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Rosales v. Equinox Holdings, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 19, 2019

STEPHANIE ROSALES, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUINOX HOLDINGS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JANE J..BOYLE UMTED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Conditional Certification of FLSA Collective Action and for Issuance of Notice. Doc. 25, Mot. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion as described below.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         This is a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) case brought by Stephanie Rosales, on behalf of herself and all other similarly situated employees, against Equinox Holdings, Inc., her former employer. Rosales, a personal trainer and former employee at the gym Equinox, seeks unpaid wages for off-the-clock and overtime work. Doc. 1, Compl., ¶ 2.

         As part of her suit to recover unpaid wages, Rosales now seeks conditional certification. Specifically, she seeks nationwide certification for a class of personal trainers who allegedly were paid in violation of the FLSA. Doc. 34, Rosales's Reply, 9. Equinox maintains 93 gyms across the United States, and additional gyms internationally. Doc. 31, Equinox's App., 153 (Laird Decl.), ¶ 4. In Dallas, there are two gyms-one in Highland Park and one in Preston Hollow. Rosales worked at the Highland Park location from approximately March 2017 through December 2017. Doc. 1, Compl., ¶ 17; Doc. 25-7, Ex. G. She visited the Preston Hollow location for an initial group interview and for occasional employee training, but did not work at that location. Doc. 31, Equinox's App., 14 at 10:21-25 & 56 at 52:1-53:12 (Rosales Dep.).

         Rosales filed suit on February 13, 2018. Since then, two opt-in plaintiffs have consented to join in Rosales's suit: Kendall Harper and Guy Seaman. Doc. 15, Notice of Consent. Like Rosales, Seaman also worked at the Highland Park location and only once visited the Preston Hollow location for an employee training class. Doc. 31, Equinox's App., 131 at 50:1-17 (Seaman Dep.). Harper, another personal trainer, submitted a form notice of consent, but it is unclear where he worked. Doc. 25-5, Ex. E (Harper Decl.). Together, they allege that Equinox has a policy of demanding off-the-clock hours, and a compensation scheme that does not comply with FLSA's overtime requirements. Doc. 25, Mot., 1.

         Some discovery was conducted before Rosales filed her Motion for Conditional Certification on February 28, 2019. Depositions of both Rosales and Seaman have been taken, and documents have been produced by both sides, a number of which Equinox attached to its response to Rosales's motion. See Doc. 30, Equinox's Resp., 12 (describing discovery already conducted). Rosales replied on April 11, 2019; thus the motion is ripe for review.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Section 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).

         The 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., Ecoquij-Tzep v. Hawaiian Grill, 2017 WL 2672328, at *2 (N.D. Tex. June 21, 2017).

         Under 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 her individual claims. Id. at 1213-14.

         At the notice stage, a 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.

         Courts 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. For example, 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., 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.”).

         III. ...


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