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McDonald’s franchisee workers denied class certification on minimum wage claims

By Lisa Milam-Perez, J.D.

McDonald’s employees who claimed they were forced to be ready to work, albeit off the clock, before or after their scheduled shifts were denied certification of their collective action minimum wage claims against two separate McDonald’s franchisees in a pair of companion cases. The plaintiffs estimated the putative class was comprised of 1,000 workers; the defendants said it was more like 3,000. At any rate, a federal district court in Michigan concluded that the number was too unwieldy to be managed as a collective action. And it was unlikely the putative class members would be found to be similarly situated upon completion of discovery (Pullen v McDonald’s Corp, September 15, 2014, O’Meara, J).

The employees contended that the two McDonald’s restaurant owner-operators required them to wait off-the-clock at the beginning or end or their scheduled work shifts, or during extended breaks. As a result of being “engaged to wait,” and also due to having the costs of their uniforms deducted from their already modest paychecks, they were paid less than the minimum wage rate, they alleged. They filed putative collective actions alleging minimum wage violations. Before the court was their motion to conditionally certify their FLSA claims as a collective action and for judicial approval to notify what they estimated were more than 1,000 similarly situated workers who were currently employed or had worked at the franchisees’ restaurants during the past three years. The franchisees estimated that number at 3,000 such potential class members.

According to the employees, the franchisees forced them to delay clocking in at the start of their scheduled shifts, or made them take extended mid-shift breaks, whenever the restaurants’ labor costs surpassed the target set by McDonald’s corporate office. Being subjected to this common corporate policy, and consequently being denied pay for what was compensable waiting time, was the unifying characteristic justifying conditional certification, they asserted. The employees also argued that their uniform deduction claims arose from a common policy to which they all fell victim.

While noting that the standard for granting conditional certification was lenient, the court said the proposed class “would be [a] very large class to notify.” It also predicted that, at the post-discovery stage, it would almost certainly find the plaintiffs were not similarly situated: they had varying pay rates and hours worked, and differing “deduction methodologies” applied to their pay. Further, they worked under different managers, at different restaurants, and the wait times they complained of were “extremely inconsistent” in frequency as well as duration.

As for the uniform deduction claims, some of the putative class members were under the age of 20, meaning the lawful minimum wage rate for those workers was $3.00 per hour less than older plaintiffs. Moreover, depending upon the number of hours they worked each week, the uniform deductions may or may not have reduced their average hourly pay to such an extent that it would violate the FLSA. Finally, the court noted, at oral argument, the franchisees offered to reimburse those employees whose uniform deductions left them earning an average hourly pay rate that fell below the statutory minimum.

Accordingly, the court refused to grant conditional certification to the employees’ minimum wage claims, or to approve notice to prospective class members.