United States District Court, S.D. New York
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
J. NATHAN United States District Judge.
Plaintiffs Debra Julian and Stephanie McKinney bring suit
under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29
U.S.C. §§ 201-19, and the laws of Connecticut and
New York, against their former employer, Metropolitan Life
Insurance Company. Currently before the Court is
Plaintiffs' motion for conditional certification,
disclosure of contact information, and court-authorized
notice. Motion, Dkt. No. 34. Plaintiffs request that the
Court conditionally certify a collective action comprising
"all people employed by MetLife as Claim Specialists and
Senior Claim Specialists who worked on long term disability
insurance claims ('LTD Claim Specialists') at any
time since February 8, 2014 (three years from the filing of
the complaint in this action)." Memo, in Support of
Motion ("Support"), Dkt. No. 39, at 3 (footnote
omitted). For the following reasons, the Court grants the
motion for conditional certification and orders the parties
to confer and submit a joint proposed notice as described
Debra Julian and Stephanie McKinney formerly worked as LTD
Claim Specialists for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
("MetLife"). Second Amended Complaint
("SAC"), Dkt. No. 17, ¶¶ 1, 14-15. LTD
Claim Specialists were tasked with gathering information from
insured individuals claiming entitlement to long-term
disability benefits and presenting this documentation to
MetLife staff and supervisors to approve or deny the claims.
SAC ¶ 26. Julian worked for MetLife in Oriskany, New
York from 2004 to 2016 and served as an LTD Claim Specialist
from 2011 through 2016. SAC ¶ 14. McKinney worked as an
LTD Claim Specialist in MetLife's Bloomfield, Connecticut
office from 2013 through 2016. SAC ¶ 15. Opt-in
Plaintiff Tonya Gill worked as an LTD Claim Specialist from
2009 through 2014 out of MetLife's Chicago-area office.
Gill Decl., Dkt. No. 37, ¶¶ 3-4.
February 8, 2017, Julian filed a complaint against MetLife on
behalf of herself and other current and former LTD Claim
Specialists alleging that MetLife had improperly classified
LTD Claim Specialists as exempt employees under the FLSA and
had thus improperly denied LTD Claim Specialists overtime
payments to which they were due. Complaint, Dkt. No. 1.
Specifically, Plaintiffs point out that prior to November
2013, MetLife classified LTD Claim Specialists as hourly
employees and paid them overtime under the FLSA. SAC ¶
5. In November 2013, MetLife reclassified LTD Claim
Specialists as "exempt" employees and ceased paying
them overtime for hours they worked in excess of 40 hours per
week. SAC ¶¶ 6-8. The Second Amended Complaint
alleges that LTD Claim Specialists regularly work in excess
of 40 hours (on average between 45 and 60 hours) without
receiving overtime pay. SAC ¶¶ 28-32.
August 1, 2017, Plaintiffs moved for conditional
certification of a collective action under 29 U.S.C. §
216(b) and for court-approved distribution of notice. Motion.
In support of their motion, the Plaintiffs each provided a
declaration. See Julian Deck, Dkt. No. 35; McKinney
Decl, Dkt. No. 36; Gill Decl. Plaintiffs also provided copies
of certain MetLife documents, including sections of its
Claims Management Guide, Dkt. Nos. 38-3, 38-8, 38-10, 38-11,
38-12, 38-13, 38-14, 38-15 (filed under seal); a training
document for new hires, Dkt. No. 38-6 (filed under seal); a
document entitled "Claim Review Milestones - Initial,
" Dkt. No. 38-7 (filed under seal); documents regarding
the long-term disability claim management process and
decisional components, Dkt. No. 38-9 (filed under seal); and
documents describing how long-term disability claims were
transitioned to full disability, Dkt. No. 38-16 (filed under
seal). Defendants opposed the motion for conditional
certification, arguing that Plaintiffs have not established
that they are "similarly situated" to members of
the proposed class. See Memo, in Opp.
("Opp."), Dkt. No. 48, at 13-27. To support their
opposition, Defendants filed numerous documents, including in
part transcripts of depositions of the three Plaintiffs, Dkt.
Nos. 49-2, 49-3, 49-4; a copy of MetLife's official job
description for LTD Claim Specialists, Dkt. No. 49-5; several
MetLife documents, Dkt. Nos. 49-11 to -20 (filed under seal);
and declarations of 11 current MetLife LTD Claim Specialists
attesting to their job duties, Dkt. Nos. 49-17 to -27.
FLSA authorizes workers to sue on behalf of both themselves
and "other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C.
§ 216(b). "District courts have discretion, in
appropriate cases, to implement § 216(b) by facilitating
notice to potential plaintiffs of the pendency of the action
and of their opportunity to opt-in as represented
plaintiffs." Vargas v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No.
11-cv-7887 (DAB), 2012 WL 10235792, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 9,
2012) (quoting Myers v. Hertz Corp., 624 F.3d 537,
554 (2d Cir. 2010)). Courts in this circuit apply a two-step
method to determine whether a collective action should be
certified. Myers, 624 F.3d at 554-55. "The
first step 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 FLSA violation has occurred."
