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Peggy Dinkel, Valarie Gadson, and Deidre Beckford, For Themselves and v. Medstar Health

July 29, 2012

PEGGY DINKEL, VALARIE GADSON, AND DEIDRE BECKFORD, FOR THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MEDSTAR HEALTH, INC., AND WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs bring this action against Defendants MedStar Health, Inc. ("MedStar") and Washington Hospital Center ("WHC"), claiming that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act ("DC-MWA") by failing to compensate them for "meal break" and "uniform maintenance" work. Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' [23] Motion for Order Authorizing Notice to Similarly Situated Persons Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("Motion for Conditional Certification"). Plaintiffs ask the Court to conditionally certify this case as a "collective action" and to allow notice of the case to be sent to all non-exempt, hourly employees working in nine MedStar hospitals during any workweek from May 26, 2008 to the present. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant authorities, and the record as a whole,*fn1 Plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification shall be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, with respect to Plaintiffs' meal break claim, the Court shall conditionally certify this case as a collective action and allow notice to be sent to all non-exempt, hourly employees working in the two specific departments within WHC where Plaintiffs claim to have worked during the relevant time period. With respect to Plaintiffs' uniform maintenance claim, the Court shall conditionally certify this case as a collective action and allow notice to be sent to all non-exempt, hourly employees at all nine hospitals during the relevant time period.

I. BACKGROUND

MedStar owns nine hospitals in the District of Columbia and Maryland.*fn2 See Pls.' [23] Mem. Ex. A at 1. The District of Columbia hospitals are Georgetown University Hospital ("GUH"), the National Rehabilitation Hospital ("NRH"), and WHC. The Maryland hospitals are Franklin Square Medical Center ("FSMC"), Good Samaritan Hospital ("GSH"), Harbor Hospital ("HH"), Montgomery Medical Center ("MMC"), St. Mary's Hospital ("SMH"), and Union Memorial Hospital ("UMH").

Plaintiffs Peggy Dinkel, Valarie Gadson, and Deidre Beckford commenced this action on May 26, 2011 on behalf of themselves and similarly situated employees. See Pls.' [1] Compl. Subsequently, Plaintiffs Marlene Barber, Adama Gibateh, Jovita Ike, Donna Lawrence, Rajini Raj, Vilasini Sarang, and Barbara Townsend each filed a written consent to join in this action as a party-plaintiff. See Pls.' [16] Consents. Plaintiffs assert two basic claims. Plaintiffs' "meal break" claim asserts that Defendants violated the FLSA and DC-MWA by failing to compensate them for the time they allegedly spent working during meal breaks. See Pls.' [1] Compl. ¶¶ 42-52. Plaintiffs' "uniform maintenance" claim asserts that Defendants violated the FLSA and DCMWA by failing to compensate them for "off-the-clock" uniform maintenance work. See id.

Once Defendants appeared and answered the Complaint, the parties agreed to a discovery period lasting well over three months focusing on whether this case should be conditionally certified as a collective action. See [14] Order at 5. The Court authorized each party to take up to ten depositions and to serve up to twenty-five document requests, interrogatories, and requests for admission. See id. The discovery period concluded without any meaningful disputes arising. Defendants produced approximately 2,700 pages of documents and answered Plaintiffs' interrogatories. See Pls.' [23] Mem. at 12, Ex. S. Although Plaintiffs periodically complain about Defendants' discovery responses, Plaintiffs never filed a motion to compel.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The FLSA and DC-MWA require employers to pay minimum wage for compensable working time and an overtime premium for compensable hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207; D.C. CODE § 32-1003. Both statutes contemplate what is commonly referred to as a "collective action," in which plaintiffs bring claims on behalf of "similarly situated" employees but those employees do not become part of the action unless and until they "opt-in" by filing a written consent to join as party-plaintiffs. Under the FLSA:

An action . . . may be maintained against any employer . . . by any one or more employees for and [o]n behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.

29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Similarly, under the DC-MWA: [An] [a]ction to recover damages . . . may be maintained . . . by any 1 or more employees for and on behalf of the employee and other employees who are similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any action . . . unless the employee gives written consent to become a party and the written consent is filed in the court in which the action is brought.

D.C. CODE § 32-1012(b).

With collective actions, district courts have considerable discretion in managing the process of joining similarly situated employees in a manner that is both orderly and sensible. See Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170 (1989); Alvarez v. City of Chicago, 605 F.3d 445, 449 (7th Cir. 2010). Courts in this Circuit and others have settled on a two-stage inquiry for determining when a collective action is appropriate:

The first [stage] involves the court making an initial determination to send notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs who may be "similarly situated" to the named plaintiffs with respect to whether a[n] FLSA violation has occurred. The court may send this notice after plaintiffs make a "modest factual showing" that they and potential opt-in plaintiffs together were victims of a common policy or plan that violated the law. * * * The "modest factual showing" cannot be satisfied simply by unsupported assertions, but it should remain a low standard of proof because the purpose of this first stage is merely to determine whether "similarly situated" plaintiffs do in fact exist. At the second stage, the district court will, on a fuller record, determine whether a so-called "collective action" may go forward by determining whether the plaintiffs who have opted in are in fact "similarly situated" to the named plaintiffs. The action may be "de-certified" if the record reveals that they are not, and the opt-in plaintiffs' claims may be dismissed . . . .

Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537, 555 (2d Cir. 2010) (citations, quotation marks, and emphasis omitted), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 368 (2011); accord Symczyk v. Genesis HealthCare Corp., 656 F.3d 189, 192-93 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. granted on other grounds, No. 11-1059, 2012 WL 609478 (June 25, 2012); Comer v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 454 F.3d 544, 546-47 (6th Cir. 2006); Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1260-62 (11th Cir. 2008), cert. denied, 130 S. Ct. 59 (2009); McKinney v. United Stor-All Ctrs., Inc., 585 F. Supp. 2d 6, 7-8 (D.D.C. 2008); Hunter v. Sprint Corp., 346 F. Supp. 2d 113, 117 (D.D.C. 2004).*fn3

At the first stage, often loosely referred to as "conditional certification," the named plaintiffs must present "some evidence, beyond pure speculation, of a factual nexus between the manner in which the employer's alleged policy affected [them] and the manner in which it affected other employees." Symczyk, 656 F.3d at 193 (quotation marks omitted). This factual showing has been described as "'not particularly stringent,' 'fairly lenient,' 'flexible,' [and] 'not heavy.'" Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1261 (citations and notations omitted). At this stage, district courts should ordinarily refrain from resolving factual disputes and deciding matters going to the merits. See Lynch v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 491 F. Supp. 2d 357, 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); Camper v. Home Quality Mgmt. Inc., 200 F.R.D. 516, 520 (D. Md. 2000).

If a class is conditionally certified, similarly situated employees are provided notice of the action and an opportunity to join as party-plaintiffs. After conducting discovery, the parties then proceed to the second stage of analysis, at which point the question is "whether each plaintiff who has opted in to the collective ...


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