In an exempt status misclassification case involving 51 different IT job titles, a federal district judge in California has ruled that the proposed class members perform duties that are too divergent to justify ultimate collective under the FLSA or class treatment under Rule 23(b).
The company here divided employees in several “Bands” to distinguish the employees by level of expertise, knowledge and capability. The plaintiffs argued that employees within each Band are similarly situated to each other because a Band connotes similar levels of responsibility, education, experience, and areas of competence. But District Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California concluded that there exists large differences in job duties and responsibilities within each Band, making collective or class treatment inappropriate.
The court reasoned that even putative class members with the same job title, Band ranking and in the same Job Family, as categorized by the employer, not only had very different job duties but also worked in various employment settings. All of this would mean that employees within the same title, Band, and Job Family would exercise varying levels of discretion and independent judgment. Determining whether each employee exercises discretion and independent judgment for purposes of the administrative exemption thus would require highly individualized inquiries. Judge Illston final noted that other courts have rejected certification of even narrower proposed collective or class actions.
Take-away: Don’t be greedy folks! Judge Illston’s ruling is part a growing number of decisions that have concluded that just because employees are all listed as exempt and in a generalized way, do similar things or work at similar levels, that simply is not enough for collective or class treatment. The critical inquiry, rather, is what employees do day-to-day.