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Redding v. Pure Technologies U.S., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 21, 2018

NICHOLAS REDDING, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PURE TECHNOLOGIES U.S., INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court in this wage payment action is Plaintiff Nicholas Redding and Brian Miles' Motion for Conditional Certification to Facilitate Identification and Notice to Similarly Situated Employees. ECF No. 11. Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, have brought this action alleging that Defendant Pure Technologies U.S., Inc., violated 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and analogous Maryland law. The matter has been fully briefed, and limited discovery was ordered. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pure Technologies U.S., Inc. (hereinafter, “Pure Technologies” or “Defendant”) is an engineering and technology company specializing in the inspection and monitoring of physical infrastructure, including pipelines. See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 32-33. Plaintiffs Nicholas Redding and Brian Miles (hereinafter, “Redding” and “Miles, ” respectively, and “Plaintiffs, ” collectively) were full-time employees of Pure Technologies, receiving a set salary. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 65. While the job titles of the Plaintiffs, and other similarly situated employees, differed - including positions for field technicians, field operators, field engineers, and project engineer`s (collectively “field personnel”) - their work duties were essentially identical, requiring them to perform manual labor for infrastructure tests with little or no discretion in the planning, execution, and assessment of test results. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 36-39, 41-46, 50-54, 62. Pure Technologies' understaffing also required field personnel to work well over 40 hours per week, “doing whatever the task need[ed] to get done.” ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 49, 76; ECF No. 18-1 at 42:8-9.

         To avoid making overtime payments, Plaintiffs claim that Pure Technologies deliberately misclassified field personnel as salaried employees. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 84. Further, Plaintiffs allege that after Pure Technologies re-classified field personnel as hourly workers receiving overtime wages, the company refused to retroactively compensate field personnel. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 85.

         Plaintiffs moved for conditional class certification on October 30, 2017, ECF No. 11, which Pure Technologies timely opposed, ECF No. 18. The Court ordered limited discovery as to whether Plaintiffs' employment was “similarly situated” such that it satisfied the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) standard for conditional class certification. ECF No. 15. The parties then deposed the named Plaintiffs, Miles and Redding. See generally ECF No. 18. Each testified as to his individual work experiences, duties, and responsibilities, as well as the general duties and responsibilities of other Pure Technology employees, most notably the uniformity of job tasks and payment scheme for the four categories of field personnel. ECF No. 18. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the Plaintiffs' motion to conditionally certify the class and orders court-authorized notice to potential class members.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides for an “opt-in” mechanism for collective actions “whereby potential plaintiffs must affirmatively notify the court of their intentions to be a party to the suit.” Quinteros v. Sparkle Cleaning, Inc., 532 F.Supp.2d 762, 771 (D. Md. 2008). In this initial stage, the Court must determine whether Plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential class members are similarly situated such that court-facilitated notice to the putative class members would be appropriate. If the Court answers in the affirmative, then the class is conditionally certified and dissemination of notice to potential class members occurs. At the second stage, following full discovery, the Court determines whether the class indeed is “similarly situated” under section 216 of the FLSA, and renders a “final decision regarding the propriety of proceeding as a collective action.” Gionfriddo v. Jason Zink, LLC, 769 F.Supp.2d 880, 886 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Rawls v. Augustine Home Health Care, Inc., 244 F.R.D. 298, 300 (D. Md. 2007)). Notably, Plaintiffs' burden at the conditional certification stage is minimal. Plaintiffs need not demonstrate that they are “identical” but rather sufficiently similar in that they were “victims of a common policy, scheme, or plan that violated the law, ” namely the FLSA. Butler v. DirectSTAT USA, LLC, 876 F.Supp.2d 560, 566 (D. Md. 2012).

         III. DISCUSSION

          A. Conditional Certification

         Plaintiffs seek to conditionally certify a class that includes “any and all full-time field technicians, field operators, field engineers[, ] and project engineers that were paid a salary between September 1, 2014[, ] through the present.” ECF No. 11-1 at 10. Plaintiffs principally argue that although Pure Technologies employees' job titles differed, their job responsibilities, work tasks and manner in which they were paid are all strikingly uniform. ECF No. 11-1 at 8. Accordingly, Plaintiffs assert that for purposes of this action, Pure Technologies' field technicians, field operators, field engineers, and project engineers, classified as “field personnel, ” performed essentially the same labor on a given job site: running tests on infrastructure and pipelines by physically entering pipelines, hauling and setting up equipment, taking and entering data, and using Pure Technologies' equipment. ECF No. 11-4 at ¶¶ 6-7; ECF No. 11-5 at ¶¶ 6- 7; ECF No. 18-1 at 39-42; ECF No. 18-2 at 15-17. Further, Redding and Miles attest that field personnel maintained no discretion over their job duties but rather reported to higher ranking supervisors, and followed a common set of established uniform procedures and protocols. ECF No. 11-1 at 8-9; ECF No. 11-4 at ¶¶ 8-10; ECF No. 11-5 at ¶¶ 8-10. Pure Technologies implemented a unified compensation structure. All field personnel were paid a yearly salary without any additional overtime wages, even though Pure Technologies regularly required field personnel to work over 40 hours per week. ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 65, 74, 82; ECF No. 11-1 at 9; ECF No. 11-4 at ¶ 5; ECF No. 11-15 at ¶ 5. Pure Technologies thereafter re-classified field personnel as hourly wage workers in November 2016 entitled thereafter to overtime pay, but only provided three-months backpay for overtime hours worked. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 66, 85; ECF No. 18-2 at 2-6.

         Pure Technologies, in contrast, directs the Court to the declaration of its Vice President, Adam Villard, and the differences in Plaintiffs' job descriptions to argue that Plaintiffs are not similarly situated for conditional certification purposes. See ECF No. 18-3. Pure Technologies also claims that “manageability concerns, ” further makes this case ill-suited for certification. ECF No. 18-3 at 21.

         The Court disagrees with Pure Technologies. The record evidence supports that Plaintiffs have met the minimal threshold for conditional certification at this stage. Plaintiffs testified that all field personnel performed the same manual labor, and all projects, budgets, and duties were directed by supervisors. ECF No. 18-1 at 67:1-10; ECF No. 19-1 and No. 19-2. Further, Miles and Redding testified with specificity that, contrary to the “job descriptions” presented by Pure Technologies, no meaningful distinction existed among field positions. None had direct contact with clients. None drafted reports or had any discretion in their content or presentation. Rather, all field personnel simply inputted data into Pure Technologies' software, clicked “finish, ” and the software automatically completed all technical work. ECF Nos. 19-1 and 19-2. Field personnel were also subject to a common payment scheme. Such facts satisfy the lenient standards of conditional certification.[1]

         In this regard, Pure Technologies' reliance on Andrade v. Aerotek, Civ. No. CCB-08-2668, 2009 WL 2757099 (D. Md. Aug. 26, 2009) is misplaced. There, the proposed class consisted of recruiters whose job tasks varied widely, as did their responsibilities. Unlike in this case, the Andrade plaintiffs' testimony proved that the class-wide ...


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