant Eppendorf North America, Inc. (Eppendorf), asserting violations of state and federal labor laws.

Eppendorf is a Delaware corporation which manufactures laboratory instruments and consumables for life sciences. (Compl. ¶ 8). Eppendorf also provides support services, such as pipette calibration, instrument maintenance programs, and expedited repair. ( Id. ) Hensley worked for Eppendorf as a pipette calibration specialist and field pipette calibration specialist until his employment was terminated in August 2013. ( Id. ¶ 6).

Hensley asserts that Eppendorf misclassified him and other technicians as "exempt" from labor laws and paid a yearly salary. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10). He asserts that he and other technicians did not perform duties warranting exemption. ( Id. ¶¶ 10-11). Hensley asserts that they should have been classified as non-exempt, and paid an hourly wage. ( Id. ¶ 12). He contends that the technicians did not receive the minimum wage for all hours worked, or overtime. ( Id. ) Hensley asserts that the technicians should have received meal and rest breaks, and payments for unused vacation time. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-15). He also contends that the technicians were not provided with proper wage statements, and that Eppendorf owes wages to terminated employees. ( Id. ¶ 16).

In his Complaint, Hensley alleges seven violations of California state law on behalf of putative classes consisting of certain current and former employees of Eppendorf residing in California. ( Id. ¶¶ 17, 24-60). These claims include alleged violations of the California Labor Code and alleged unfair business practices within the meaning of Section 172000 et seq. of the California Business & Professions Code. ( Id. ¶¶ 24-60). Hensley has also filed a motion to amend the complaint to add a claim pursuant to the California Private Attorney General Act of 2004, CAL. LABOR CODE §§ 2699 et seq. (Docket No. 12). The motion to amend remains pending.

At issue in the instant motion is Hensley's eighth claim for relief, which asserts violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (Compl. ¶¶ 61-67). He seeks to bring the claim on behalf of a "Nationwide Class" containing:

All persons residing in the United States who are formerly or currently employed by Eppendorf North America, Inc. as a pipette calibration specialist, field pipette calibration specialist, calibration technician, or in a similar position at any time since February 13, 2011.

( Id. ¶ 17(a)).

In his FLSA claim, Hensley asserts that Eppendorf required the Nationwide Class to work without compensation for all hours worked, work beyond forty hours per week without overtime compensation, or work at less than the minimum wage under 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207(a)(1). ( Id. ¶¶ 63-64). Hensley contends that the violations are "willful and ongoing." ( Id. ¶ 66). Hensley therefore seeks unpaid wages, including overtime wages allegedly owed under 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 and 207. ( Id. ¶ 67). He also seeks liquidated damages, costs, interests, and reasonable attorneys' fees under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). ( Id. ).

Hensley filed the instant Motion on April 15, 2014. Hensley asks this Court to conditionally certify the class in regards to the FLSA claim. (Mot. at 1). He also asks the Court to order Eppendorf to produce the names and other relevant information of its current and former technicians. ( Id. ) Finally, he asks the Court to authorize and order notice of the collection action to be sent to the current and former technicians. ( Id. ) Eppendorf timely opposed the Motion on May 23, 2014. (Docket No. 13). Hensley filed a reply. (Docket No. 16).

LEGAL STANDARD

A. Conditional Certification

The FLSA grants employees a private right of action to enforce the minimum wage and overtime provision of the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). An action may be brought by employees, not only on their own behalf, but also on behalf of "other employees similarly situated." Id. Although the statute permits collective actions, the statute requires employees to affirmatively opt-in by giving their consent in writing. Id. Such consent is filed in the court where the action is brought. Id.

Determining whether a suit may be maintained as an FLSA collective action is within the discretion of the district court. Graham v. Overland Solutions, Inc., No. 10-cv-672-BEN (BLM), 2011 WL 1769737, at *2 (S.D. Cal. May 9, 2011) (citing Leuthold v. Destination Am., Inc., 224 F.R.D. 462, 466 (N.D. Cal. 2004)). District courts in the Ninth Circuit have consistently applied a two-step approach for determining when employees are "similarly situated." Id. (citing Reed v. Cnty. of Orange, 266 F.R.D. 446, 449 (C.D. Cal. 2010); Lewis v. Wells Fargo & Co., 669 F.Supp.2d 1124, 1127 (N.D. Cal. 2009)). In the first step, the court makes an "initial determination" about whether to conditionally certify the class for the purposes of providing notice to potential members. Id. (citing Leuthold, 224 F.R.D. at 467). Later, often after the close of discovery, the court re-evaluates certification and applies a more stringent analysis. Id. Hensley's Motion concerns only the first step. (Mot. at 4).

The burden of demonstrating that the members of the proposed class are similarly situated rests on the plaintiff. Graham, 2011 WL 1769737, at *2. However, at the early notice stage, this standard is a "lenient one that typically results in certification." Hill v. R Carriers, Inc., 690 F.Supp.2d 1001, 1009 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (citation omitted). A plaintiff must provide "little more than substantial allegations, supported by declarations or discovery, that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.'" Id. (citing Thiessen v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1102 (10th Cir. 2001)). A plaintiff must show that there is "some factual basis beyond the mere averments in [his] complaint for the class allegations." Adams v. Inter-Con Sec. Sys., Inc., 242 F.R.D. 530, 536 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (citation omitted).

The showing required here is "considerably less stringent" than the showing required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. Hill, 690 F.Supp.2d at 1009. A plaintiff need only show that "some identifiable factual or legal nexus binds together the various claims of the class members in a way that hearing the claims together promotes judicial efficiency and comports with the broad remedial policies underlying the FLSA." Id. (quoting Wertheim v. Ariz., No. CIV 92-453 PHX RCB, 1993 WL 603552, at *1 (D. Ariz. Sept. 30, 1993)). This is likely in recognition of the fact that, unlike under Rule 23, there are no absent class members to protect. Graham, 2011 WL 1769737, at *2 (citing Hoffman v. Sbarro, Inc., 982 F.Supp. 249, 263 n.17 ...


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