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Mavis Kemper,, Individually and For and On Behalf of All Similarly Situated Persons v. Westbury Operating Corp. D/B/A Holiday Inn Westbury-Long Island

October 18, 2012

MAVIS KEMPER,, INDIVIDUALLY AND FOR AND ON BEHALF OF ALL SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS
WHO WERE EMPLOYED BY WESTBURY OPERATING CORP. D/B/A HOLIDAY INN
WESTBURY-LONG ISLAND AND NORMAN SHAPIRO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WESTBURY OPERATING CORP. D/B/A HOLIDAY INN WESTBURY-LONG ISLAND; NORMAN SHAPIRO; AND/OR ANY OTHER ENTITIES AFFILIATED WITH OR CONTROLLED BY WESTBURY OPERATING CORP. D/B/B HOLIDAY INN WESTBURY-LONG ISLAND AND/OR NORMAN SHAPIRO, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: E. Thomas Boyle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court is the plaintiffs' motion to conditionally authorize a collective action, pursuant to Section 216 of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. Plaintiffs also request authorization to circulate a Notice of Lawsuit and Consent to Join Lawsuit form to similarly situated individuals. Defendants oppose plaintiffs' motion on the grounds that plaintiffs previously informally agreed to conduct some initial discovery prior to moving for conditional certification. Defendants also challenge the proposed Notice of Lawsuit submitted by plaintiffs. For the following reasons, plaintiffs' motion is granted, subject to the limitations discussed below.

FACTS

Plaintiff Mavis Kemper ("Kemper") is a former employee of defendant Westbury Operating Corp., d/b/a Holiday Inn Westbury-Long Island ("Holiday Inn"), which operates a hotel in Carle Place, New York and is controlled and/or owned by the individual defendant Norman Shapiro. (Complaint at ¶¶ 10-12.) Kemper was employed by defendants as a "houseman and/or housekeeper" in their hotel from June 2005 until January 2012. (Complaint at ¶ 10.)

Kemper alleges that she worked more than forty hours per week during the course of her employment, typically working five to six days per week from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Complaint at ¶¶ 26, 29.) Kemper alleges that she was not compensated at a rate of one and one-half times her regular pay rate for those hours worked in excess of forty, as required by law. (Complaint at ¶ 29.) Kemper further alleges that other similarly situated employees have been unlawfully denied overtime compensation as well. (Id.) In support of this motion for collective action certification, plaintiffs provide declarations from four similarly situated employees, all of who report having knowledge of additional similarly situated employees. (See Exhibits "B", "C", and "D" to the Declaration of Kara Miller dated September 10, 2012; see also Exhibit "A" to the Declaration of Kara Miller dated October 10, 2012.)

Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to the FLSA, alleging that defendants' failure to pay them for their overtime hours violates Section 207 of that Act, as well as the New York Labor Law, 12 N.Y.C.R.R. § 137.

Plaintiffs now seek conditional authorization to proceed as a collective action, pursuant to FLSA § 216, as well as permission to circulate the proposed Notice of Lawsuit and Consent to Joint Lawsuit form to former and current employees who worked for defendants from September 10, 2009 to the present so that such similarly situated employees may be apprised of the within action and opt to join the litigation, if they so choose.

DISCUSSION

I. Conditional Certification

Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides a private right of action to recover unpaid overtime compensation "against any employer . . . by any one or more employees for and on behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). An employee cannot become a party to such an action, however, unless he or she provides consent, in writing, and such consent is filed in the court where the action is pending. See id.; see also Patton v. Thomson Corp., 364 F. Supp. 2d 263, 266 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) ("[O]ther employees can become plaintiffs, and thereby be bound by the action's determination, only by affirmatively acting to do so."). Courts have discretion to authorize sending notice to potential plaintiffs in a collective action. See Sobczak v. AWL Indus., Inc., 540 F. Supp. 2d 354, 362 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) (citation omitted).

