On April 11, 2007, two individuals, both store managers of Dollar Tree Stores, filed this class action lawsuit against Dollar Tree in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs alleged that they were improperly classified as exempt managers and denied wages for overtime. On August 6, 2007, another plaintiff filed a substantially similar class action in California Superior Court, which Dollar Tree then removed to the same federal district court (Runnings v. Dollar Tree Stores
, Case No. 3:07−cv−04012−SC). U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti was assigned to both cases. On August 30, 2007, Judge Conti 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, the 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, the 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 On July 8, 2008, in an unpublished order, the court found that triable issues of fact remain as to whether the plaintiffs' employment positions with Dollar Tree are exempt under both the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, the 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. The plaintiffs alleged the class consisted of at least 655 members. Dollar Tree 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On May 26, 2009, in an unpublished order ("the Original Certification Order"), the court certified a class of "all persons who were employed by Dollar Tree Stores, Inc. as California retail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 of the class, 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 required 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 stated 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 was required to 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 stated 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 provided 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 examining subsequent district court reactions, Judge Conti 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 cases 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.
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," the 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.
Judge Conti subsequently reviewed motions from the plaintiffs and Dollar Tree addressing trial management issues, reviewed and denied a motion for reconsideration of the Partial Decertification Order filed by the 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. 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.
After the Supreme Court's decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes
, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (June 20, 2011), on July 8, 2011, Judge Conti found that continued class treatment was not appropriate in this case and decertified the class. After the decertification of the class, many of the plaintiffs' other motions and claims unraveled quickly. The court first dismissed their bifurcation and first pre-trial motion, and then their claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act. On December 9, 2011, the parties jointly moved to voluntary dismiss the case. The court agreed and dismissed the case with prejudice.Xin Chen - 07/30/2011
Megan Brown - 11/07/2016