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Benedict v. Hewlett-Packard Co.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 13, 2016

ERIC BENEDICT, Plaintiff,
v.
HEWLETT-PACKARD COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DECERTIFY FLSA COLLECTIVE [RE: ECF 413]

          BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge.

         This case, which challenges Hewlett-Packard (“HP”)’s classification of certain employees as exempt, began as a purported class action and Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) collective action. The Court[1] conditionally certified the FLSA collective, see ECF 175, but denied certification of the Rule 23 class, see ECF 388. Discovery has closed and HP now asks the Court to decertify the FLSA collective action. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Defendant is a global corporation that provides information technology products and services around the world. Plaintiff Eric Benedict worked for Defendant as a Technical Solutions Consultant (“TSC”) III from April 2011 to February 2012, Benedict ¶¶ 2-3, ECF 310; and Plaintiff David Mustain worked as a TSC II from December 2008 to September 2013, Mustain ¶¶ 2-3, ECF 311.[2] Plaintiffs allege that Defendant misclassified them as exempt from overtime pay, and that they and their similarly-situated colleagues routinely worked more than 40 hours per week without overtime pay in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§201 et seq. SAC ¶¶ 67-77, ECF 258.

         On February 13, 2014, the Court conditionally certified the following FLSA collective:

All persons who were, are, or will be employed by HP nationwide from January 10, 2010, to end of the opt-in period (a) in the Technical Solutions Consultant I, 11, or III; Field Technical Support Consultant I, II, or III; or Technology Consultant I, II, or III Job titles, (b) with the HR designation “Individual Contributor, ” and (c) classified as Exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the FLSA.

Benedict v. Hewlett-Packard Co., No. 13-CV-00119-LHK, 2014 WL 587135, at *14 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 13, 2014). Notice was then mailed out and 1, 385 individuals (“Opt-Ins”) opted in to the collective. See Order Granting Stipulation Re Dismissal of Opt-in Plaintiffs at 1 (“Opt-In Dismissal Order”), ECF 354.

         Plaintiffs then sought certification of the following state classes under Rule 23(b)(3):

California Class: All persons employed in California as a Technical Solutions Consultant I, II, or III by HP’s (1) Enterprise Group, Customer Solutions Center; (2) HP Software Support Delivery / IMBU Support; and/or (3) HP Software Enterprise Security Products organization at any time between January 10, 2009 and the present who was designated an “Individual Contributor” and was classified as exempt from the overtime pay requirements of California.
Colorado Class: All persons employed in Colorado as a Technical Solutions Consultant I, II, or III by HP’s (1) Enterprise Group, Customer Solutions Center; (2) HP Software Support Delivery / IMBU Support; and/or (3) HP Software Enterprise Security Products organization at any time between January 10, 2010 and the present who was designated an “Individual Contributor” and was classified as exempt from the overtime pay requirements of Colorado.
Massachusetts Class: All persons employed in Massachusetts as a Technical Solutions Consultant I, II, or III by HP’s (1) Enterprise Group, Customer Solutions Center; (2) HP Software Support Delivery / IMBU Support; and/or (3) HP Software Enterprise Security Products organization at any time between January 10, 2010 and the present who was designated an “Individual Contributor” and was classified as exempt from the overtime pay requirements of Massachusetts.

         Before the Court had ruled on the Motion for Class Certification, the parties stipulated to amend the definition of the conditionally-certified collective as follows:

Opt-Ins who were or are employed (a) in U.S. Technical Solutions Consultant I, II, or III Job titles within the Enterprise Group - Customer Solutions Center, HP Software Support Delivery/ IMBU Support, and/or HP Software Enterprise Security Products organizations; or (b) in U.S. Field Technical Support Consultant I, II, or III job titles within the Enterprise Group - TS AMS Signage - US, and/or Printing and Personal System - Graphics Solutions Business organizations.

(“Collective Members”) Opt-In Dismissal Order at 3. This revised definition largely mirrors the putative class definitions, but on a nationwide basis and with the addition of Field Technical Support Consultants (“FTSCs”). The revised group includes approximately 130 current and former employees[3] and excludes more than 1, 000 of the initial Opt-Ins, whose claims were dismissed without prejudice. Id. at 2.

         On March 28, 2016, the Court denied certification of the putative state classes because Plaintiffs “failed to carry their burden of demonstrating predominance” and superiority under Rule 23(b)(3). See Order Denying Plaintiffs’ Motion to Certify Class (“Order Denying Class Certification”) at 31, ECF 388.

         Discovery closed on April 5, 2016. Plaintiffs reviewed more than 600, 000 HP documents and deposed nine Rule 30(b)(6) witnesses. Sagafi Decl. ¶ 7, ECF 419; see also Lazerson Decl. ¶ 2, ECF 413-1. Defendant deposed the named Plaintiffs and more than 10 Collective Members. Sagafi Decl. ¶ 7; Lazerson Decl. ¶ 2. On the basis of that discovery, Defendant now seeks to decertify the FLSA collective, while Plaintiff argues that decertification would be improper.

