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Wooton v. Steelmaster Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

June 10, 2019

TOM WOOTON, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Tom Wooton sues his former employer Defendant Steelmaster Industries, Inc. ("Steelmaster") under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") for unpaid overtime compensation on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated. (Doc. 23.) Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Conditionally Certify Collective Action and Facilitate Notice to Potential Class Members. (Doc. 38 ("Motion").) Steelmaster opposes. (Doc. 41.) On review, the Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff worked as a "non-exempt hourly paid laborer" for Defendant from May 13, 2013 through July 31, 2018. (Doc. 38-1, ¶ 4.) His job duties included physical labor and, as Steelmaster tells it, Plaintiff was a designated "Driver" whose regular job duties required him to: (1) drive a company vehicle from Steelmaster's office to the jobsite at the start of the day; and (2) return the vehicle to Steelmaster's office atthe end of the day. (See Doc. 38-1, ¶¶ 6, 9 (Plaintiff's affidavit describing job duties); Doc. 41-1, pp. 2-4, ¶¶ 6-9, 13 (Steelmaster's owner's affidavit).) Plaintiff claims Steelmaster "has a policy and practice of failing to pay hourly paid laborers, like [him] and [his] similarly-situated coworkers, full and proper overtime hours" for certain driving-related duties: (1) driving from jobsites to Steelmaster's office; (2) cleaning vehicles at the end of each day; (3) loading water coolers; (4) loading and off-loading trucks and/or trailers; and (5) fueling trucks, equipment, and gasoline cans. (Doc. 38, pp. 3, 5-6; Doc. 38-1, ¶ 9.) He thus seeks conditional certification and notice to this proposed class:

All persons employed as hourly paid laborers for Defendant for the past three years (plus any applicable tolling) from the date of the Complaint to the present who worked more than forty (40) hours in one or more workweeks, who were not paid full and proper overtime compensation for all hours worked due to Defendant's timekeeping practices.

(Doc. 38, p. 1.)

         Since Plaintiff filed this action, five individuals have opted in (collectively, "Opt-Ins"). (Doc. 3 (James McHugh); Doc. 4 (Ryan Jarkovsky); Doc. 7 (Alan Stitts); Doc. 35 (Kevin Ryan); Doc. 37 (David Kahle).) Plaintiff submits their declarations in support of his Motion. (Docs. 38-2-38-6 ("Opt-In Declarations").) The Opt-In Declarations mirror Plaintiff's, save for different employment dates and hourly rates, citing the same driving-related practices as Steelmaster's unlawful policy and practice. (Docs. 38-2-38-3, 38-6, ¶¶ 9-11; 38-4-38-5, ¶¶ 10-12.)

         Steelmaster opposes on the basis that Plaintiff has failed to establish that: (1) others desire to join the lawsuit; and (2) Plaintiff and the Opt-Ins are similarly situated to other Steelmaster employees. (Doc. 41, pp. 11-17.) Steelmaster notes that Plaintiff and the Opt-Ins are all "Drivers," a small subset of Steelmaster employees accorded special driving- related duties not shared by employees not designated as "Drivers." (Doc. 41, pp. 3-6.) So, Steelmaster argues, Plaintiff and the Opt-Ins' experience cannot speak to a failure to pay overtime to "Non-Drivers," which precludes conditional certification. (Id. at 11-17.) In support, Steelmaster submits eight declarations-three from drivers (Doc. 41-1, pp. 6- 9, 14-18, 32-35), four from laborers (id. at 10-13, 19-31), and one from Steelmaster's owner (id. at 1-5). Briefing complete, the Motion is ripe.

         II. Legal Standards

         The FLSA authorizes aggrieved employees to maintain actions for FLSA violations on their own behalf and on behalf of "other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). District courts have wide discretion in determining how to manage a collective FLSA action, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has sanctioned a two-tiered approach to decide whether an action should proceed collectively:

The first determination is made at the so-called "notice stage." At the notice stage, the district court makes a decision-usually based only on the pleadings and any affidavits which have been submitted-whether notice of the action should be given to potential class members. Because the court has minimal evidence, this determination is made using a fairly lenient standard, and typically results in "conditional certification" of a "representative class. If the district court "conditionally certifies" the class, putative class members are given notice and the opportunity to "opt-in." The action proceeds as a representative action throughout discovery. The second determination is typically precipitated by a motion for "decertification" by the defendant usually filed after discovery is largely complete and the matter is ready for trial. At this stage, the court has much more information on which to base its decision, and makes a factual determination on the similarly situated question.

Hipp v. Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1218 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1213-14 (5th Cir. 1995)); Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1260 (11th Cir. 2008).

         District courts are not required to use this two-stage procedure. Hipp, 252 F.3d at 1219. The Eleventh Circuit has acknowledged that the two-tiered certification procedure "may be most useful when making a certification decision early in the litigation before discovery has been ...

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