A federal judge has broken up a class action involving hundreds of airport janitors who had accused a cleaning contractor of shorting them pay, as the judge said the only thing the janitors truly had in common is that they all worked at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

In an opinion entered May 23 in Chicago, Judge Robert W. Gettleman granted the motion of Scrub, Inc., to decertify a class of employees who alleged violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Other named defendants included Teresa Kaminska, Scrub’s vice president of operations, and Mark Rathke, its general manager.

O'Hare International Airport
O'Hare International Airport

On April 27, 2015, plaintiffs Doris M. Solsol and Yoli Sandra Rodriguez Diaz earned conditional certification for their class of Scrub employees who worked at O’Hare as far back as Oct. 24, 2010, to press their wage claims against Scrub. 

According to court documents, Scrub’s O’Hare workers fell into three categories: contracted with the city to clean domestic terminals; contracted with individual airlines to clean gates and other areas; and contracted with airlines to clean airplane cabins. Other Scrub employees load trucks with airplane supplies.

Since the conditional certification, more than 750 employees had opted into the class. There are at least 13 Scrub time clocks throughout the airport, court documents said, but some Scrub employees who work outside terminals don’t have access and instead call a supervisor to report arriving for and departing from work. Supervisors then complete payroll input sheets.

Solsol and Diaz said Kaminska taught supervisors to record on the payroll sheets only scheduled hours, and only to note if the employee arrives late or leaves early — not if they log more hours than scheduled. Further, they said supervisors underpay employees by rounding to the nearest quarter hour whenever a worker arrives late or leaves early. Finally, they alleged the company deducted 30 minutes from each employee’s time card to account for a meal break, even when they’re ordered to return to duty during the break.

In granting the company’s motion to decertify, Gettleman noted the only common thread among opt-in plaintiffs was working at O’Hare.

“…Whether they are similarly situated is, at the very least, called into question by the enormity of the airport combined with the disparate locations where they worked,” the judge said.

Further, the employees had a wide variety of schedules, including all three shifts, and reported to different offices depending on assigned duties.

“Within those varying offices, opt-in plaintiffs reported to more than 40 different supervisors,” Gettleman continued. “Each supervisor oversaw several different crews that ranged in size from a few employees to 20 or more, each of which was directed by a ‘lead.’”

He further explained a lack of uniformity among what employees said about their start-of-shift procedures — some said supervisors required them to work 15 minutes before their scheduled start time, some said it took five or 10 minutes to gather supplies and others said they only needed a minute to get ready for work.

Variance of claims regarding the unpaid meal break was “equally drastic and somewhat dependent on which position each opt-in plaintiff held,” Gettleman noted, adding, “some janitors claim to have lost five minutes of their break approximately three days a week, some claim to have lost 20 minutes of their break one day a week, some claim to have lost three to five minutes before and after every meal break, some claim to have lost a total of 10 to 15 minutes of each break, and many others simply claim to have lost ‘part’ of their break. Other janitors do not claim to have lost any time walking to and from the break room because they were allowed to take their meal break in their work area. Still others claim to have never taken a meal break because they had too much work to do.”

Scrub also argued decertification would be appropriate because its defenses would “require individual application to each opt-in plaintiff,” saying some employees in the opt-in group actually were overpaid. Gettleman agreed, noting the plaintiffs failed to offer evidence showing all class members were subject to a common employer policy.

The class action plaintiffs were represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Glen Dunn & Associates Ltd., of Chicago, and Jeffrey Grant Brown P.C., of Chicago.

Scrub Inc. was defended by attorneys with the firm of Chuhak & Tecson P.C., of Chicago.

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Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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