Court in Texas Denies Conditional Certification Where The Class is Unmanageable

           Conditional certification in a Fair Labor Standards Case in most jurisdictions is normally a two stage process: an initial “Notice” stage where the evidence needed is minimal (often the allegations in the Complaint are sufficient), and; the certification stage where the court will make a determination based on the evidence adduced during the discovery process as to whether the representative plaintiff and any opt-in plaintiffs are sufficiently “similarly situated”  for the case to proceed as a collective action.  The evidence necessary to surmount the second stage is more stringent than at the notice stage.

            Recently, in Odem et al v. Centex Homes, civil action No. 3:08-CV-1196-L (BF) (N.D. Tex. February 4, 2010), the Court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for conditional certification of a class of “Field Managers” because the case would be “unmanageable.” 

            Centex Homes builds and sells single-family homes and townhomes.  At the time the case commenced, Centex Homes operated in six hundred neighborhoods in twenty-four states and the District of Columbia.  The company had twenty-six divisions which were operated independently by Division Presidents.  The Division Presidents had the responsibilities for profit and loss, policies, bonus plans and other tasks consistent with operating a company.  Each division determined the job duties of those employed in the division.  Throughout the twenty-six divisions there were five different levels of “Field Managers.”  Each level had its own duties and responsibilities.

            When Plaintiffs sought conditional certification of a class of Field Managers.  Centex Homes resisted arguing that the dissimilarities among the Field Managers precluded conditional certification.  The company asserted that the dissimilarities would require individualized proof based on the different divisions, the different duties and responsibilities and the different employment settings.  In a last effort to salvage certification of the class, Plaintiffs offered to create subclasses consisting of those field managers who were similarly situated within the class of Field Managers.

            The Court ruled that conditional certification of the class of Field Managers should be denied.  The Court found that because of the differences among the putative plaintiffs that jury questions alone would be make the case unmanageable.  Additionally, the court noted the problems with multiple motions for summary judgment.  The Court rejected Plaintiffs’ “cleverly constructed class-specific definition” of the subclasses finding that such would impose a significant burden on the Court.        

By W. V. Bernie Siebert, Sherman & Howard LLC

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