United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
ROBERT STRAKA, Individually, and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
METHODIST DALLAS MEDICAL CENTER AUXILIARY, ET AL., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiff Robert Straka's Motion to
Conditionally Certify Collective Action and Authorize Notice.
Doc. 44. For the following reasons, the Court
GRANTS the motion.
a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime case. From April
2016 to March 2017, Straka worked as a nurse for Defendants
(collectively “Methodist”) in their Dallas
healthcare facility. Doc. 46, Pl.'s App., 9. Like all
Methodist nurses, Straka was entitled to, but not paid for, a
thirty-minute meal break for each six-and-a-half-hour shift
he worked. Doc. 45, Pl.'s Br. in Supp., 1. But nurses do
not clock out for their meal breaks-Methodist keeps track of
their meal breaks for them. Id. How Methodist did so
during Straka's employment varied. Id. at 3-4.
When Straka started, Methodist used the automatic deduction
system, whereby Methodist automatically deducted thirty
minutes from each shift that exceeded six and a half hours.
Id. If nurses worked through a meal break, they
could override the automatic deduction. Doc. 50, Defs.'
Resp., 4. But how nurses did so varied by department.
Id. at 5-7. On October 30, 2016, Methodist replaced
the automatic deduction system with the attestation system.
Id. at 4. Under the attestation system, nurses clock
in and out by phone. Id. Upon calling the assigned
clock-out number, an automated prompt asks the nurse if he is
clocking out for the day. Id. If so, the prompt asks
if the nurse received a full, uninterrupted meal break during
that particular shift. Id. at 5. If the nurse
indicates that he did, thirty minutes are deducted from the
nurse's time when calculating his pay. Id. But
if the nurse did not take a meal break, no time is deducted.
alleges that work-related matters constantly interrupted his
meal breaks. Doc. 45, Pl.'s Br. in Supp., 1. But
Straka's claim is not based on actual
interruptions-Straka claims Methodist violates the FLSA by
not paying its nurses for their meal breaks during which they
are subject to interruption but not actually interrupted.
Doc. 55, Pl.'s Reply, 1-2. Straka asserts that the Court
should grant his motion to conditionally certify because he
is similarly situated with the approximately 4500 nurses in
Methodist's Dallas, Richardson, Charlton, and Mansfield
healthcare facilities who are likewise subject to
interruptions during their unpaid meal breaks. Doc. 45,
Pl.'s Br. in Supp., 1-3. Methodist argues that the
variation across departments is too significant to consider
all of its nurses similarly situated. Doc. 50, Defs.'
Resp., 2. Straka's motion for conditional certification
has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.
216(b) of the FLSA “authorizes a plaintiff to bring a
collective action on behalf of similarly situated persons,
provided that any person who desires to become a part of the
collective action files a written consent in the
court.” Valcho v. Dall. Cty. Hosp. Dist., 574
F.Supp.2d 618, 621 (N.D. Tex. 2008). When a plaintiff seeks
to bring a collective action, district courts have the
discretion to implement § 216(b) by facilitating notice
to potential plaintiffs. Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v.
Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 169 (1989).
FLSA authorizes a plaintiff to bring an action on behalf of
similarly situated persons, but the FLSA does not define
“similarly situated.” And the Fifth Circuit has
declined to adopt any specific test to determine when
plaintiffs are similarly situated. Acevedo v.
Allsup's Convenience Stores, Inc., 600 F.3d 516, 519
n.1 (5th Cir. 2010). But district courts in the Northern
District of Texas have adopted the two-step approach outlined
in Lusardi v. Xerox Corp., 118 F.R.D. 351 (D.N.J.
1987), which consists of a notice stage and a decertification
stage. See, e.g., Oliver v. Aegis Commc'ns
Grp., Inc., No. 3:08-cv-828-K, 2008 WL 7483891, at *2-3
(N.D. Tex. Oct. 30, 2008) (collecting cases).
the Lusardi approach, the first step-the notice
stage-requires a preliminary determination, usually based
only on the pleadings and submitted affidavits, of whether
potential class members are similarly situated to the named
plaintiff. Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d
1207, 1213-14 (5th Cir. 1995). If they are similarly
situated, then the court can conditionally certify the action
and authorize notice to potential plaintiffs to opt in, and
the suit “proceeds as a representative action
throughout discovery.” Id. at 1214. After
discovery is largely complete, the defendant may move for
decertification, at which point the court proceeds to the
second step-the decertification stage-and considers again
whether the plaintiffs are similarly situated. Id.
If the court finds that the plaintiffs who opted in are not
similarly situated with the named plaintiff, then the class
is decertified, the opt-in plaintiffs are dismissed without
prejudice, and the original named plaintiff proceeds to trial
on his individual claims. Id. at 1213-14.
notice stage, the court usually has minimal evidence, so
“the determination is made using a fairly lenient
standard and typically results in conditional certification
of a representative class.” Jones v. SuperMedia
Inc., 281 F.R.D. 282, 287 (N.D. Tex. 2012). Courts
generally “require nothing more than substantial
allegations that the putative class members were together
victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.”
Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1214 n.8. A factual basis,
however, must exist, and a plaintiff must show some
“identifiable facts or legal nexus that binds the
claims so that hearing the cases together promotes judicial
efficiency.” Jones, 281 F.R.D. at 287. In
conducting its analysis, the court has “a
responsibility to avoid the ‘stirring up' of
litigation through unwarranted solicitation.”
Valcho, 574 F.Supp.2d at 622.
do not often engage in the second step-the decertification
process-until after “discovery is largely complete and
the matter is ready for trial. At this stage, the court has
much more information on which to base its decision, and
makes a factual determination on the similarly situated
question.” Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1214. But there
are circumstances in which courts will skip the first,
lenient analysis. If parties have already conducted discovery
on the certification issue, courts have less cause for
leniency during the “notice” phase and may choose
to apply a more stringent standard. Valcho, 574
F.Supp.2d at 622; Basco v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,
No. Civ.A. 00-3184, 2004 WL 1497709, at *4 (E.D. La. July 2,
2004) (“[I]n light of the substantial discovery that
has occurred in this matter, the Court will consider the
criteria for both the first and second steps in deciding
whether it should certify [the] matter.”); Pfohl v.
Farmers Ins. Grp., No. CV03-3080 DT (RCX), 2004 WL
554834, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 1, 2004) (proceeding directly
to the decertification stage because discovery on the issue
of certification was complete).
Conditional Certification Standard
deciding whether the nurses are similarly situated, the Court
first must decide whether to skip the lenient standard and
apply the stringent standard because the parties have
completed some amount of discovery. See Mooney, 54
F.3d at 1214. So far, Straka “has served, and Methodist
responded to, 95 requests for production, 52 requests for
admission, and 21 interrogatories, and Methodist produced 369
pages of documents” over a four-month period. Doc. 50,
Defs.' Resp., 9. Additionally, Straka has taken three
depositions, and Methodist has deposed Straka. Id.
Methodist argues in its response that this amount of
discovery is extensive and warrants applying the more
stringent standard. Id. Methodist contends that
Straka now “‘should be able to better support
[his] claims' and the Court ‘can make an educated
decision as to whether certifying the matter as a collective
action would survive the decertification process.'”
Id. (quoting Parker v. Silverleaf Resorts,
Inc., No. 3:14-CV-2075-B, 2017 WL 1550522, at ...