Northern District of Illinois Federal Court Grants Conditional Class Certification for Lawsuit for Unpaid Overtime

One of the most important issues at the outset of every class-action lawsuit is determining the size of the class itself. In some instances, making such a determination can be accomplished through preliminary investigations by the named plaintiff in the suit. However, the true size and scope of the class can only be confirmed by documentation obtained from the defendant company. Our Berwyn overtime class-action attorneys recently encountered a case involving a dispute over the potential members of the class, and wanted to share it with our readers.

In Smallwood v. Illinois Bell Telephone, Plaintiffs held multiple different positions, but were all classified as Outside Plant Engineers (OSPs) at Defendant’s facilities in Elgin and Des Plains, Illinois. Plaintiffs generally performed design and analysis of Defendants plant facilities and Defendant’s network and were classified as exempt employees until 2009, when Defendant reclassified all OSP engineers as non-exempt employees, which entitled them to overtime. After this reclassification, Plaintiffs filed suit for unpaid overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because they had regularly worked in excess of forty hours per week during the entirety of their employment and had never been paid overtime previously. Plaintiffs then filed a motion requesting conditional collective action certification under §216(b) of the FLSA for all persons who were employed by Defendant as OSPs during the previous three years. Plaintiffs also requested approval of a 90-day opt-in period and a 7-day time period for Defendant to supply them with a list of putative claimants.

Defendants argued that Plaintiffs were not similarly situated because the Plaintiffs had separate and distinct job duties despite being generally referred to OSPs, and provided job descriptions as evidence of these differences. The Court found that Defendant’s arguments regarding the day-to-day work activities of the individual Plaintiffs were premature at this early stage of the case, and because the case was not “clearly beyond the first tier” of FLSA class certification. Therefore, applying a stricter standard of review was inappropriate. The Court then granted the motion for conditional certification, finding that Plaintiffs – through their individual declarations — had met the statutorily required modest factual showing that Plaintiffs were the subject to the Defendant’s common policy or plan to violate the FLSA by failing to pay OSPs overtime wages. Defendants also requested that the notice period be limited to 30 days, but the Court found that an opt-in period of 60 days was appropriate, and gave Defendants two weeks to supply the putative member list, so that collective action notices could be mailed in a timely manner.

Lubin Austermuehle is a firm of attorneys focusing on nationwide class-action lawsuits and we and our co-counsel have successfully handled many large wage and hour disputes. Our Chicagoland overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Whether due to an employer’s misclassification or miscalculation, when workers do not receive the wages they should, a lawsuit can help to recover the wages that are rightfully theirs. Lubin Austermuehle is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Elgin wage and hour attorneys by phone at 1 630-333-0333, or through our online form.

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