A New York federal judge Thursday certified a class of current and former Rite Aid Corporation store managers seeking overtime pay from the company for work they say they did when filling in for nonexempt employees.
U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken granted the class’s motion for certification under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23 but only for liability of the company and not for damages. The managers’ claims of overtime were too imprecise to calculate classwide damages, according to Thursday’s order.
Judge Oetken simultaneously denied Rite Aid’s bid to decertify the Fair Labor Standards Act collective action, saying that though the details of the suit are highly complicated, each putative class member shared enough similarities to at least partially certify the group.
“Reduced to the specificity of the absurd, no two groups are similar,” Oetken wrote in Thursday’s order. “This case lies in the shadowland between these two distinct realms.”
The two parties clashed over whether the members of the class led by fired store manager Yatram Indergit had enough commonality and typicality and whether that commonality question had enough predominance to merit class certification.
Indergit worked as a store manager at a Rite Aid store in White Plains, N.Y., for nearly three decades until he was fired in 2007, according to the judge’s ruling.
He sued the company the following year, alleging Rite Aid required store managers and assistant managers to work overtime to perform the duties of cashiers, stock handlers and other nonexempt employees as part of a program to reduce the amount of overtime paid to nonexempt employees.
Indergit alleges he worked up to 80 hours a week due to the policy and was never paid overtime. Much of his time was spent manning the cash register and photo lab, arranging inventory on shelves and moving crates and boxes in the stock room, he claims.
He filed collective action claims under the FLSA and New York labor laws seeking to represent Rite Aid managers and assistant managers on the alleged overtime violations and individual claims relating to age discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe conditionally certified the collective action, prompting some 1,545 current and former store managers to opt in to the suit, according to Thursday’s order.
But as Indergit filed for class certification in January, Rite Aid filed for decertification.
Each individual store’s managers had duties that differed vastly from one another, Rite Aid argued. Some managers helped unload trucks, while others managed stores that sell liquor and live plants, the drugstore chain owner contended.
Indergit was seeking to have the class certified under Rule 23, which has a higher standard than collective action certification.
In order to gain certification under Rule 23, the plaintiff had to prove the putative class members were similar enough to support commonality claims. Judge Oetkin found Indergit was able to establish that commonality, though not uniformly enough to calculate damages.
“A closer look at these divergent statements reveal that the differences among [store managers] are marginal and expected, rather than hyper-individualized and unpredictable,” Judge Oetkin wrote in Thursday’s order.
The case is Yatram Indergit et al. v. Rite Aid Corp. et al., case number 1:08-cv-09361, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.