United States District Court, District of Maryland, Southern Division
George J. Hazel, United States District Judge
Santos Flores, Francisco Fuentes. Jose Novoa. Anthony Taylor. Juan Olivares. and Damion West ("Plaintiffs?'), on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated, have sued their current or former employer. Defendant Unity Disposal and Recycling. LLC ("Unity Disposal"), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law. Md.Code Ann., Lab & Empl. §§ 3-401 et seq., 3-501 el seq. Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for conditional certification and court-facilitated notice to potential collective action members under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). A hearing is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (Md.). For the following reasons. Plaintiffs" motion will be GRANTED.
Unity Disposal is a waste management company that contracts with homeowner associations and municipalities, including Howard and Montgomery County, to provide residential trash, yard waste and recycling pickup. See ECF No. 1 at ¶ 11. Plaintiffs and all similarly situated employees they seek to represent are current and former sanitation workers employed by Unity Disposal. Unity Disposal employs two categories of sanitation worker employees: drivers and helpers. See Id. at ¶ 3. Drivers are responsible for driving their assigned refuse truck along their designated collection route in a safe manner. See Id. at ¶ 30. Helpers, on the other hand, ride on the back of the refuse trucks and are responsible for collecting and depositing trash, recyclables or yard waste into their assigned trucks along designated collection routes. See id at ¶ 31.
Helpers and drivers typically work five shifts a week (Monday through Friday), usually 8-10 hours per day. See Id. at ¶ 23. Trash collecting work is generally performed between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. See Id. Unity Disposal assigns specific routes to drivers and helpers, who work in teams to perform the trash collection work. Sec Id. at ¶ 24. Unity Disposal dispatches the trash trucks for all routes from its headquarters located in Laurel. Maryland, and all sanitation workers are required to return the trucks to the headquarters when they have completed their routes. See Id. For their work. Unity Disposal paid its sanitation workers a that daily rate regardless of the amount of hours worked in a shift to finish the assigned routes. See Id. at ¶ 25. During the proposed class period, drivers were generally paid a daily rate of $130 and helpers were generally paid a daily rate of either SI 00 or $84. See Id. Plaintiffs allege that by paying them a daily flat rate, without regard to the number of hours actually worked. Unity Disposal did not pay Plaintiffs in accordance with federal and local wage and hour laws. See Id. at ¶ 39.
Additionally, although Unity Disposal did not schedule meal breaks for its sanitation workers or require its sanitation workers to take such a break. Plaintiffs contend that Unity Disposal maintained a company-wide policy of deducting thirty minutes of time from every shift for unpaid meal breaks. See Id. at ¶ 34. According to Plaintiffs, this 30 minute break was deducted regardless of whether the employees actually took a meal break. 'See ECF No. 4-7 at ¶¶ 17. 20. 21; see also ECF No. 4-9 at ¶¶ 15. 18. 19. In fact. Plaintiffs maintain that they do not even take 30-minute meal breaks. See ECF No. 4-7 at ¶ 17: see also ECF No. 4-9 at ¶ 15. Instead. Plaintiffs contend that they eat while driving or refueling, or otherwise wait until the end of their shifts. See ECF No. 4-7 at ¶ 17; see ECF No. 4-13 at ¶ 16. Plaintiffs' allege that by automatically deducting this time from their timesheets. Unity Disposal further violated federal and local wage and hour laws.
Accordingly. Plaintiffs filed this instant collective action seeking on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated helpers and drivers to recover unpaid wages. As is required for collective actions. Plaintiffs have tiled a motion for conditional certification of the collective action and for court-facilitated notice to potential collective action members. See ECF No. 4. Unity Disposal has opposed this motion. See ECF No. 15. For the reasons stated more fully below, the Court will grant Plaintiffs" motion.
"Under the FLSA, plaintiffs may maintain a collective action against their employer for violations under the act pursuant to 29 U .S.C. § 216(b)." Quinwros v, Sparkle Cleaning, Inc., 532 F.Supp .2d 762. 771 (D. Md. 2008). Section 216(b) provides, in relevant part, as follows:
An action . . . may be maintained against any employer 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). "This provision establishes an 'opt-in' scheme, whereby potential plaintiffs must affirmatively notify the court of their intentions to be a party to the suit." Oninieros. 532 F.Supp.2d at 771 (citing Camper v. Home Quality Mgml., Inc., 200 F.R.D. 516. 5 19 (D. Md. 2000)).
When deciding whether to certify a collective action pursuant to the FLSA, courts generally follow a two-stage process. See Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682. 686 (D. Md. 2010). In the first stage, commonly referred to as the notice stage, the Court makes a "threshold determination of whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential class members are 'similarly situated.' such that court-facilitated notice to the putative class members would be appropriate.'" Id. (quoting Camper. 200 F.R.D. at 519). In the second stage, following the close of discovery, the Court conducts a "more stringent inquiry" to determine whether the plaintiffs are in fact "similarly situated, '" as required by Section 216(b). See Raw Is v. Augustine Home Health Care, Inc., 244 F.R.D. 298, 300 (D. Md. 2007). At this later stage, referred to as the decertification stage, the Court makes a final decision about the propriety of proceeding as a collective action. See Syrja. 756 F.Supp.2d at 686. Here. Plaintiffs have moved for conditional certification of a collective action, and. if granted, have requested court-facilitated notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs.
A. Conditional Certification
"Determinations of the appropriateness of conditional collective action certification . . . are left to the court's discretion." Id.; see also Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. v.Sperling. 493 U.S. 165. 169 (1989). The threshold issue in determining whether to exercise such discretion is whether Plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential opt-in plaintiffs are "similarly situated." Camper. 200 F.R.D. at 519 (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)). '"Similarly situated' [does] not mean identical."" Bouthner v. Cleveland Constr., Inc., No. 11-0244. 2012 WL 738578. at *4 (D. Md. Mar. 5.2012) (citing Hipp v. Liberty Nat 7 Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1217 (11th Cir. 2001)). Rather, a group of potential FLSA plaintiffs is "similarly situated" if its members can demonstrate that they were victims of a common policy, scheme, or plan that violated the law. See Mancia v.Mayflower Textile Servs. Co., No. 08-0273. 2008 WL 4735344. at *3 (D. Md. Oct.14, 2008); .see also ...