Courts are becoming more reluctant to authorize massive class-action lawsuits. Example: A federal court has ruled that assistant restaurant managers who believe they were misclassified must bring individual lawsuits. They can’t proceed as a class.
The practical impact: Most likely, lower damages.
Recent case: Jamie Morse sought to represent all assistant managers who worked for the Marie Callender Pie Shop restaurant chain. The chain has 60 California locations and Morse believed all assistant managers had been misclassified as exempt.
If Morse was correct, the assistant managers should have been paid for missed meal periods and breaks under California law, as well as overtime for working more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.
The chain argued the cases should be considered on an individual basis, not as a class.
Under California law, determining whether someone is exempt depends on an individualized assessment that involves examining actual job tasks. Morse argued that all assistant managers performed the same set of tasks, and therefore the court could just determine whether those tasks added up to exempt status.
The court rejected that argument, pointing out that assistant managers had additional tasks that were not shared by the entire group. For example, some assistant managers handled schedules, while others handled ordering. It was those tasks that could make or break each assistant manager’s exempt status. Because that was the case, the lawsuit had to be broken up into individual ones. (Morse, et al., v. Marie Callender Pie Shop, No. 09-CV-1305, SD CA, 2011)
Final note: When classifying employees as exempt or hourly, always take into account the actual job performed, not just the job description. Unless you really can limit what a class of workers will do, you can’t rely on job title alone.