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Damassia v. Duane Reade

October 4, 2006

KELVIN DAMASSIA, ARNOLD CABALLERO, DAYANAND BALDEO, MARLON FEGUS, MOHAMMED HOQUE, MUHAMMED KHAWAJA, IFEANYI MALU, MOURAD MANSY, MAXWELL OKEKE, AND DELFIN RUIZ, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DUANE READE, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gerard E. Lynch, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

In this action brought under the Federal Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), plaintiffs move for court-authorized notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).*fn1 The motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On November 5, 2004, plaintiff Kelvin Damassia brought suit on behalf of himself and others similarly situated against his former employer, Duane Reade, Inc. ("defendant" or "Duane Reade"), alleging principally that Duane Reade had failed to pay overtime wages in accordance with FLSA and New York state law. See 29 U.S.C. § 207; N.Y. Lab. Law § 650 et seq. According to the complaint, plaintiff worked for approximately seventh months as an assistant night manager at one of Duane Reade's 252 retail drugstores in the New York City metropolitan area. Despite being designated an assistant "manager," plaintiff claims that he performed "few or no" managerial duties at the store (Complaint ¶¶ 2-3; see also Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") ¶¶ 2-3), and that Duane Reade employed the term "assistant manager" in an effort to evade overtime requirements under FLSA's "bona fide executive" exemption for salaried managerial employees. See 29 U.S.C. § 213(a). An amendment to the complaint named Arnold Caballero as an additional plaintiff; Caballero's allegations are substantially similar to Damassia's. (See, e.g., First Amended Complaint ¶¶ 44-52.)

Defendant moved to dismiss the amended complaint in part, and for partial summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff Damassia's claims were time barred. Defendant also argued that a 2003 Department of Labor ("DOL") audit had determined that defendant acted properly in classifying assistant night managers as "bona fide executives" exempt from overtime requirements. According to defendant, the DOL's finding created a statutory affirmative defense of good faith under 29 U.S.C. § 259, warranting judgment as a matter of law. Rejecting these arguments, the Court denied defendant's motion on May 22, 2005. See Damassia v. Duane Reade, Inc., 04 Civ. 8819 (GEL), 2005 WL 1214337, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 20, 2005).

Between September 1 and November 15, 2005, about twenty individuals who had worked as assistant night managers filed forms with the Court consenting to be party plaintiffs pursuant to FLSA's opt-in provision, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).*fn2 On November 4, 2005, plaintiffs filed the instant motion seeking court-authorized notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs. After the motion was fully briefed, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint naming eight new plaintiffs in addition to Damassia and Caballero. The new plaintiffs - Dayanand Baldeo, Marlon Fergus, Mohammed Hoque, Muhammed Khawaja, Ifeanyi Malu, Mourad Mansy, Maxwell Okeke, and Delfin Ruiz - were among those who had already submitted consent forms under § 216(b). All of the plaintiffs worked as assistant night managers and allege violations of state and federal overtime requirements.

DISCUSSION

I. FLSA Overtime Requirements and the "Bona Fide Executive" Exemption

Though the merits of plaintiffs' claims need not be resolved at this stage, an understanding of those claims will be helpful in analyzing plaintiffs' motion for court-authorized notice. The main provision under which plaintiffs sue is 29 U.S.C. § 207, which requires employers to pay their employees at a rate of "one and one-half times the regular rate at which [the employee] is employed" for each hour worked in excess of forty hours in a single week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). The requirement does not apply, however, with respect to certain categories of employees, including those that are "employed in a bona fide executive . . . capacity." 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). The "bona fide executive" exemption is an affirmative defense on which the defendant bears the burden of proof, see Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188, 196-97 (1974), and is narrowly construed against the employer, see Bilyou v. Dutchess Beer Distribs., Inc., 300 F.3d 217, 222 (2d Cir. 2002).

Pursuant to federal regulations, an employer may only apply the "bona fide executive" exemption to employees:

(1) [Who are c]ompensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week . . . ;

(2) Whose primary duty is management of the enterprise in which the employee[s] [are] employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof;

(3) Who customarily and regularly direct[] the work of two or more other employees; and

(4) Who ha[ve] the authority to hire or fire other employees or whose suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring, firing, advancement, promotion or any other change of status ...


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