Friday, April 27, 2007

S.D.N.Y. Certifies Class in Employment Action, Holding that Individualized Questions Regarding Named Plaintiff's Claim Do Not Bar Certification

Per Iglesias-Mendoza v. La Belle Farm, Inc., 239 F.R.D. 363 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 29, 2007):

Rule 23(a)(4) requires that plaintiffs demonstrate that the proposed action will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. To satisfy this requirement, plaintiffs must show 1) that there is an absence of conflict and antagonistic interests between them and the class members, and 2) that plaintiffs' counsel is qualified, experienced and capable. Vengurlekar v. Silverline Techs., Ltd., 220 F.R.D. 222, 227; see also In re Drexel Burnham Lambert Group, Inc., 960 F.2d 285, 291 (2d Cir.1992).

Defendants contend that plaintiffs fail to satisfy the first of these two prongs on the ground that one of the named plaintiffs, Iglesias-Mendoza, was fired for misconduct, and defendants therefore intend to raise additional defenses against him that they will not raise against other class members.

As discussed above, individualized factual questions concerning the representative's claim will not necessarily bar class certification. A defense unique to the putative class representative will be fatal under Rule 23 only when it threatens to become the focus of the litigation. Baffa v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Sec. Corp., 222 F.3d 52, 59 (2d Cir.2000). Defendants assert, in conclusory fashion, that the defenses they intend to raise against Iglesias-Mendoza amount to a "conflict between plaintiffs and the class members they seek to represent." (Opp. Brief at 23).
I fail to see why the circumstances of Iglesias-Mendoza's termination are relevant to whether he was paid overtime wages or less than the minimum wage during the period while he was employed. Indeed, I am prepared to rule today that such evidence is irrelevant and will not be considered by the court.

As with the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] claims, defendants argue that plaintiffs are inadequate representatives because the resolution of their overtime claims depends on whether they are exempt from coverage under the New York Labor Law. But this affirmative defense does not appear to be unique to the named plaintiffs. It seems to apply (or not apply) to the class as a whole. It is therefore irrelevant to the adequacy of the named plaintiffs' representation of the proposed class.

Nor are plaintiffs inadequate class representatives because Plaintiffs Iglesias-Mendoza and Leyva Garcia initially struggled at their depositions to articulate the legal bases for some of their claims. Rule 23 requires that the named plaintiffs have adequate personal knowledge of the essential facts of the case; the court is satisfied that they do. For the legal underpinnings of their claims, plaintiffs are entitled to rely on the expertise of their counsel. See Cromer Fin. Ltd. v. Berger, 205 F.R.D. 113, 124 (S.D.N.Y.2001).


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