IBMBlogImage2.jpgAuthored by Robert Whitman

Charles Seward is “an IBM’er.”  And in his wage-hour lawsuit against the company, no other IBM’ers will be joining him.

That’s the upshot of the March 9, 2012 ruling of Judge Vincent Briccetti of the Southern District of New York in Seward v. IBM.  Judge Briccetti affirmed a decision to decertify a class of call center representatives at IBM’s facility in Atlanta.

The lawsuit, filed in 2008, alleges that call center representatives were not paid for time spent booting up their computers at the start of their shifts.  A different District Judge in 2009 granted Seward’s motion for conditional certification of his FLSA claim, and 39 other plaintiffs later opted in.

Following discovery, IBM moved to decertify the class.  Magistrate Judge Paul Davison recommended that IBM’s motion be granted.  He first found that Seward did not show that “he shares common factual and employment settings with all of the opt-in plaintiffs . . . given the many differences in specific job duties, team functions and structures, managerial expectations, and individual experiences and understandings among the plaintiffs.”  The Magistrate Judge also found that IBM’s potential defenses would be highly fact-specific and depend on testimony of individual plaintiffs and their managers, concluding that “fairness requires that this collective action be decertified given the various individualized issues presented in the case.”

Seward’s sole objection to that recommendation was that the case should proceed on behalf of a sub-class of about half the opt-ins, who, like Seward, were alleged to have been required to be “call ready” at the start of their shifts.  In his March 9 ruling, Judge Briccetti rejected that objection.  He held that Seward had failed to present the argument to the Magistrate Judge and that IBM had objected to it in response to questions from the bench during oral argument.

Judge Briccetti also held that IBM would be prejudiced by the certification of such a sub-class.  In light of conflicting testimony on the “call ready” point and IBM’s fact-specific defenses to that claim, the court held that a sub-class would be inappropriate “without the issue being raised and fully heard” by the Magistrate Judge.