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In re Aon Corp. Wage & Hour Employment Practices Litigation

April 8, 2010

AON CORP. WAGE & HOUR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES LITIGATION


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case comes before the court on two motions. The first is the motion of Plaintiffs Angela J. Piersanti and Joyce Cooper for class certification pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. The second is the motion of Plaintiffs Denise Mariette Miller, Maurice Craig, Janet Holmes, and Wendy Caesar for conditional collective action certification as well as an order authorizing notice pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). For the reasons stated below, we grant both motions.

BACKGROUND

Defendant AON Corporation and its related entities (collectively "AON") provide insurance brokerage services. AON acts as an intermediary between insurance companies and its clients (businesses seeking insurance coverage) to secure a policy that fulfills the needs of the client. As part of its brokerage business, AON created a division known as Aon Client Services ("ACS") to provide transactional and administrative services to AON's clients quickly and efficiently.

AON organized ACS into several subgroups. Employees in the Client Services Unit ("CSU") were assigned to particular client accounts and were responsible for the timely fulfillment of a variety of service requests for those accounts. Among the services CSU employees shepherded to completion were preparing automobile ID cards and invoices as well as issuing insurance certificates. Policy Maintenance Unit ("PMU") employees reviewed the language of policies to ensure they complied with terms previously agreed to by the client and examined premiums to determine whether they were calculated accurately. Each PMU employee was assigned to a separate group that only performed one of the following tasks: policy checks, audit analyses, and retroactive analyses. Policy checks involved reviewing a client's policy documents from an insurance carrier to ensure that the coverage described in the policy was consistent with the previously negotiated terms. Audit analyses verified the insurance company's calculation of premiums charged to the client to ensure that proper factors were considered and that the information employed was correct. Retroactive analyses examined an insurer's annual adjustment of certain portions of a given policy to determine whether the retroactive adjustment reflected the terms agreed to by the client and the carrier.

CSU and PMU staff were placed into three levels: Associate Specialist, Client Specialist, and Senior Client Specialist. Associate Specialists were generally less experienced and received lower salaries than Client Specialists, who in turn were less experienced and received lower salaries than Senior Client Specialists. The complexity and volume of an employee's client accounts would increase as one progressed from one classification to another. Despite the differing classifications, the primary job responsibilities of each level of specialist in both the PMU and CSU were essentially the same.

Plaintiff Angela J. Piersanti ("Piersanti") worked in the Glenview, Illinois, office of CSU from 2005 to 2007. Piersanti was hired in November 2005 and initially worked as an Associate Client Specialist before her promotion to Client Specialist in July 2007. Piersanti worked for clients in various industries and was responsible for servicing more than 50 accounts. Piersanti had little direct contact with her clients. Among other tasks, Piersanti's duties included processing certificate and auto identification requests, renewal policy review, and processing invoices. Piersanti completed the majority of her client requests pursuant to detailed instructions and workflows provided by AON. Occasionally, however, she would conclude that she could not fulfill a client request and would have to determine whether to consult a supervisor or the client in order to rectify the problem. Piersanti once filled in for a Senior Client Specialist at the Glenview CSU and performed that person's activities without difficulty.

Plaintiff Joyce Cooper ("Cooper") also worked as a Client Specialist at Glenview from July 2007 to December 2008. Cooper's responsibilities included processing certificates, handling renewals, and preparing auto identification cards. Cooper received most of her tasks from AON's computer systems, though occasionally she would be assigned rush certificates by her supervisor. Cooper's job also required her to interact with a company called Genpact, a document production company based overseas. Cooper would have to answer Genpact's questions regarding the preparation of certificates and invoices to ensure that they were prepared according to the client's wishes.

Plaintiff Denise Mariette Miller ("Miller") worked in the New York CSU from 2004 until she was transferred to the Glenview CSU in 2007.*fn1 Miller worked as both an Associate Client Specialist and Client Specialist but maintains that her job duties were the same in both positions; indeed, Miller alleges that employees at all levels at PMU performed the same baseline functions. In New York, Miller worked on the construction unit processing service requests for multiple certificates and directing them for review. Miller later became personally responsible for managing requests from around 35 construction accounts and interacted with a number of departments to ensure that outputs (certificates, etc.) were timely completed for her clients. To process a client deliverable, such as a certificate of insurance, Miller followed a set of written workflow instructions generated by AON management. After her construction accounts were transferred to another CSU, Miller was assigned a number of marine accounts. The marine accounts were larger than her former construction accounts and had multiple lines of insurance. Miller often had to create individual non-standard certificates outside the regular computer system for her marine clients.

