Federal judge cans class-action status in Comcast tech pay case

Dan Churney Jun. 12, 2015, 9:00am

A federal judge and Comcast have found themselves on the same wavelength on whether differing categories of Comcast technicians should be allowed to participate in a class action over whether Comcast shorted the technicians on their pay.

Comcast, one of the largest providers of cable television, high-speed internet and landline telephone service in the U.S., employs a large number of technicians, a portion of whom fall into two categories: those who drive a Comcast vehicle from home to work assignments, known as “home dispatch,” and those who drive Comcast vehicles home at night, but drive in the morning to a reporting location before going to an assignment. These are called “home garage.” The remaining technicians do not drive a company vehicle home.

In February 2012, three former Comcast technicians filed a class action complaint in federal court in Chicago, saying Comcast violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. The plaintiffs were based at Comcast’s South Chicago facility on 112th Street.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed Comcast failed to pay technicians for time technicians spent before the start of their shifts reviewing the upcoming day’s tasks and conducting required safety checks of their vehicles and, at the end of the workday, for unloading and securing their vehicles. Further, technicians often worked during unpaid lunch breaks. In the end, plaintiffs alleged technicians were not paid for an average of about 30 minutes of work each day.

Plaintiffs were granted conditional class action status, without objection from Comcast, in October 2012 for 74 more technicians from the South Chicago facility, who had opted into the suit. Conditional status was bestowed to facilitate the procedural matters of discovery and giving notice. Plaintiffs then moved to include in the suit all technicians, amounting to several thousand, who worked for Comcast in Illinois during a period of several years, based on three categories of allegedly unpaid compensation - work before shift, after shift and during lunch breaks.

After the case matured, Comcast moved to deny class action status, arguing plaintiffs did not meet the more exacting requirements of a case at that stage.

U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman looked at motions filed by both sides and ruled in favor of Comcast.

Holderman pointed out plaintiffs had to provide evidence the number of technicians in each compensation class was so large, it was practical for the case to be a class action suit. However, no numbers were given for the “home dispatch” and “home garage” technicians falling into the pre-shift and post-shift categories. Plaintiffs did estimate the lunch break category involved 3,000 technicians, but not all of these 3,000 were “home dispatch” or “home garage” technicians, so the 3,000-technician estimate could not be taken to represent the pre- and post-shift technicians.

This was rendered moot, however, by plaintiffs’ failure to meet the second requirement in all three classes – that the three classes of technicians allegedly suffered the same injury.

Holderman found the plaintiffs fell far short of the mark, writing, “It is difficult to unearth from the briefs what, precisely, plaintiffs believe to be the questions of law or fact common to the class (or classes),” and “Plaintiffs have failed to identify a common practice or policy of instructing technicians to work before their shift starts, during lunch, or after their shift ends.”

As a result, Holderman dismissed the claims of the 74 plaintiffs who opted into the suit, as well as any unnamed class action members. Holderman concluded by again urging the parties to work toward a settlement. He set a status hearing for Thursday, June 18.

Holderman, who is retiring from the bench, was replaced as judge in the case by U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall.



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