Building upon a growing body of case law finding automatic-deduction meal break claims are not suitable for class or collective action treatment (see here and here), an Ohio federal judge decertified a collective action against a national system of medical and rehabilitation care facilities by registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, and admissions coordinators who claimed they were not paid for missed or interrupted meal breaks that were automatically deducted from pay. In Creely v. HCR ManorCare, Inc., Littler attorneys convinced the court that the employees’ experiences were too diverse to allow the case to proceed as a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Although they acknowledged that the healthcare provider had a policy for overriding the automatic deduction, the employees claimed that this “illegally shifted the burden of monitoring compensable work time to individual employees” by requiring employees to cancel the automatically deducted time when they did not receive an uninterrupted meal break. The court rejected this theory, as a matter of law.
The employees also argued that they were not trained or informed about the override policy, and they did not report missed or interrupted meal breaks because managers discouraged them from doing so. The court disagreed, stating: “What is apparent from the record here is that Plaintiffs’ knowledge of and training on the policy, and the application of the auto-deduct policy itself, varied in large part depending on the individual managers at Defendant’s facilities.”
At the lenient first stage of the case, the court had conditionally certified the case as a collective action, and notice was sent to approximately 3,200 employees at 29 facilities in 27 states. Less than 10 percent, or 318 current and former employees, opted-in to join the lawsuit. The discovery and depositions demonstrated that each opt-in’s situation was unique – requiring individual findings of fact and individualized defenses.
Littler then filed a motion for decertification. At this stage the court found the healthcare provider’s corporate policy complied with the FLSA. Accordingly, the issue was how the policy was implemented by managers at medical and rehabilitation facilities across the country. Based on evidence obtained in discovery, the court concluded that there was
a variety of factual and employment settings among the individual plaintiffs and the actions of hundreds of managers who actually implemented defendant’s policy. As a result, the defenses are individualized, and it would be unfair and impractical, to both sides, to have representative testimony presented for the proposed class when any one plaintiff’s situation is potentially markedly different from another’s.
The court also rejected the idea of partial decertification of the class and certification of sub-classes based on job titles because the policy was implemented nationwide through individual managers on a decentralized basis.
Accordingly, the court decertified the case as a collective action, dismissing all the opt-in plaintiffs, albeit without prejudice, leaving only the three original named plaintiffs. The decision in this case provides further support for the argument that claims based on the alleged unlawful implementation of lawful policies require individual determinations and are therefore not suitable for class and collective action treatment.
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