Plaintiff Maurice Craig ("Craig") worked in the PMU in New York as a Senior Client Specialist from 2001 to 2006. Craig's only responsibility at the New York PMU was reviewing policy binders to ensure they complied with the terms of the policies previously agreed to by the insured and the carrier. In performing a policy review, Craig consulted detailed checklists, flowcharts, and templates prepared by AON. If Craig encountered a service problem or question about a policy, he would inquire with an AON Relation Manager, other departments, or his supervisors so that a deeper review could be undertaken.

Plaintiff Wendy Caesar ("Caesar") worked for the New York PMU from 2002 until 2007. Caesar began working for the New York PMU in January 2002 as a Client Specialist until her promotion to Senior Client Specialist in April 2004. Caesar worked for the audit and retroactive analysis unit of the New York PMU. As a Senior Client Specialist, Caesar trained new employees, monitored the activities of new employees, and assigned work to Client Specialists in her unit. Caesar dealt directly with carriers and insureds in conducting her audits and resolving disputes that arose during those audits.

Plaintiff Janet Holmes worked in the New York PMU from December 2001 through April 2007 as a Client Specialist in the audit and retroactive analysis unit. Holmes worked with client accounts of various sizes in different industries that possessed policies of various levels of complexity. Unlike Caesar, Holmes did not train other employees.

Plaintiffs allege that AON violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207, and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 ILCS §§ 105/1-/12, by failing to pay Plaintiffs overtime compensation. Both FLSA and IMWL require employers to compensate their employees at the rate of one and one-half times their regular rate for all hours worked in excess of forty hours a week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); 820 ILCS § 105/4a(1). However, administrative employees are exempt from the overtime pay requirements of FLSA and IMWL. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); 820 ILCS § 105/4a(2)(E) (referring to FLSA and accompanying regulations to define administrative employee). AON classified all Associate Specialists, Client Specialists, and Senior Client Specialists in both the CSU and PMU as administrative employees and therefore did not pay them overtime compensation. Plaintiffs argue that AON improperly classified these categories of employees as administrative.

Plaintiffs filed two separate actions (consolidated here) in which former CSU and PMU employees in Illinois and New York seek damages from AON for alleged deprivations of overtime pay as a result of AON improperly classifying Plaintiffs as administrative employees. On April 4, 2008, Plaintiffs Piersanti and Cooper ("Illinois Plaintiffs") filed suit against Aon Risk Services, Inc., alleging they were improperly classified as administrative employees and denied overtime pay in violation of FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), 820 ILCS §§ 105/1-12, and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act ("IWPCA"), 820 ILCS § 115/1-15. The Illinois Plaintiffs also seek to represent a class of individuals with potential claims under IMWL only. The proposed class consists of all current and former employees of AON during the statutory period who worked as Senior Client Specialists, Client Specialists, and/or Associate Specialists in AON's Illinois Aon Client Services division, Client Services Unit, who worked at least one hour of overtime and were not given overtime compensation in alleged violation of IMWL ("Illinois CSU Class").

On May 15, 2008, Plaintiffs Miller, Craig, Holmes, and Caesar ("New York Plaintiffs") filed suit against Aon Risk Services Northeast, Inc. and AON Corporation, asserting they were incorrectly classified as administrative employees and denied overtime wages in violation of FLSA and various provisions of New York law. In addition to their individual claims, the New York Plaintiffs seek conditional certification of collective actions for two groups. Miller seeks to represent a class consisting of all former employees of AON during the statutory period who were Senior Client Specialists, Client Specialists, and/or Associate Specialists in AON's New York Aon Client Services division, Client Services Unit who worked at least one hour of overtime but were not paid overtime wages in alleged violation of FLSA ("New York CSU Class"). Plaintiffs Craig, Holmes, and Caesar seek to represent a class including all former employees of AON during the statutory period who were Senior Client Specialists, Client Specialists, and/or Associate Specialists in AON's New York Aon Client Services division, Policy Maintenance Unit who worked at least one hour of overtime and were not paid overtime compensation in alleged violation of FLSA ("New York PMU Class").

The Illinois Plaintiffs now move for class certification pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. The New York Plaintiffs seek conditional certification of the two collective actions described above and authorization of notice for ...


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