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Mueller v. Chesapeake Bay Seafood House Associates, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 20, 2018

KRISTINA MUELLER, et al. Plaintiffs,


          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge.

         In this wage dispute litigation, plaintiffs Kristina Mueller and Jill Mueller[1] have filed a collective action against Chesapeake Bay Seafood House Associates, LLC ("Chesapeake Bay"), seeking, inter alia, unpaid minimum and overtime wages for work performed at restaurants owned or operated by Chesapeake Bay. See ECF 1 ("Complaint"). Plaintiffs lodge their claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), codified, as amended, at 29 U.S.C. §§ 206, 207(a), and 216(b); the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL"), Md. Code (2016 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), §§ 3-401 et seq. of the Labor and Employment Article ("L.E."); and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law ("MWPCL"), L.E. §§ 3-501 et seq.

         The Complaint lodges a collective action pursuant to the FLSA (id. ¶¶ 79-101), and includes a Rule 23 class action as to the MWHL and MWPCL claims. Id. ¶¶ 102-112. Defendant answered the Complaint. ECF 7.

         By agreement, the Court approved plaintiffs' Motion for Conditional Certification of the collective action. See ECF 9 (Motion); ECF 12 (Order). Unhappy with response to the notice, plaintiffs have filed a "Motion for Additional Court-Authorized Notice of Lawsuit" (ECF 110), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 110-1) (collectively, the "Motion"), and several exhibits. See ECF 110-3 through ECF 110-10. Chesapeake Bay opposes the Motion (ECF 128, "Opposition"), with exhibits. See ECF 128-1 through ECF 128-4. Plaintiffs have replied. ECF 138 ("Reply").

         The Motion is fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[2]

         The Muellers are former employees of Chesapeake Bay (ECF 1, ¶¶ 16-17), which owns or operates multiple Chili's and On The Border restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Id. ¶¶ 5-8. Between approximately January 2006 and October 2014, Kristina was employed by defendant as a server and bartender at Chili's restaurants located in Bowie and Linthicum, Maryland. Id. ¶¶ 16, 46-47. Between approximately October 2005 and October 2014, Jill worked for defendant as a bartender, server, and shift manager (id. ¶ 44 n.2), also at Chili's restaurants in Bowie and Linthicum. Id. ¶¶ 17, 51, 53.

         Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), plaintiffs filed a "Motion for Conditional Certification and to Facilitate Identification and Notice to Similarly-Situated Employees" (ECF 9), along with a supporting memorandum of law (ECF 9-1) (collectively, "Motion for Conditional Certification") and two exhibits. See ECF 9-2; ECF 9-3. They asked the Court to "grant conditional certification of a collective class for the claims alleged in this matter under the Fair Labor Standards Act." ECF 9-1 at 1. They also asked the Court to assist in the "identification and notice to similarly situated employees" (id.), by allowing an "early Court-approved notice of this action" and by "allowing potential opt-ins to join this matter." Id. at 3.

         Thereafter, the parties filed a "Joint Status Report and Stipulation Regarding Conditional Certification" (ECF 10) (hereinafter, "Joint Stipulation"), informing the Court that Chesapeake Bay did not oppose conditional certification of a collective action, and that the parties had agreed to the terms of the proposed notice and opt-in forms. See Id. ¶ 3. Additionally, the parties agreed, id. ¶¶ 4-5:

[W]ithin thirty (30) calendar days of the Court's approval of the proposed Notice, Defendant is to produce directly to Plaintiffs' counsel a list of the full name and last known residential address of each and every individual who is or was employed as a server and/or bartender for Defendant during the period of June 15, 2014 until June 15, 2017.
* * *
[And] that putative class members will have a period of sixty (60) calendar days from the date that the Notice is mailed to submit a form consenting to join the lawsuit (the "Notice Period"). The Parties have agreed that the Notice Period will commence ten (10) business days from the date Plaintiffs are provided with the list of potential class members from Defendant.

         By Order of September 22, 2017 (ECF 12), I granted the Motion for Conditional Certification (ECF 9). In addition, I approved the Joint Stipulation (ECF 10), the proposed notice (ECF 10-1, "Notice"), and the proposed opt-in form (ECF 10-2, "Opt-In Form"). Thereafter, Chesapeake Bay provided plaintiffs with the names and addresses of 2, 805 current and former Chesapeake Bay employees. ECF 110-1 at 1. Plaintiffs aver that Notice and Opt-In Forms were timely mailed to all of the current and former employees at the addresses provided. ECF 138 at 1. The deadline for potential class members to join the lawsuit was December 29, 2017. See ECF 128 at 4. The Court received more than 115 Opt-In Forms. See ECF 14 through ECF 109; ECF 111 through ECF 127; ECF 129 through ECF 137; ECF 139; ECF 142 through ECF 144; ECF 147.

         In the Motion (ECF 110), filed on December 14, 2017, plaintiffs claim that a "substantial portion of the potential class have not received notice of the lawsuit." Id. at 1. Further, they claim that Chesapeake Bay has "made improper contacts with members of the prospective class" by presenting an arbitration agreement to its current employees (hereinafter, the "Arbitration Agreement" or "Agreement"). Id. The relevant terms of the Arbitration Agreement are discussed, infra.

         In the Motion, plaintiffs asks for several forms of relief, including (1) "an Order compelling Defendant to produce to Plaintiffs' counsel... a list of the last known email address of every individual listed on the class list who has yet to join this matter"; (2) that plaintiffs "be allowed to send additional class notice by mail and email to all prospective class members"; (3) an extension of the opt-in deadline; and (4) that "additional language" be "included in the notice to make clear to all prospective plaintiffs that the signing of and/or distribution of an arbitration agreement does not prevent them from joining this lawsuit." ECF 110-1 at 8-9.

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion

         II. Discussion


         Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938 "to protect all covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours, 'labor conditions [that are] detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers.'" Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys., Inc.,450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 202(a)) (alterations in Barrentine); see Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 2117, 2121 (2016); Morrison v. Cry. of Fairfax, Va., 826 F.3d 758, 761 (4th Cir. 2016); McFeeley v. Jackson Street Entertainment, LLC,825 F.3d 235, 240 (4th Cir. 2016). In particular, the FLSA established the "general rule that employers must compensate each employee 'at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate' for all overtime hours that an employee works." Darveau v. Detecon, Inc.,515 F.3d 334, 337 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1)); see Perez v. Mrtg. Bankers Ass'n, ___U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1199, 1204 ...

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