• Employees Not Entitled to Class Certification in Fair Labor Standards Act Claim
  • January 6, 2011 | Author: Eric Leppo
  • Law Firm: Semmes, Bowen & Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Steven Syrja v. WESTAT, Inc. , Case No. PJM 09-1956 (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Dec. 15, 2010)

    In this recent Opinion authored by Judge Peter J. Messitte of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the Court determined that potential claimants were not sufficiently similarly situated to be certified as a class under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and Plaintiff’s Motion for Conditional Class Certification was denied.

    The Plaintiff, Steven Syrja, is a former employee of Westat, Inc., a Rockville, Maryland based corporation that performs statistical survey research by conducting in person interviews across the country. Westat has an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control (or “CDC”) to collect data for its National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. Collection of this information involves setting up temporary offices in various geographical areas around the country.

    Employees known as “field interviewers” or “data collectors” move around the country usually in ten (10) week increments, work out of the temporary offices, and go to various homes and attempt to collect health information from members of the households. The field investigators are assigned a certain number of households to visit in each geographical area. Otherwise, the workers are able to set their own schedule, begin and end each workday at their preferred time, and visit more or less households on a given day.

    Mr. Syrja filed suit against Westat alleging that he and other employees worked over forty (40) hours a week, but were not compensated for overtime work, and were instructed not to record time worked over forty (40) hours. Mr. Syrja alleged that this violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. He also argued that his claims along with those of other workers should proceed collectively, as: “An action to recover the liability prescribed [in this subsection] may be maintained against any employer . . . by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

    Mr. Syrja filed a Motion for Conditional Class Certification contending that many Westat employees were similarly situated to him, and also not compensated for overtime work as field investigators. He argued that all members of this prospective class were current or former Westat field investigators; subjected to an illegal pay practice; and sought to be compensated for overtime work performed.

    The Court disagreed that Mr. Syrja and other potential plaintiffs were similarly situated enough to justify one consolidated legal action. The Court referenced that the Supreme Court has noted that 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) is based on a theory of judicial economy and that the judicial system is benefited by efficient resolution of common issues of law and fact in one proceeding. Hoffmann-LaRoche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170 (1980). However, if a case requires individualized factual inquiries, it will not lend itself to being handled in one proceeding.

    The Court then indicated that in regard to the Westat employees and former employees, each individual would have his or her own particular experience with performing fieldwork. This would include visiting differing households in a variety of geographic areas nationwide, and each employee had a distinct claim for the amount of overtime he or she may be entitled to. The Court held that without any evidence of a nationwide plan to discourage reporting or not paying overtime, there were simply too many specific factual questions relating to each potential plaintiff to conclude that proceeding with class certification would promote judicial efficiency. Therefore, class certification under the Fair Labor Standards Act was not appropriate.