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Appeals Court in Chicago Affirms Decertification of Unpaid Overtime Class Action


Court decisions to certify or decertify classes have been contended all over the country of late. Recently, Judge Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has written an opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel, denying an appeal on decertification of a class.

The class consists of 2,341 technicians working for DirectSat who spent their days installing and repairing home satellite dishes and were paid per job rather than hourly. However, because they are within the Federal Labor Standards Act’s definition of non-exempt employees, they are entitled to 1.5 times their regular hourly rate for each hour of overtime that they work. The issue of how to calculate that overtime is a matter of debate.
The suit alleges that management forced the technicians to perform work for which they were never paid at all and to work more than 40 hours per week. The lower court certified the class in three subclasses, which the plaintiffs grudgingly agreed to, but then declared that all 2,341 technicians were members of all three subclasses and that all 42 representative witnesses were representative of all three subclasses. The lower court judge decertified the class, the three plaintiffs settled individually with the defendants, and then the plaintiffs appealed the decision to decertify.

The lawsuit alleges that DirectSat forbid the technicians to record time spent calling customers, filling out paperwork, or collecting tools from the company’s warehouses. This is a complication in certifying the class because the under reporting of time makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to determine the amount of overtime worked and pay earned.
In his opinion, Judge Posner also points out that the vast differences between the 2,341 cases represents a problem for class certification. Because their regular hourly rate was, on average, around $15, a difference of a few hours has a significant effect on the award each individual is granted.

42 representatives were chosen to testify at trial, although the Class Representative could not say how the representatives were chosen. According to Judge Posner, “unrepresentative” representative witnesses is another complication to certifying the class. Without evidence that they are truly representative of the entire 2,341-member class, their testimony on behalf of the class isn’t worth much.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers say that DirectSat has since ceased its unlawful activities, making it more difficult to sue for damages. They could still sue for injunctive or declaratory relief, but have opted not to do so. Since the three plaintiffs have already settled with the defendants, Judge Posner decided that pursuing a certified class action lawsuit in court is not feasible.

The lawsuit claims that each class member suffered thousands of dollars as a result of DirectSat’s misconduct. While Judge Posner admits that this is not enough to justify the expense of individual litigation, he concludes that the plaintiffs can still file a complaint with the Department of Labor, which can sue on behalf of the technicians and get their money damages.

The attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims against large corporations and retailers such as Hewlett-Packard, Wal-Mart for misclassifying employees as managers, forcing employees to work off the clock, altering time sheets and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim this practice call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.

The lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience fighting for wage earner’s rights. We have a team of overtime attorneys who focus on nationwide class action lawsuits and work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and prosecute claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Joliet and Waukegan. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our West Chicago and North Chicago overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.

The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago wage and hour attorney by phone at (312) 869-4095 or through our online form.