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Trisler v. Lifeshare Blood Centers

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Alexandria Division

July 29, 2019




          DEE D. DRELL, JUDGE

         Before the court are two motions filed by defendant, LifeShare Blood Centers ("LifeShare" or "Defendant") in the above-captioned case. The first motion seeks partial summary judgment as to certain claims by Plaintiffs under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (Doc. 145). The second motion seeks partial decertification of the purported class. (Doc. 146). Both motions are now fully briefed and properly before the court for decision. (Docs. 154, 155, 159, 164). After consideration of the motions, briefs in support and opposition, as well as all applicable law and jurisprudence, the court finds that defendant's motion for decertification should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part for the reasons set forth below. The court also finds that defendant's motion for partial summary judgment should be GRANTED.

         I. Relevant Facts

         The original Plaintiffs in this motion, Natasha Trisler ("Trisler") and Heather Savage ("Savage") filed this collective action in Louisiana's Ninth Judicial District Court on February 16, 2017, in their individual capacities and on behalf of others similarly situated. (Doc. 1-2). Trisler and Savage allege that, while employed as technicians at the Alexandria, Louisiana location of LifeShare, they were subjected to violations of both the FLSA and Louisiana law. Specifically, the representative Plaintiffs allege that LifeShare's policy of automatically deducting 30 minutes for meal breaks from any day's time exceeding 6 hours was applied to them, even on days where they did not receive a bona fide meal break. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that such deductions were made over their requests for compensation on days where they amended their time sheets to reflect "no lunch taken." (Id. at ¶¶ 9-15). Plaintiffs also allege that LifeShare maintained a policy of preventing employees from working overtime by scheduling them for time off and by moving worked hours from one week to the next on timesheets to spread them out into 40-hour weeks. Plaintiffs further allege that their travel time was wrongfully not counted on their timesheets. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs' collective action was timely removed to this court and, by grant of joint motion, the class was conditionally certified in May of 2017. (Doc. 20). The court approved the parties' stipulated notice form in January of 2018. (Docs. 111, 113). Since the removal of the suit, approximately seventy-four (74) individuals opted into the purported class. The court extended discovery deadlines several times to allow for additional discovery prior to the filing of the instant motions. (Docs. 115, 141).

         II. Defendant's Motion to Decertify Class

         The FLSA establishes federal minimum wage, maximum hour and overtime guarantees regarding qualified employers. (29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq.). Specifically, covered employers must pay their employees at the rate of the established federal minimum wage for all time worked amounting to forty (40) hours or less in any given week. When any employee works more than 40 hours in a given week, the employer must compensate all hours worked in excess of the 40-hour maximum at the rate of one and half times the federal minimum wage. 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207. These provisions may not be prospectively modified or waived by contract. Barrentine v. Ark.-Best Freight Sys., Inc., 450 U.S. 728 (1981).

         Plaintiffs are permitted to file FLSA claims individually and on behalf of other, similarly situated, employees in what are known as "collective actions." 29 U.S.C. § 216. The FLSA does not define "similarly situated," but courts within the Fifth Circuit routinely apply the two-step analysis employed by the District of New Jersey court in Lusardi v. Xerox Corporation to assess a putative class' fulfillment of the standard.[1] Lusardi advanced the view that FLSA collective actions may be divided into two stages: the notice stage and the decertification stage. At the notice stage, the court's imperative is to determine whether the putative class is similarly situated based on the allegations of the pleadings, together with any preliminary evidence, including affidavits. Since discovery is yet to be conducted at this stage, the court takes a relatively lenient view of the class certification standard. Mooney v. Aramco Services Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1213-14 (5th Cir. 1995) overruled on other grounds by Desert Palace v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003); Lusardi, 118 F.R.D. 351, 353-54 (D.N.J. 1987). The court will generally require a showing that "some factual nexus" that binds the named plaintiffs and prospective class members together as victims of an alleged policy or practice, creating judicial efficiency by the consolidation of these claims. Barron v. Henry County School System. 242 F.Supp.2d 1096 (M.D. Ala. 2003) citing Sheffield v. Qrius Corp., 211 F.R.D. 411, 416 (D.Or. 2002). If the court grants conditional certification of the class, notice is sent to prospective class members, signaling the start of the opt-in period and what, in most cases, is the prime discovery period. After conditional certification, a case will proceed as a representative action during discovery. Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1214.

         The second, decertification, stage is often triggered by a motion to decertify the class on behalf of one or more defendants to the action. Such motion is usually preceded by substantial discovery and, thus, the court's vantage point from which to examine the issue of whether the purported class is, in fact, similarly situated, is generally improved from the notice stage. Id. Plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating that they are "similarly situated" in response to a motion to decertify. Proctor v. Allsups Convenience Stores. Inc., 250 F.R.D. 278, 28-81 (N.D. Tex. 2008). At this stage, the court will consider: (1) the disparate factual and employment settings of individual plaintiffs; (2) various defenses available to the defendant employer and the number of plaintiffs as to which these defenses may apply; and (3) fairness and procedural considerations that may make certification improper. Basco, 2004 WL 1497709 *8.

         Once the court determines the class' similarly situated status, it will grant or deny the motion based upon its finding. If the court grants the motion to decertify, it will issue an order decertifying the class and dismissing without prejudice all claims by plaintiffs who have opted in. Thereafter, the original plaintiffs may proceed to trial to litigate their individual claims. Id.

         The case at bar presents a procedural history aligning with the Lusardi format. Having conditionally certified the class, we now return to the issue of "similarly situated" in the context of a motion for decertification by Defendant. At this point in the case, a great volume of discovery is concluded and our access to information about the purported class enables the court to make a deeper assessment of the class' fulfillment of the standard.

         LifeShare is a non-profit organization operating blood centers in Louisiana, east Texas and southern Arkansas. LifeShare solicits donations of blood and blood components from volunteer donors at both blood centers and mobile blood drives. Trisler and Savage, named Plaintiffs in this suit, were employed at LifeShare's Alexandria, Louisiana location as donor service technicians until resigning in 2016. Their complaint alleges that a substantial portion of their employment duties involved collecting blood donations at mobile blood drives and this suit's allegations center around that part of their jobs. Specifically, as introduced above, Plaintiffs allege that LifeShare employees are involuntarily charged for a 30-minute meal break, even when they are unable to take such a break, in any day on which they report 6 or more total hours worked. (Doc. 1-2, 1-3). Plaintiffs allege that they were rarely permitted to take a bona fide meal break as that term is defined in the FLSA. Plaintiffs further alleges that supervisors were aware of the issue but made the pay deductions regardless of the lack of meal breaks. (Doc. 1-2 at ¶ 10).

         Applying Lusardi and its progeny, we first assess the disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs. The purported class is comprised of current and former LifeShare employees from its Alexandria, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, Monroe, Shreveport, Beaumont, Texarkana and El Dorado centers. The evidence before the court shows that all plaintiffs hold or held jobs with the same or substantially similar responsibilities in that they assisted donors with the blood donation process at both the centers and mobile blood drives.

         Plaintiffs point out that LifeShare's human resources department is located at its Shreveport corporate headquarters and is the origin of the meal deduction policy at issue in this case. Doc. 155 at pp. 5-6. Plaintiffs offer the deposition of Margaret Plunkett as evidence that LifeShare regularly sends human resource representatives to visit each center and provides each center with coordinated policy, practice and procedure training. (Doc. 155-1 at 10:4-17; 14:17-25). Additionally, plaintiffs offer the signed declarations of various employees at each center, attesting to identical misapplications of the meal deduction policy. ...

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