On April 11, 2007, two individuals, both store managers of Dollar Tree Stores, filed a class action on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated against Dollar Tree in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, alleging that they were improperly classified as exempt managers and denied wages for overtime. On August 06, 2007, another Plaintiff filed a substantially similar class action in California Superior Court, which Dollar Tree then removed to the same District Court (Runnings v. Dollar Tree Stores, Case #: 3:07−cv−04012−SC). Judge Samuel Conti is assigned to both cases. On August 30, 2007, the Court signed a Related Case Order after finding that the two cases were similar. On November 20, 2007, the Court signed a Joint Stipulation and Proposed Order for Consolidation of Actions signed by counsels for the parties. The Cruz case is designated as the leading case.
In their First Amended Complaint filed on July 27, 2007, Plaintiffs in the Cruz case claimed that the class members were harmed because Defendant illegally designated them as exempt employees and denied them overtime wages in violation of the California Labor Code and the Fair Labor Standard Act. For the violations, Plaintiffs asked the Court for damages, injunctive relief and restitution.
On January 19, 2008, Dollar Tree filed Motions for Summary Judgment in both actions. On July 08, 2008, in an unpublished order, the Court found that triable issues of fact remain as to whether Plaintiffs' employment positions with Dollar Tree are exempt under both the California Labor Code and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Therefore, Dollar Tree's Motions for Summary Judgment were denied.
On March 25, 2009, Plaintiffs moved for an order certifying the following class: "All persons who were employed by Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. as California retail Store Managers at any time on or after December 12, 2004." Starting the class period from December 12, 2004, ensures that any eventual awards to Dollar Tree Store Managers ("SMs") in this case will not overlap with the awards that resulted from a previous settlement. Plaintiffs alleged the class consisted of at least 655 members. Defendant contended that the number was likely to be less, and that there were currently 273 SMs in California.
On May 26, 2009, in an unpublished order ("the Original Certification Order"), the Court certified a class of "all persons who were employed by Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. as California retail Store Managers at any time on or after December 12, 2004, and on or before May 26, 2009," and appointed Plaintiffs as class representatives. The class consisted of 718 store managers ("SMs") who worked in 273 retail locations.
On June 18, 2010, in the wake of two Ninth Circuit decisions regarding employment class actions -- In re Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Overtime Pay Litigation, 571 F.3d 953 (9th Cir. 2009) ("Wells Fargo I"), and Vinole v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 571 F.3d 935 (9th Cir. 2009) -- Dollar Tree moved for decertification, arguing that changes in the law made continued class treatment inappropriate. On September 9, 2010, in a published order ("the Partial Decertification Order"), the Court granted in part and denied in part Dollar Tree's motion for decertification.
As explained in the Original Certification Order and the Partial Decertification Order, Dollar Tree requires its SMs to complete weekly payroll certifications indicating whether they spent more than fifty percent of their actual work time each week performing seventeen listed duties that Dollar Tree believes to be "managerial" in nature. The certification form states that SMs "may not spend more than a total of 35% of his/her actual work time each week receiving product, distributing and storing product, stocking product and cashiering." Each SM must certify "yes" if he or she spent the majority of his or her time performing the seventeen duties and "no" if he or she did not. The payroll certification form further states that if the SM responds no, "s/he must immediately provide an explanation to both Payroll and Human Resources. No salary or wage will be withheld because of non-compliance." The form provides a space for SMs to write an explanation.
In its Partial Decertification Order, after reviewing the Ninth Circuit's decisions in Wells Fargo I and Vinole and examining subsequent District Court reactions, the Court decided that, with a modification of the class definition, this case could proceed as a class action. The Court held that Dollar Tree's payroll certifications provided common proof of how SMs were spending their time. The Court reasoned that this common proof -- which was lacking in other cases2 where classes were decertified after Vinole and Wells Fargo I -- would obviate the need for much individual testimony from SMs concerning how they spent their time. Id. However, the Court narrowed the class to include only those SMs who certified "no" on a payroll certification form at least once during the class period. The Court reasoned that, in order to prove liability with regard to the SMs who always certified "yes," Plaintiffs would need to show that these SMs were not truthful when completing their payroll certifications. Such credibility determinations would require individualized inquiries that would overwhelm the common issues in the case. By narrowing the class, the Court sought to avoid this problem.
The Partial Decertification Order resulted in a class consisting of 273 members and defined as "all persons who were employed by Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. as California retail store managers at any time on or after December 12, 2004, and on or before May 26, 2009, and who responded 'no' at least once on Dollar Tree's weekly payroll certifications." The class definition has not been altered further.
The Court subsequently reviewed motions from Plaintiffs and Defendant addressing trial management issues, reviewed and denied a motion for reconsideration of the Partial Decertification Order filed by Plaintiffs, and held a May 27, 2011 hearing to discuss trial management issues. These developments, along with the Ninth Circuit's decision in Marlo v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 639 F.3d 942 (9th Cir. Apr. 28, 2011) ("Marlo II"), made the Court increasingly concerned that individualized issues will predominate over classwide issues if this case proceeds to trial as a class action. The Court thus decided to entertain further briefing from the parties regarding the propriety of continued class treatment.
The Supreme Court's recent decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (June 20, 2011), has since heightened the Court's concerns. Having considered the parties' briefings, recent developments in the case, and recent developments in the law of class actions, on July 08. 2011, the Court found that continued class treatment was not appropriate in this case and decertified the class.Xin Chen - 07/30/2011