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TAILLON v. KOHLER RENTAL POWER

April 25, 2003

LINDA TAILLON, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHER PLAINTIFFS SIMILARLY SITUATED KNOWN AND UNKNOWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KOHLER RENTAL POWER, INC., A WHOLLY OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF KOHLER COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John W. Darrah, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Linda Taillon ("Plaintiff"), filed a four-count complaint against Defendant, Kohler Rental Power, Inc. ("Defendant"), alleging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Count I); the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. and the Portal to Portal Act, 29 U.S.C. § 251 et seq. (Count II); the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 105/4a (Count III); and to collect unpaid wages pursuant to the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 115 Ill. Comp. Stat. 115/1 et seq. (Count IV). Plaintiff has filed a Motion for an Order Authorizing Notice to Similarly Situated Persons Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216 (b).

For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is granted.

The requirements for a class or collective action under the ELSA are governed by 29 U.S.C. § 216 (b). Section 216(b) provides:

An action to recover the liability prescribed in (section 206, 207 or 215(a)(3) of title 29) may be maintained against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought
29 U.S.C. § 216 (b).

Under § 216(b), class actions under the ELSA can only be maintained when and if potential claimants opt in. Allen v. Marshall Field & Co., 93 F.R.D. 438, 441 (N.D. Ill. 1982). In contrast, class actions under Rule 23 bind all members of the class unless they opt out This difference between Rule 23 and § 216(b) means that Rule 23's class certification requirements do not apply to ELSA class actions. King v. General Elec. Co., 960 F.2d 617, 621 (7th Cir. 1992); Woods v. New York Life Ins. Co., 686 F.2d 578, 580 (7th Cir. 1982).

Rather, under the ELSA, the representative need only show that the plaintiffs are similarly situated. 29 U.S.C. § 216 (b). However, the FLSA and its regulations do not define similarly situated. A named plaintiff can show that the potential claimants are similarly situated "by making a modest factual showing sufficient to demonstrate that they and potential plaintiffs together were victims of a common policy or plan that violated the law." Realite v. Ark Rests. Corp., 7 F. Supp.2d 303, 306 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (citations omitted).

District courts have the power to authorize notice of the action to potential plaintiffs. Woods, 686 F.2d at 580.

Defendant opposes notifying potential plaintiffs for the following reasons: (1) Plaintiff's position of Project Manager II is exempt under the FLSA, (2) Plaintiff's declaration in support of her motion contains inadmissible facts which are not based on her personal knowledge, (3) the complaint alleges no facts which establish that a ELSA violation occurred, (4) Plaintiff has failed to show that any member of the purported plaintiff class has any interest in this action, and (5) the proposed notice is defective.

Defendant argues that the Project Manager II position is exempt under the FLSA. In support of this argument, Defendant has attached the affidavit of Richard C. Homiston ("Homiston"), Defendant's Director of Human Resources.

According to the Affidavit of Richard C. Homiston, Defendant's Director of Human Resources*fn1, a Project Manager II's "primary job duties consist of non-manual work that is directly related to [Defendant's] general business operation," selling Defendant's Event Services, directing event projects from start to finish, assisting Defendant's regional and branch managers with planning and forecasting, assisting customers, assuring that customers have trained staff to maintain equipment and manage the business, and advising Defendant of its fleet positioning. (Homiston Aff. ¶ 6.) A Project Manager II must exercise discretion and independent judgment. (Id. ¶ 8.) However, a Project Manager II does not formulate management policies or participate in every aspect of Defendant's business as a whole. (Id.) Project Manager II is an "exempt" position, and employees occupying this position are paid on a salaried basis. (Id. ¶ 11.)

Defendant has not identified a specific provision of the FLSA that would exempt Plaintiff's position from the maximum hour provisions of the FLSA. Rather, Defendant relies solely on the conclusion that its internal classification of the Project Manager II position is "exempt". This is an insufficient basis to determine that the Project Manager II position is "exempt" under the FLSA. Defendant will not be prejudiced if it is determined that the Project Manager II position is "exempt" after notice has been sent to potential plaintiffs. Jackson v. New York Tel. Co., 163 F.R.D. 429, 431 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) ("[E]ven if plaintiffs' claims turn out to be meritless . . . notification at this stage, rather than after further discovery, may enable more efficient resolution of the underlying issues in this case.").

Defendant next argues that notice under § 216(b) is improper because the complaint does not allege a FLSA violation and that Plaintiff's declaration is deficient because it contains inadmissible facts*fn2. Specifically, Defendant argues that the allegations in the complaint do not meet the requirements for issuing notice to potential class members.

The complaint alleges that, throughout Plaintiff's tenure with Defendant, she worked in excess of forty hours per week and was not paid time-and-a-half for the hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. (Compl. ¶ 21, 22.) The complaint also alleges that Defendant employed others who performed the same job duties and responsibilities as Plaintiff and who were not paid time-and-a-half for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. (Id. ¶ 23.) The complaint further alleges that "it is . . . Defendant's ...


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