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Burke v. Management and Training Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

August 22, 2018

TIMOTHY BURKE, on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated current and former employees PLAINTIFFS
v.
MANAGEMENT AND TRAINING CORPORATION DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the court upon Defendant's Motion to Decertify the Collective Action. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, exhibits and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Timothy Burke commenced the instant litigation, alleging that his former employer, Defendant Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”), violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by willfully misclassifying him as exempt from the statute's overtime provisions. MTC currently operates three correctional facilities within the state of Mississippi. Burke was a former MTC employee who worked as a Lieutenant at MTC's Marshall County facility. Burke alleged that he was paid on a salary basis, regularly worked in excess of forty hours a week, and was not compensated for those excess hours.

         Burke sought to institute this action on behalf of himself, as well as others similarly situated. He contended that all employees holding the position of Lieutenant in MTC's Mississippi facilities were misclassified as exempt. The court granted Burke's motion to conditionally certify this FLSA suit as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and ordered that notice be sent to putative plaintiffs. More than fifty former and current MTC employees chose to opt in. The parties have completed discovery and MTC now moves to decertify the collective action.

         Analysis

         Pursuant to the FLSA, covered employers are required to compensate non-exempt employees for overtime when they work in excess of forty hours per week. 29 U.S.C. §207(a). When an employee is unlawfully denied overtime, the FLSA permits an employee to bring suit against an employer “for and in behalf of himself . . . and other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Employers, however, do not have to pay overtime to individuals “employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). These exemptions constitute affirmative defenses to FLSA overtime claims. Id.

         Decertification Standard

         “Once discovery is complete and the employer moves to decertify the collective action, the court must make a factual determination as to whether there are similarly-situated employees who have opted in.” Portillo v. Permanent Workers, L.L.C., 662 Fed.Appx. 277, 279 (5th Cir. 2016). “The court is required to ‘look beyond the pleadings and affidavits,' and make its determination ‘in light of all information gathered during the post-opt-in discovery.'” White v. NTC Transp. Inc., 2013 WL 5874566, at * 2 (N.D. Miss. Oct. 31, 2013) (quoting Gallender v. Empire Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 2007 WL 325792, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 31, 2007)).

         If the court determines that they are not similarly situated, the opt-in plaintiffs are dismissed without prejudice, and the lead plaintiff proceeds to trial on his individual claims. Mooney v. Aramco Servs., 54 F.3d 1207, 1214 (5th Cir. 1995). “The decision whether to decertify a collective action is within the court's discretion.” Falcon v. Starbucks Corp., 580 F.Supp.2d 528, 534 (S.D. Tex. 2008) (citing Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1213).

         MTC's Arguments for Decertification

         MTC advances two arguments in support of its motion to decertify the instant collective action. MTC first argues that the action must be decertified because Burke failed to demonstrate that he was similarly situated to the opt-in plaintiffs. MTC further contends that discovery has revealed significant differences in the opt-in plaintiffs' daily duties such that their claims cannot be properly adjudicated as a collective action.

         I. Lead Plaintiff failed to show that he was similarly situated to opt-in plaintiffs

         The lead plaintiff in a collective action “bears the burden of showing that [he] and the opt-in plaintiffs are similarly situated.” White v. Baptist Mem. Hlth. Care Corp., 699 F.3d 869, 877 (6th Cir. 2012); see also Proctor v. Allsups Convenience Stores, Inc., 250 F.R.D. 278, 280 (N.D. Tex. 2008). If the lead plaintiff fails to carry his burden, the collective action should be decertified. White, 699 F.3d at 878. Burke passed away while discovery was being taken, but before he could be deposed or respond to ...


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