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Court Reverses Trial Court Decision Refusing to Certify Unpaid Overtime Claims as a Class Action


When a plaintiff requests class certification for a lawsuit, there are four requirements which the class must fulfill in order for the court to be able to grant class certification. The first of those requirements is that of numerosity, meaning that the class must be large enough that it makes sense to try all of the claims of the class members in one lawsuit. The second requirement is that of commonality. In order to fulfill this requirement, there must be questions of law or fact which all of the class members have in common. Trying a case as a class action only makes sense if all of the members of the class have the same or similar complaints against the defendant. In line with this, is the fourth requirement for class certification, which states that the claims or defenses of the class representatives must be typical of the claims of the class. Otherwise, a court cannot be sure that the representative class members will fairly represent the interests of the class.
Recently, the California Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling to deny class action certification based on the commonality requirement. In this case, Farmer’s Insurance Exchange faced a lawsuit which was filed by one of its former employees. Kwesi Jones worked as a claims representative for Farmers’ from 2006 until his employment with the company was terminated in 2008.

According to the lawsuit, claims representatives for Farmer’s allegedly spend the majority of their time in the field inspecting damaged vehicles, negotiating claims, and accessing and entering information onto Farmer’s database. The claims representatives allegedly traveled to the first assignment directly from home. Farmer’s allegedly had a policy that the claims representatives’ workday did not begin until they reached their first assignment. This meant that the representatives allegedly did not get paid for preparatory work that they performed at home, such as “starting up their computer each day, … obtaining their first assignment, downloading property damage estimate forms, contacting auto body shops to confirm the location of the damaged vehicles, contacting the insured, and driving to the auto body shop or other location of their first assignment.” According to the complaint, the claims representatives allege that they spent, on average, about 4.28 hours per week performing work for which they were never paid.
In 2009, Jones filed a class action lawsuit against his former employer on behalf of himself and 51 other claims representatives who worked for Farmer’s during the relevant time period and were not paid for performing these preparatory tasks at home. The lawsuit alleges that Farmers’ policy of not paying its claims representatives for the time spent performing these tasks is in direct violation of the California Labor Code. The lawsuit is seeking damages, statutory penalties, and restitution.

Farmer’s denied having any such policy and argued against class certification, saying that individual issues (such as the type of tasks performed) predominated. It also argued that Jones was not an adequate representative because his claims were not typical of those of the rest of the class. The lower court agreed and refused to certify the class. The plaintiffs appealed that decision and the case went to the California Court of Appeals.

While considering this case, the Court focused on the first two requirements of class certification, those of numerosity and commonality. In its ruling, the Court stated that “individual issues do not render class certification inappropriate so long as such issues may effectively be managed. Nor is it a bar to certification that individual class members may ultimately need to itemize their damages.” The Court found that the class fulfilled the requirements for class certification and so it reversed the lower court’s ruling. However, the Court found that Jones is not an adequate class representative based on the fact that he failed to submit a declaration establishing that he wanted to represent the class and understood his fiduciary obligations as a class representative. The Court therefore remanded the case back to the trial court with directions for the plaintiffs to file a new complaint which names a new class representative.

You can view the Court’s decision here.

The Chicago class action and employment law lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims by waiters and bus boys and other restaurant and hotel workers against national restaurant chains including Chipotle, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steak House, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s and hotels for misclassifying employees as managers or assistant managers, forcing employees to work off the clock at business, failing to share all tips, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim these wage theft practices call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.

The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Arlington Hts. and Geneva. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our Aurora and Rockford 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 class action attorneys by phone at (312) 869-4095 or through our online form.