Trial Management Concerns Prevail in Denying FLSA Conditional Certification

By: Laura Reathaford

January 28, 2016

In Steger v. Life Time Fitness, Inc., 14-CV-6056 (N.D. Ill.), the plaintiffs filed a nationwide putative collective action under the FLSA claiming that Life Time had a uniform, unofficial policy of pressuring employees to work off the clock and that Life Time uniformly misclassified the class members as exempt from overtime.  They moved for conditional certification seeking to represent Personal Trainers, Pilates Instructors, Dietary Technicians, and other similar positions within the Personal Training department.  The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied the motion.

The plaintiffs argued that even though the company had a uniform policy to pay for all hours worked and required employees to accurately report their hours, Life Time had an “unwritten, de facto policy of intimidating and pressuring employees to work off the clock.” In denying certification, the court found that some department heads directly instructed trainers to underreport their hours but other department heads did not and thus, some personal trainers did not misreport their hours. Therefore, the court found that the pressure that each employee felt to work off the clock depended on his or her location and department head at the particular moment, among other things. This would require a highly individualized analysis to determine the extent to which each employee worked off the clock and whether that conduct was attributable to Life Time.

The plaintiffs also alleged that they were misclassified because most of their time was spent on regimented duties. The court similarly held that how the trainers spent their time varied by position, location, manager, and timing. Thus, an individualized determination of each employee’s duties would be required and certification would be inappropriate.

Importantly, the trial court recognized that a decision on conditional certification should turn on whether a trial can be efficiently managed. The Court recognized that there was no “identifiable nexus that binds the potential claims of the putative class such that hearing the claims collectively would promote fairness and judicial efficiency.”  Instead, the highly individualized inquiries substantially eliminated the judicial efficiency typically attained through collective treatment.