Alabama federal district court judge, Scott Coogler, has decertified another Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action of store managers. In Cynthia Richter, et al. v. Dolgencorp, Inc., et al, store managers, who worked for the retail chain Dollar General Stores, claimed they were improperly misclassified as employees exempt from FLSA coverage because they performed more nonmanagement, than management, duties.
After Richter won conditional certification, thousands of current and former store managers joined the lawsuit, citing Morgan v. Family Dollar, a store manager misclassification case in which the Eleventh Circuit upheld a $35 million verdict and refused to reverse a pretrial decision denying the employer’s decertification motion. The store managers argued that, like Family Dollar, Dollar General made a single decision to classify the manager position as exempt, rather than on an employee-by-employee basis, store managers were expected to adhere to a company handbook and operating manual, Dollar General only had one job description for the manager position, and store managers spent the majority of their time performing non-management work.
Judge Coogler rejected the store managers’ argument, explaining that Morgan upheld certification because to not do so would have been an abuse of discretion, which was not present in the Dollar General case. Judge Coogler also pointed out that the fact that all the store managers in the lawsuit spent a majority of their time on nonmanagement activities did not make all the store managers sufficiently similar to be of the same class since it’s not the amount of time spent on management duties but the type of duties which was important, and in this case the store managers did not perform the same type of nonmanagement duties. Further, and most important, because of the latter, to force Dollar General into a single massive trial would deprive the company of its due process rights.
The Richter holding is more similar to the Supreme Court’s due process holdings in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, and shows the willingness of courts to not trade the right of a litigant–even a corporate litigant–to defend itself for some measure of efficiency or cost savings. Last month Judge Coogler decertified a nationwide FLSA collective action of store managers who claimed that they were misclassified as overtime-exempt. Knott v. Dollar Tree Stores.
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