Judge Susan D. Wigenton from the United States District Court in New Jersey has denied a Defense motion to decertify a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) collective action in the case Ruffin, Jr. et al. v. Avis Budget Car Rental. The central issues addressed in the Judge Wigenton’s opinion were (i) whether the situations of putative members of the class were sufficiently similar for purposes of the FLSA action, (ii) whether determining the exemption status of individual Plaintiffs would be manageable for the Defense, and (iii) whether treating the Plaintiffs as a class would meet requirements of fairness and procedural considerations. On each of these questions the court sided with the Plaintiffs. In effect, the Court’s decision clears the way for the Plaintiffs to argue that their positions at Avis were not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and that they should have received time and a half pay for overtime hours they had worked.
Nearly all the Plaintiffs in the case were classified by Avis as belonging to the company’s lowest level of management, “Shift Managers.” But the Plaintiffs argued, and the Court agreed, that the large majority of the tasks performed by these “managers”–cleaning cars, moving cars around the parking lot, checking inventory, renting cars, and/or installing child car seats…–were similarly non-managerial in nature.
In support of its motion to decertify, the Defense pointed to deposition testimony referring to differences in the job responsibilities of different plaintiffs, which purportedly sometimes included interviewing and hiring employees, handling discipline conflicts, scheduling, and responding to customer complaints. On this basis they argued that the jobs of different Plaintiffs were not similar enough for a judgment to be made about their inclusion in a single class. In response, the Plaintiffs argued that “the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that Shift Managers were primarily responsible for ‘Basic Daily Duties’ which included non-exempt tasks…” and that Shift Managers nationwide were all given the same mandatory uniform course of training, paid at the same rate, given the same job description, and assigned job duties that were “fundamentally the same.”
In the end the Court strongly favored the Plaintiffs’ positions in these arguments, finding that differences between job responsibilities of different Plaintiffs were “not material,” and that Plaintiffs were “similarly situated despite minor disparities because Plaintiffs generally ‘perform a similar swath of duties, ranging from customer service to office work.'” “Moreover,” the Court continued,” to the extent that Plaintiffs were engaging in any managerial tasks, it was limited.” The Court reasoned that since “minor factual deviations do not defeat collective treatment,” and the relevant differences between Plaintiffs in this case were indeed minor, there was no basis for decertification.
In effect, the court gave the Plaintiffs in this case a green light to go forward with their class action against Avis. It also gave some indirect support to key arguments the Plaintiffs will make in the lawsuit, regarding the appropriateness of Avis’s classification of these employees as managers exempt from FLSA.