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Wenthold v. At & T Technologies





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James C. Murray, Judge, presiding.


In this interlocutory appeal (87 Ill.2d R. 308(a)), defendant AT&T Technologies, Inc. (AT&T), challenges the circuit court's certification of plaintiffs' class in an action to recover past overtime payments due under the minimum wage law (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 1004a(1)). We are asked to decide, essentially, whether: the applicability of an exemption to the overtime provisions of the minimum wage law raises individual questions of law or fact which predominate so as to preclude class treatment; and, plaintiffs are inadequate class representatives. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, pars. 2-801(2), (3).

The overtime provision of the minimum wage law requires that workers performing in excess of 40 hours per week must be paid at a rate not less than 1 1/2 times the hourly wage. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 1004a(1).) The law, however, sets forth a series of exemptions, including "administrative employees," as defined in the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (1982)). Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 1004a(2)(E).

In this action, plaintiffs Wenthold, McCann and Antisdel are employed as engineering associates (EAs) by AT&T at its Rolling Meadows plant. On August 6, 1982, Wenthold and McCann filed a complaint in the circuit court on behalf of themselves and similarly situated EAs seeking payment of past due overtime payments. The Illinois Department of Labor (Department) filed suit against AT&T on August 18, 1982, seeking injunctive relief in the form of an order compelling AT&T to make overtime payments in accordance with the minimum wage law. The two lawsuits were consolidated by circuit court order. For convenience, the term "plaintiffs" used here refers only to the EAs.

Prior to the lawsuits being filed, administrative relief was sought in proceedings before the Department, which resulted in findings in May of 1982 that the EAs were not exempt administrative employees; rather, they were entitled to overtime pay pursuant to the minimum wage law. On July 30, 1982, AT&T issued a policy statement declaring that, effective January 1, 1983, EAs would be treated as nonexempt.

In response to the lawsuits, AT&T filed answers setting out dispositive defenses including those based on the statute of limitations; public policy; failure to exhaust grievance procedures; laches; unclean hands; waiver; estoppel; and good faith, in addition to the administrative employee exemption defense. AT&T also counterclaimed against Wenthold and McCann alleging that because they had been president and vice-president respectively of their union local, Local 81, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, AFL-CIO & CLC (Union), and had participated in the collective bargaining negotiations which resulted in the overtime payment arrangement now claimed to be illegal, they are equally culpable and liable to AT&T for any judgment imposed against it.

The overtime schedule was, in part, the subject of a Union and AT&T collective bargaining agreement in effect since at least May 1975 and was as follows: EAs, whose base wages per month are less than a negotiated "cutoff" figure, are paid in accordance with the overtime provision of the minimum wage law: for hours worked beyond a 40-hour week, EAs are paid 1 1/2 times their hourly wage; however, EAs whose base wages per month are above this "cutoff" figure are paid something less than 1 1/2 times their hourly wage for any hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Plaintiffs fall into this second group of EAs whose earnings are above the "cutoff."

On October 25, 1982, an amended complaint added Antisdel as a named plaintiff. AT&T thereafter filed a third-party complaint against the Union for contribution stemming from its alleged complicity with AT&T in imposing the "cutoff" scheme.

Plaintiffs sought certification of their action for class-wide treatment, which AT&T opposed. Both parties filed extensive memoranda in support of their positions.

Exhaustive hearings were conducted on the issue of class certification. Plaintiffs' testimony described their duties in general to include development of installation specifications and ordering of equipment needed for a particular customer's order for a telephone system after the customer order has been first analyzed by a professional engineer who determines which drawings and diagrams are necessary in considering what equipment must be installed and installation specifications. EAs are neither "professional" nor "executive" employees. A computer printout prepared by AT&T of AT&T payroll records, made part of the record on appeal, contains an analysis of each EA's work record showing, in part, hours worked, amount of salary actually paid, and amount of salary required to be paid under Illinois law if the exemption is inapplicable. Certain information is, as yet, missing from the report, such as vacations, personal days and floating holidays. AT&T produced evidence that EAs' job functions may vary in accordance with their relationships to the general business operations of AT&T and its customers; their experience and ability; and the degree of discretion and judgment AT&T can delegate to them according to their individual capacities, resulting in a highly diversified group in terms of job duties and responsibilities. They are ranked in nine separate performance bands (cells) according to job characteristics and attributes. AT&T's engineering manager agreed, however, that of 310 EAs employed at the Rolling Meadows plant, 90% actually perform the work of writing specifications and ordering equipment, and are predominantly involved in system equipment engineering, although there are differences in specific job duties they may perform.

The circuit court made the requisite findings and certified a class of EAs whose principal job duties are writing specifications and ordering equipment. AT&T successfully moved to certify questions for interlocutory appeal concerning the propriety of class certification, which we allowed.


• 1 Certification of a class is within the sound discretion of the circuit court and will be disturbed only if there is an abuse of that discretion or if impermissible legal criteria are applied. (Schlenz v. Castle (1981), 84 Ill.2d 196, 203, 417 N.E.2d 1336, appeal dismissed (1981), 454 U.S. 804, 70 L.Ed.2d 73, 102 S.Ct. 76; McCabe v. Burgess (1979), 75 Ill.2d 457, 464, 389 N.E.2d 565, cert. denied (1979), 444 U.S. 916, 62 L.Ed.2d 170, 100 S.Ct. 230.) Review of certification is not an independent de novo evaluation of the factors alleged to justify certification (Carrao v. Health Care Service Corp. (1983), 118 Ill. App.3d 417, 427, 454 N.E.2d 781), but is limited to assessing the discretion exercised by the circuit court (McCabe v. Burgess (1979), 75 Ill.2d 457, 464-65, 389 N.E.2d 565).

• 2 Section 2-801 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-801) prescribes four bases upon which the circuit court may certify a class action: (1) the class is so numerous as to make joinder impracticable; (2) questions of law or fact common to the class predominate over questions affecting only individual members; (3) the interests of the class will be adequately protected by the class representatives; and (4) class treatment is an appropriate means for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. The circuit court here was required to find that plaintiffs established these requirements. (Wheatley v. Board of ...

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