Id. at 555. At the second step, "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."
Id. If they are not, the action may be
"de-certified, " and the opt-in plaintiffs'
claims will be dismissed without prejudice. Id.
first step, plaintiffs need only "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.'" Id. (quoting
Hoffmann v. Sbarro, Inc., 982 F.Supp. 249, 261
(S.D.N.Y. 1997) (Sotomayor, J.)). While this showing
"cannot be satisfied simply by 'unsupported
assertions, '" it "should remain a low standard
of proof because the purpose of the first stage is merely to
determine whether 'similarly situated'
plaintiffs do in fact exist." Id. (citation
omitted); see also Lynch v. United Servs. Auto.
Ass'n, 491 F.Supp.2d 357, 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2007)
(describing plaintiffs' burden as "very low"
and "minimal"). This standard is
'"considerably less stringent' than the
requirements for class certification under Rule 23."
Poplawski v. Metroplex on the Ail., LLC, No.
11-cv-3765 (JBW), 2012 WL 1107711, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 2,
2012) (citation omitted). As a result, in a FLSA exemption
case, plaintiffs need only make "some showing that
'there are other employees . . . who are similarly
situated with respect to their job requirements and with
regard to their pay provisions, ' on which the criteria
for many FLSA exemptions are based, who are classified as
exempt pursuant to a common policy or scheme."
Myers, 624 F.3d at 555 (alteration in original)
(citation omitted). In other words, "the Court must
merely find some identifiable factual nexus which binds
[Plaintiff] and potential class members together as victims
of a particular practice." Alvarado Balderramo v.
Taxi Tours Inc., No. 15-cv-2181 (ER), 2017 WL 2533508,
at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 9, 2017) (alteration in original)
this low burden, "[t]he plaintiff may adduce evidence
through its own pleadings, affidavits, and declarations,
including any hearsay statements contained therein."
Morris v. Lettire Constr. Corp., 896 F.Supp.2d 265,
269 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (citation omitted). "[C]ourts in
this circuit have routinely granted conditional collective
certification based solely on the personal observations of
one plaintiffs affidavit." Hernandez v. Bare Burger
Dio Inc., No. 12-cv-7794 (RWS), 2013 WL 3199292, at *3
(S.D.N.Y. June 25, 2013) (collecting cases). At this initial
stage, "the court does not resolve factual disputes,
decide substantive issues going to the ultimate merits, or
make credibility determinations." Cunningham v.
Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 754 F.Supp.2d 638, 644 (S.D.N.Y.
2010) (quoting Lynch, 491 F.Supp.2d at 368).
"Indeed, a court should not weigh the merits of the
underlying claims in determining whether potential opt-in
plaintiffs may be similarly situated." Lynch,
491 F.Supp.2d at 368; see also Hoffman, 982 F.Supp.
at 262 ("[T]he Court need not evaluate the merits of
plaintiffs' claims in order to determine that a definable
group of 'similarly situated' plaintiffs can exist
here."). As a result, "any factual variances that
may exist between the plaintiff and the putative class do not
defeat conditional class certification." Lynch,
491 F.Supp.2d at 369; see also Iglesias-Mendoza v. La
Belle Farm, Inc., 239 F.R.D. 363, 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2007).
Thus "courts in this Circuit routinely decline to
consider . . . opposing declarations, because the issue for
the Court is not whose evidence is more persuasive, but
'whether Plaintiffs have made the modest factual showing
that they are required to make at this stage of the
litigation.'" Vasto v. Credico (USA) LLC,
No. 15-cv-9298 (PAE), 2016 WL 2658172, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. May
5, 2016) (citation omitted); see also Moore v. Publicis
Groupe SA, No. 11-1279 (ALC), 2012 WL 2574742, at *11
(S.D.N.Y. June 28, 2012) ("While a large amount of
discovery has been conducted, discovery remains incomplete.
Defendants' arguments are more appropriate after
discovery is finished.").
Plaintiffs Have Sufficiently Shown That They Are
"Similarly Situated" to the Proposed Class of
Court finds that the Plaintiffs have met their burden in
showing that they are similarly situated to the proposed
class of "all people employed by MetLife as Claim
Specialists and Senior Claim Specialists who worked on long
term disability insurance claims ... at any time since
February 8, 2014." Support at 3. Through the robust
evidence submitted with their motion, Plaintiffs have shown
that LTD Claim Specialists performed similar job duties and
were subject to the same policy reclassifying them in
November 2013 as exempt from overtime payment under the FLSA
as required by Myers. See 624 F.3d at 555.
All LTD Claim Specialists Were Classified as Exempt from the
FLSA Pursuant to a Common Policy
undisputed that prior to November 2013, all LTD Claim
Specialists were classified as hourly employees who were not
exempt from overtime payment under the FLSA and that in
November 2013, all LTD Claim Specialists were reclassified as
exempt from the FLSA. See Support at 4 n.4, 9; Opp.
at 15-16; see also Gill Decl. ¶¶ 8-13;
Julian Decl. ¶¶ 8-13; McKinney Decl. ¶¶
8-13. As a result, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs have
demonstrated that the ...