Authored by Brandon McKelvey
Relying on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a federal judge in California decertified a class of Dollar Tree store managers claiming they were misclassified as managers under California law. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dukes, as well as recent Ninth Circuit decisions in employment class action cases, persuaded the court that the class he had previously certified could not proceed to trial as a class action because of “unmanageable difficulties.”
Over the course of two years plaintiffs saw what was once a certified class slowly whittle away in the wake of Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court decisions denying class action treatment in employment cases. In May 2009, the court initially certified a class of 718 store managers based on Dollar Tree’s practice of having the store managers answer “yes” or “no” on a weekly payroll certification form that asked whether they spent the majority of their time performing management duties. In September 2010, however, the court partially decertified and narrowed the class to the 273 managers who answered “no” on the weekly payroll certification in response to the Ninth Circuit’s decisions in Vinole v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. and In re Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Overtime Pay Litigation.
After the court’s partial decertification order, both parties presented evidence that the payroll certification forms were not reliable, including testimony from class members under oath that the certifications were not truthful. Based on this testimony plaintiffs revealed that at trial they would rely on individual testimony as opposed to the payroll certification forms. The court found that plaintiffs’ proposed plan to try the case based on representative testimony from a handful of class members, while questionable under prior law, was untenable in light of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Marlo v. UPS and the Supreme Court’s decision in Dukes. The court pointed out that both Marlo and Dukes required class action plaintiffs to produce common proof of class-wide liability and that the plaintiffs had failed to produce such proof by relying solely on the testimony of individual class members. The court concluded that without the common element of the certification form responses, there was no “glue” holding all of the individualized experiences of the class members together and thus continued class treatment was inappropriate.
The court’s decertification of the class is consistent with rulings from the Supreme Court and Circuit Courts denying class action treatment in employment class action cases, particularly those involving misclassification claims.