         B. Factual Background

         The exhibits and depositions attached to the parties’ briefing establish the following. As described at length in the Order Denying Class Certification, Defendant uses a Job Architecture (“JA”) Policy “to organize work and classify employees using a global hierarchy of jobs.” See Order Denying Class Certification at 2-3. Under the JA, each employee has a Job Title that maps to a Job Function, Job Family, and Job Level. Id.; see also Exh. A to Sagafi Decl. at HP00000001, ECF 419-1; Def.’s Exh. 42, ECF 414-42. Each Job Title also comes with a Job Level Definition, but these definitions do not necessarily reflect the day-to-day work of Collective Members. Compare Exh. A to Sagafi Decl. at HP0000004 (TSC I-IIIs are not “Expert”) with Def.’s Exh. 43 at 5 (describing a TSC as a “Subject Matter Expert (SME)”), ECF 412-66.

         Relevant to this case, each Collective Member is classified as a TSC I, TSC II, TSC III, or FTSC. TSCs and FTSCs all fall under the “Services” Job Function. However, TSCs are in the “Customer Solutions Center - Technical” Job Family, which is “made up of teams that provide remote (offsite) service, ” see Exh. A to Sagafi Decl. at HP00000001, while FTSCs are in the “Field Technical Support” Job Family, which “focuses on managing the onsite delivering of . . . services, ” see Def.’s Exh. 42 at HP00000006.

         Collective Members who are TSCs and FTSCs also come from different business organizations within HP. The TSCs come from (1) HP’s Enterprise Group - Customer Solutions Center, (2) HP Software Support Delivery/IMBU Support, and (3) HP Software Enterprise Security Products, while the FTSCs come from either Enterprise Group - TS AMS Signage - U.S. or Printing and Personal System - Graphics Solution Business. Lazerson Decl. ¶ 14; see also Opt-In Dismissal. These groups focus on different products and for different customers.

         During the relevant time period, Collective Members had at least 104 different direct managers, in part because certain Members had numerous managers. Def.’s Exh. 52 (Rowe Decl.) ¶ 4, ECF 412-82. In addition, Collective Members worked at 21 different locations nationwide, not including 30 Members who telecommuted. Id. ¶ 5. Their salaries ranged from below $40, 000/year to more than $100, 000/year. Id. ¶ 6. Such variation existed even for individuals with the same Job Title in the same location at the same time. Id. ¶ 6 (three Collective Members who were TSC IIIs in San Diego in 2013 earned base salaries of $55, 393, $92, 586, and $103, 592).

         1. TSCs

         Because the parties refer to TSCs’ “tiers, ” which are distinguishable from their division into Is, IIs, and IIIs, and “titles” or “roles, ” which differ from the “TSC” Job Title, the Court reviews this vocabulary from the Order Denying Class Certification. A TSC’s tier generally indicates how many engineers have attempted to address an issue before it comes to him/her. See Order Denying Class Certification at 5. For example, a Tier 1 engineer is the first TSC to respond to a case, regardless of whether that TSC is I, II, or III, while a Tier 2 engineer generally receives a case after a Tier 1 engineer has been unable to solve it, and so on. Id. at 5. In addition, the TSC Job Title also encompasses numerous “functional titles” or “roles, ” which exist at a level below the JA classification. Id. at 8. For example, Collective Members who are TSCs include “TAMs” (Technical Account Managers), see Def.’s Exh. 49 at 6, ECF 412-78, “TSSs” (Technical Solution Specialists), see Def.’s Exh. 50 at 5, ECF 412-80, “CAs” (Customer Advocates), see Def.’s Exh. 12 at 31:15-18, and “RSAAs” (Remote Support Account Advocates), see Def.’s Exh. 43.

         The Court now turns to the TSCs’ work experience.[4] Collective Members who are TSCs respond to customers’ requests for technical solutions. The procedure for responding is dictated by policies and standard practice though, as noted below, some Collective Members regularly follow this practice, while others “might” or “occasionally” follow it. The Court summarizes standard practice and some Collective Members’ deviation from it below.

         According to standard practice, TSCs first review a customer’s log files for information on the problem. See, e.g., Pls.’ Exh. O (“Mustain Pl.”) at 66:7-10, ECF 419-15; Pls.’ Exh. H (“Chang Pl.”) at 115:15-18, ECF 419-8; Pls.’ Exh. K (“Ihling Pl.”) at 28:22-25, ECF 419-11; Pls.’ Exh. L (“Jessen Pl.”) at 77:20-78:23, ECF 419-12; see also Pls.’ Exh. F (“Austin Pl.”) at 58:19-25 (testifying that he “might” review log ...


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