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Ward v. Hat World, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

November 29, 2017

MATTHEW WARD, on behalf of himself individually and on behalf of other similarly situated current or former employees, Plaintiff,
HAT WORLD, INC., Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Conditional Collective Action Certification and to facilitate notice pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) filed by Plaintiff Matthew Ward (“Ward”) (Filing No. 43). Ward previously was employed by Defendant Hat World, Inc. (“Hat World”) as a regional loss prevention investigator (“RLPI”). As a salaried employee, he often worked more than forty hours per week, yet Hat World failed to pay him any overtime wages for hours worked in excess of forty hours. Because he was not paid overtime wages, Ward initiated this lawsuit against Hat World under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and under similar state law provisions. He asks the Court to conditionally certify a collective action for the FLSA claim and permit notice to potential plaintiffs who similarly have worked or are working for Hat World as RLPIs and who have not been paid for overtime work. Also before the Court is Ward's Request for Oral Argument on his Motion. (Filing No. 45) For the following reasons, the Court grants Ward's Motion for conditional certification and denies the request for a hearing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Hat World is a Minnesota corporation that operates a retail business out of Indianapolis, Indiana. It has more than 1, 000 mall-based, airport, street-level, and factory outlet locations throughout the United States and Canada. Hat World operates businesses such as Lids, Lids Locker Room, and Lids Clubhouse, which sell sporting teams' apparel, accessories, novelties, and headwear. Individual stores are organized into districts, and districts are organized into regions. Regional loss prevention investigators work at the regional level (Filing No. 12 at 5, 8).

         At any given time, Hat World employs approximately sixteen to twenty RLPIs throughout North America. Ward was employed as an RLPI for Hat World from October 2013 to September 2016. His job interview was held in Seattle, Washington and he was interviewed by two individuals based out of Indiana and Ohio. After receiving a job offer, Ward trained with another RLPI in Florida. His initial work assignment as an RLPI covered the region of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Western Canada, and Northern California (Filing No. 13 at 1-2).

         Hat World's “job description” document, describes the typical work that Ward and other RLPIs performed (Filing No. 13 at 11). An RLPI counts inventory at the stores within that RLPI's region, which is tedious, repetitive physical work, involving manually counting every item in a store. An RLPI also conducts investigations regarding lost inventory and performs inspection work to detect losses of assets. RLPIs also report and communicate their findings from their investigations and inspections to management. They provide recommendations and assistance to the stores within their region (Filing No. 13 at 3-6).

         Ward regularly worked more than forty hours in a week, but Hat World never compensated him with overtime wages. He has talked with other RLPIs who experienced similar long work hours without overtime compensation. Id. at 7. In addition to his own declaration, Ward also provides declarations from John Watson and Adam Heidenreich, who were also RLPIs for Hat World. Their declarations similarly describe their experience of regularly working more than forty hours in a week but not receiving overtime wages. They also affirm that Ward's description of the duties of RLPIs is accurate (Filing No. 14; Filing No. 15).

         Hat World describes the role of its RLPIs in this manner:

The primary function of the RLPI is the effective implementation of Hat World's program for loss prevention and shortage control in the stores assigned to his or her respective Loss Prevention Region (“LP Region”).
This function requires RLPIs to analyze inventory results, allocate store Loss Prevention resources to successfully reduce inventory shortage, focus prevention activities on high shortage stores, develop complementary store-specific programs to meet or exceed the store's shortage goals, identify paperwork control weaknesses and implement procedures to correct them, conduct audits for compliance and ensure store follow-up on price accuracy initiatives, review cash discrepancies, identify cash registers with unacceptable shortages, regularly review loss prevention exception reports for signs of dishonesty, interview loss prevention candidates, conduct and supervise training store personnel on loss prevention, provide direction for store personnel that relates to the functional areas of personnel management and human resources, train store personnel regarding emergency procedures, robbery, fire, and other emergencies, guide store management in conducting investigations, training, and addressing shortage related issues, develop store associate awareness and support programs, promote customer approach programs that ensure employees know how to approach customers in a way that is legal and appropriate, determine what internal investigations to pursue and when to conduct interviews, interrogate suspects and obtain confessions, ascertain prosecutable cases, take appropriate legal steps with respect to shoplifters, including apprehensions of suspects and the filing of police reports, select appropriate steps to address the problem of inventory shortage and pursuing the selected course of action by comparing and evaluating possible courses of conduct, and testifying as a witness on behalf of Hat World. RLPIs also consult with and provide expert advice to store management with regard to all of the foregoing.
Earning a minimum weekly salary in excess of $455 per week, RLPIs work independently to audit scores of retail locations within one of 16 assigned LP Regions. RLPIs plan and coordinate their own travel for each store audit and/or investigation, and they communicate all of their itineraries with the stores in their region.
RLPIs provide critical support to the management of Hat World's business, not only in identifying costs attributable to fraud, theft, and/or poor inventory controls, but also in developing fraud detection solutions to prevent future loss. RLPIs coordinate the timing of audits, investigations and training programs with District Sales Managers (“DSMs”) and partner with DSMs to discuss follow up actions necessary to address issues revealed during audits and investigations.

(Filing No. 50 at 3-5 (citations omitted)).

         Hat World provides declarations from Todd Campbell (its director of loss prevention) and Peter Hammer, Jeremy Nerbonne, and Greg Passamonti (RLPIs), who describe the work, role, and authority of Hat World's RLPIs. Their descriptions align with the description noted ...

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