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Carrel v. Medpro Group, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

April 26, 2017

GRETCHEN B. CARREL, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated persons, Plaintiff,
v.
MEDPRO GROUP, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         The Plaintiff, Gretchen B. Carrel, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, has brought this class action against the Defendant, MedPro Group, Inc. (MedPro), asserting a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(2). This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Certify Class Action on Plaintiff's FMLA Claim (Pl.'s Mot.) [ECF No. 35]. For reasons stated herein, the Court grants class certification.

         BACKGROUND

         MedPro is a healthcare malpractice insurance corporation headquartered in Allen County, Indiana. (Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 11.) For about 14 years, the Plaintiff worked for MedPro and was subject to MedPro's Paid Time Off (PTO) policy. The policy applicable to the Plaintiff stated, in relevant part:

Those employed on January 1 are entitled to their full PTO accrual for the year based on years of service in that year.
[E]ligible . . . employees may carry over 10 PTO days per calendar year.
Employees that separate employment will be paid accrued PTO only (excluding carryover).

(Kem Decl., ECF No. 42-1.) MedPro also had a policy that whenever an employee took short-term leave, including FMLA leave, the employee could not accrue PTO. (Id.; Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. 2, ECF No. 36.) The Plaintiff asserts that this latter policy violated the FMLA because, each employee was provided PTO at the beginning of the year according to MedPro's PTO policy and thus, this PTO was unlawfully “docked” whenever an employee took FMLA leave. In other words, the Plaintiff argues that the practice of withholding employees' PTO while an employee took FMLA is a violation of the FMLA because PTO was already provided to employees at the beginning of the year, pursuant to the MedPro PTO policy. Because she claims she was docked earned PTO, the Plaintiff further asserts that MedPro failed to pay her unused PTO upon her departure from the Company. (Pl.'s Reply Br. 6, n.1, ECF No. 45.)

         Accordingly, the Plaintiff seeks double damages, costs, and attorney's fees, pursuant to the FMLA. (Compl. ¶ 25.) At issue here, the Plaintiff also asserts that MedPro's PTO and FMLA policies were uniformly applicable across all employees covered by the handbook and thus, numerous MedPro employees were docked PTO. Therefore, the Plaintiff seeks certification of a class related to the claims set forth in her Complaint.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Certification of a class is only proper if the class meets all of the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and one of the requirements of Rule 23(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23; Rosario v. Livaditis, 963 F.2d 1013, 1017 (7th Cir. 1992). Rule 23(a) is satisfied if:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(1)-(4); Kress v. CCA of Tenn., LLC, 694 F.3d 890, 892-93 (7th Cir. 2012).

         If all of these prerequisites are met, the Court must also find that at least one of the subsections of Rule 23(b) is satisfied. As relevant here, Rule 23(b)(3) is satisfied if:

(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy. The matters pertinent to these findings include:
(A) the class members' interests in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions;
(B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already begun by or against class members;
(C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; and
(D) the likely difficulties in managing a class action.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3); Harper v. Sheriff of Cook Cty., 581 F.3d 511, 513 (7th Cir. 2009).

         A plaintiff who fulfills both conditions of Rule 23 is entitled to class certification. See Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs., P.A. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 559 U.S. 393, 398 (2010) (“[Rule 23] creates a categorical rule entitling a plaintiff whose suit meets the specified criteria to pursue his claim as a class action.”). However, Rule 23 “does not set forth a mere pleading standard”; rather, a plaintiff “must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule [and] be prepared to prove” its requirements. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338, 350 (2011). In deciding whether Rule 23 has been satisfied, the district court undertakes “a rigorous analysis” by making the necessary factual and legal inquiries. Id.; Szabo v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc., 249 F.3d 672, 676 (7th Cir. 2001). This analysis may require some overlap with the merits of the Plaintiff's underlying claim. Dukes, 564 U.S. at 351.

         ANALYSIS

         The Plaintiff seeks to certify a class of individuals defined as “all current and former MedPro employees who took FMLA leave at any point since March 29, 2013[.]” (Pl.'s Mot. ¶ 11.) The Plaintiff clarifies that this class should include “only those employees who actually had their PTO docked.” (Pl.'s Reply Br. 2, 5.) The Plaintiff asserts that this class has satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(a)(1)-(4) with respect to numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation, and has also satisfied Rule 23(b)(1)(3). Additionally, the Plaintiff requests that Matthew Elliot of Beckman Lawson, LLP be appointed counsel for the class.

         The Defendant maintains that the Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the Rule 23(a) requirements. Most of the Defendant's challenges derive from the purported lack of uniformity of the Plaintiff's allegations with those of the class and the alleged individualized nature of the claims. For example, the Defendant argues that the Plaintiff's claims do not meet the commonality and typicality requirements because three different employee handbooks governed the time period at issue, while only one handbook was applicable to the Plaintiff, and MedPro employees took different periods of FMLA leave.

         With respect to the Rule 23(b) requirements, the Defendant contends that the Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that there is a common question of law predominating over the class because each employee used up a different amount of PTO during his/her employment. Further, the Defendant argues that whether these employees would have used more PTO is a subjective and individualized analysis inappropriate for class certification.

         A. Rule 23 - Applicability

         In addition to its arguments against class certification pursuant to Rule 23, the Defendant argues that Rule 23 is the wrong mechanism for an FMLA class, contending instead that the alleged class violations of the FMLA must be treated as collective actions. Though the Defendant argues this as an alternative to its argument that the Plaintiff cannot fulfill the Rule 23 requirements, the Court will first examine whether Rule 23 is, in fact, the correct method by which to analyze the remainder of the Plaintiff's Motion because whether Rule 23 applies has the potential to impact the entire analysis.

         The Defendant relies upon a Northern District of Texas case in which the court pointed to the nearly identical statutory language of the FMLA enforcement provision, 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(2), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), to hold that an FMLA claim on behalf of other similarly situated individuals must proceed in the same manner as an FLSA opt-in collective action. Clary v. Sw Airlines, No. 3:07-C-126-P, 2007 WL 4947690, at *1-2 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 17, 2007). Thus, the Clary court held that the Rule 23 class action is inappropriate for FMLA claims. Id. Furthermore, the Defendant quotes the FMLA's legislative history, arguing that the enforcement scheme of the FMLA was intended to be identical to that of the FLSA. Finally, the Defendant notes that courts interpreting the FMLA frequently track FLSA interpretations on employment-law related issues, including anti-retaliation provisions, investigative authority, available relief, and the definition of an employee.

         Although the Defendant is correct that the Seventh Circuit has not weighed in on the applicability of Rule 23 to FMLA actions, courts within the Circuit have analyzed arguments similar, if not identical, to those posed by the Defendant and rejected them. See Butler v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co., No. 06-C-5400, 2008 WL 474367 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 14, 2008); Loy v. Motorola, Inc., No. 03-C-50519, 2004 WL 2967069 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 23, 2004). The courts in Butler and Loy held that class violations of the FMLA must be treated as opt-out actions pursuant to Rule 23 because the statutory language of the FMLA ยง ...


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