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Harp v. Bran Hospitality Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

June 27, 2018

TRAMINE C. HARP and SHANTOYA HILL, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRAN HOSPITALITY, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR CONDITIONAL CLASS CERTIFICATION AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO AMEND AS MOOT

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“FLSA”), during their employment as housekeepers at Defendant Bran Hospitality, Inc.'s Hampton Inn hotel. Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend Complaint and for Conditional Certification [Doc. 16], wherein Plaintiffs seek conditional class certification and to add several entities co-owned and co-managed by Bran Hospitality's management as defendants to this action. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Plaintiffs' request in part.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint [Doc. 7] and the parties' briefs and are assumed to be true for the limited purpose of ruling on the instant motion. Throughout 2017, Defendant Bran Hospitality employed Plaintiffs as housekeepers at a Hampton Inn hotel in Americus, Georgia. [Doc. 7 at ¶ 8]. During that time, Defendant allegedly paid Plaintiffs $3.65 per room cleaned-what Bran Hospitality refers to as a “piece-rate” system-rather than on an hourly basis. [Id. at ¶¶ 10, 13; Doc. 24 at 2]. Upon receiving his first paycheck, Plaintiff Harp allegedly informed Bran Hospitality management that his pay did not reflect the actual number of hours he worked. [Doc. 7 at ¶ 9]. Plaintiff Harp received three more paychecks and complained each time that his checks were incorrect. [Id. at ¶ 13]. After he complained the fourth time, Bran Hospitality terminated Harp's employment. [Id.]

         In their Amended Complaint [Doc. 7], Plaintiffs seek to institute a collective action against Bran Hospitality for compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and attorney's fees as a result of several alleged FLSA violations. Specifically, Plaintiffs jointly allege causes of action for minimum wage and overtime pay violations, and Plaintiff Harp individually asserts a cause of action for retaliation.

         In order to facilitate the institution of a collective action, Plaintiffs now move for “conditional class certification, ” which would allow Plaintiffs to give potential plaintiffs notice of the lawsuit and an opportunity to join. Bran Hospitality does not oppose Plaintiffs' request to give notice to Bran's present and former employees. [Doc. 24 at 7]. Instead, the crux of the present dispute is whether the class of potential plaintiffs should include employees of five additional entities, each of which is commonly owned and managed by Bran Hospitality management, shares a principal place of business and registered agent with Bran Hospitality, and allegedly shares “the common unlawful practice” Bran Hospitality is accused of committing in this case. [Doc. 16 at 2-4]. Plaintiffs also request that, in the event they are permitted to give notice to these other entities' (hereinafter the “Bran Entities”) employees, the Court also allow them to add the Bran Entities as defendants to this action.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), the court should freely grant leave to amended when justice so requires. However, the court may deny leave if the amendment would be overly prejudicial against the non-moving party or if the reason for amending is futile. Burger King Corp. v. Weaver, 169 F.3d 1310, 1318 (11th Cir. 1999). Additionally, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 21, the court may, on its own discretion and at any time, add or drop parties.

         B. FLSA Conditional Certification

         FLSA provides a right of action to the “employee or employees” affected by their employer's FLSA violations. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Such an action may be brought by “any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.” Id. Plaintiffs seeking to join a collective action under this provision must affirmatively opt into the action by providing the Court with their written consent. Id. To facilitate this opt-in mechanism, district courts “have the power to give . . . notice to other potential members of the plaintiff class” and may exercise that power “under appropriate conditions.” Dybach v. State of Fla. Dep't of Corr., 942 F.2d 1562, 1567 (11th Cir. 1991). These conditions are satisfied upon a showing that there are “other employees of the [employer]” who desire to join the action and that those other employees are “similarly situated with respect to their job requirements and with regard to their pay provisions.” Id. at 1567-68 (internal quotations omitted). This is known as the “notice stage” and is subject to a “fairly lenient standard” since the Court's decision is based only on the complaint and accompanying affidavits rather than hard evidence. Hipp v. Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1218 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Mooney v. Aramco Servs. Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1213-14 (5th Cir. 1995)).

         After the notice stage and subsequent discovery, the Court enters the “decertification stage” and considers the similarly situated question in more depth, using evidence obtained by the parties in discovery. Id. If the Court determines that the opt-in plaintiffs are not actually similarly situated to the named plaintiffs, the Court decertifies the class, dismisses the opt-in plaintiffs without prejudice, and allows the named plaintiffs to proceed to trial on their individual claims. Id.

         As an initial matter, Defendant Bran Hospitality makes no objection to conditional certification as to its own housekeepers, but does object to Plaintiffs amending their complaint to add the other Bran Entities as defendants and to allowing the other entities' housekeepers to receive notice of this action. Therefore, the remainder of the Court's analysis pertains only to conditional certification as it relates to employees of the other Bran Entities.

         1. Simil ...


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