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Lundine v. Gates Corp.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 17, 2019

PEGGY LUNDINE, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
GATES CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ERIC F. MELGREN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Peggy Lundine brings this collective class action lawsuit under § 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) on behalf of all similarly-situated nonexempt manufacturing employees working at some of Defendant Gates Corporation's (“Gates”) facilities. Before the Court is Lundine's Motion for Approval of Collective Class Notice (Doc. 43). For the following reasons, the Court denies Lundine's motion. The Court approves Gates's proposed class notice attached to its response as Exhibit B.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Peggy Lundine worked for Gates from February 17, 1992, to December 1, 2017, in an hourly, nonexempt manufacturing role. Gates is a manufacturer of fluid and power transmission solutions such as hydraulic hoses and belts. Lundine asserts that Gates failed to compensate her and other similarly situated employees for overtime work.

         Lundine filed this lawsuit against Gates on August 21, 2018, seeking damages under the FLSA and the Kansas Wage Payment Act. On July 11, 2019, the Court granted Lundine's Motion for Conditional Class Certification (Doc. 23). After collaborating for nearly two months over the specific language of the class notice, the parties are unable to resolve their differences on three issues. Lundine now asks the Court to grant her proposed language concerning these three issues.

         II. Legal Standard

         The FLSA permits legal action “against any employer . . . by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.”[1] Unlike class actions pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a collective action brought under the FLSA includes only those similarly-situated individuals who opt into the class.[2]But the FLSA does not define what it means to be “similarly situated.” Instead, the Tenth Circuit has approved an ad hoc, two-step approach to § 216(b) certification claims.[3] The ad hoc approach employs a two-step analysis for determining whether putative opt-in plaintiffs are similarly situated to the named plaintiff.[4]

         First, in the initial “notice stage, ” the court “determines whether a collective action should be certified for purposes of sending notice of the action to potential class members.”[5] The notice stage “require[s] nothing more than substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.”[6] The standard for conditional certification at the notice stage is lenient and typically results in certification for the purpose of notifying potential plaintiffs.[7]

         The second step of the ad hoc approach occurs after discovery.[8] At this stage, the district court applies a stricter standard and reviews the following factors to determine whether the opt-in plaintiffs are similarly situated: (1) the disparate factual and employment conditions of the individual plaintiffs, (2) defenses available to the defendant that are individual to each plaintiff, and (3) other fairness and procedural conditions.[9]

         II. Analysis

         Lundine identifies three issues with the proposed class notice and asks the Court to resolve them in her favor. First, Lundine argues that the notice should more clearly communicate that class members may not be required to pay Gates's attorneys' fees, even though they may be required to pay other legal expenses related to the case. Second, Lundine argues that the notice should not state that class members will be required to travel to Kansas. Third, Lundine argues that the notice should not list Gates's counsel's contact information. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

         District courts have the discretion to monitor the preparation and distribution of collective action notices.[10] When exercising this discretion, courts must ensure fair and accurate notice and should refrain from altering the proposed notice absent strict necessity.[11] The Court notes that Gates has drafted the class notice based on another FLSA notice previously approved by this Court in Jancich v. Stonegate Mortgage Corporation.[12] In Jancich, this Court approved an FLSA class notice that omitted qualifying language about class members not having to pay for the defendant's attorney's fees “because it adequately state[d] putative class members' potential obligations.”[13]The Court also held that, because the defendant employed putative class members throughout the country, “it is reasonable and necessary to include language informing putative plaintiffs that they may be required to travel to Kansas for depositions and trial.”[14] Finally, the Court in Jancich included the defense counsel's contact information in the notice.[15]

         The Court concludes that Lundine's three arguments concerning the class notice are without merit. First, the notice sufficiently informs putative class members that they may be required to pay “court costs and other expenses” if the claims end up being “without merit.” This language comes directly from the notice in Jancich and the Court concludes that adding language about attorney's fees is unnecessary and inconsistent with prior caselaw. The notice is unlikely to deter putative class members from joining in this action by leading them to mistakenly believe that they will have to pay Gates's attorney's fees in addition to other court costs.

         Second, the Court concludes that the notice sufficiently informs putative class members that they may be required to travel to Kansas without deterring them from joining this action. The notice does not state that all class members must travel to Kansas. It merely states that the putative class member may have to travel to Kansas. Lundine's proposed qualifying language is ambiguous and attempts to convey to putative class members that an even smaller number of them may have to travel to Kansas. As in Jancich, the Court here concludes that Gates's proposed notice sufficiently ...


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