The "threshold issue" in deciding whether to authorize notice in an FLSA action is whether plaintiffs have demonstrated that the potential class members are "similarly situated." Patton, 364 F. Supp. 2d at 266-67 (citing Hoffmann v. Sbarro, Inc., 982 F. Supp. 249, 261 (S.D.N.Y. 1997)); see also Sobczak, 540 F. Supp. 2d at 362 (citing cases). Although the term "similarly situated" is not defined in the FLSA or its implementing regulations, courts have interpreted it to require plaintiffs to make "a modest factual showing sufficient to demonstrate that they and potential plaintiffs together were victims of a common policy or plan that violated the law." Sobczak, 540 F. Supp. 2d at 362 (quoting Hoffmann, 982 F. Supp. at 261) (additional citations omitted); see also Patton, 364 F. Supp. 2d at 267. "This burden 'is not a stringent one, and the Court need only reach a preliminary determination that potential plaintiffs are similarly situated.'" Patton, 364 F. Supp. 2d at 267 (quoting Hoffmann, 982 F. Supp. at 261); see also Sobczak, 540 F. Supp. 2d at 362 (stating that "[t]he burden at this initial stage is minimal"). A named plaintiff is not required to show "an actual FLSA violation" at this stage, but rather only that "a 'factual nexus' exists between the plaintiff's situation and the situation of other potential plaintiffs." Sobczak, 540 F. Supp. 2d at 362 (quoting Wraga v. Marble Lite Inc., No. 05 Civ. 5038, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60457, 2006 WL 2443554, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 22, 2006)); see also Jackson v. N.Y. Telephone Co., 163 F.R.D. 429, 431 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (stating that "plaintiffs are only required to demonstrate a factual nexus that supports a finding that potential plaintiffs were subjected to a common discriminatory scheme").

Defendants assert that the affidavits offered by the plaintiffs in support of this motion are insufficient to establish the required factual nexus here because they contain insufficiently detailed descriptions of the alleged failure by defendants to pay wages in accordance with the FLSA. This argument is without merit and similar arguments have been explicitly rejected by other courts. See, e.g., Sobczak, 540 F. Supp. 2d at 363 (stating that "[d]efendants' argument that the [plaintiffs'] affidavits are insufficient to satisfy the burden for a notice to be sent because they present mere conclusory allegations is inaccurate"). "[C]courts regularly grant motions for approval of a collective action notice based upon employee affidavits setting forth a defendant's plan or scheme to not pay overtime compensation and identifying by name similarly situated employees." Id. at 362 (quotation and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Cano v. Four M Food Corp, No. 08-CV-3005, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7780, at *17 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 3, 2009) (finding that plaintiffs' affidavits containing "statements setting forth defendants' common denial of overtime pay, the named plaintiffs' personal knowledge of and the names of other co- workers who were allegedly subject to the same denial of overtime pay" demonstrated a "sufficient factual basis" that the named plaintiffs and the potential plaintiffs were similarly situated); Wraga, 2006 WL 2443554, at *2 (granting motion to certify collective action based on plaintiff's affidavit alleging failure to pay overtime for hours worked in excess of forty where plaintiff stated that he was aware, based on personal conversations, of at least eighteen other employees who were similarly situated); Gjurovich v. Emmanuel's Marketplace, Inc., 282 F. Supp. 2d 91, 96 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (granting conditional certification where plaintiff's declaration "identified by name a number of current or former . . . employees who held the same or similar positions as the Plaintiff . . . who, like Plaintiff, were paid a fixed weekly salary, and may not have received overtime compensation if he or se worked in excess of forty hours each week"). Plaintiffs' declarations in support of the motion herein meet this "lenient evidentiary standard." Malena v. Victoria's Secret Direct, LLC, No. 09 Civ. 5849, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121320, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 16, 2010) (quoting Delaney v. Geisha NYC, LLC, 261 F.R.D. 55, 58 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)).

Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that plaintiffs have satisfied their modest burden of demonstrating that the class of potential plaintiffs is similarly situated.

II. The Notice Period "The FLSA has a two-year statute of limitations except in the case of willful violations, for which the statute of limitations is three years." Cohen v. Gerson Lehrman Group, Inc., No. 09 CV 4352, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1666, at *35 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2010) (citing 29 U.S.C. ยง 255(a)); see also Harrington v. Educ. Mgmt. Corp., No. 02-0787, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10966, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. June 18, 2002) ("The FLSA provides a two-year statute of limitations for claims brought under the statute, but allows an additional year for willful violations."). Plaintiffs herein request that the proposed notice be sent to all housekeepers, housemen, and other individuals who worked in similar positions for the defendant from September 10, 2009 through the present. Plaintiffs have selected the September 10, 2009 date because it is three years prior to the date upon which the motion for collective action certification was filed. Defendants concede that a three year period is appropriate, ...


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