A federal judge in Chicago will not grant class certification in a wage-hour dispute between an aviation services contractor and airport workers at O’Hare who said they were forced to work off the clock.
People who worked for Air Check, Inc., at O’Hare International Airport, said the company required employees to work before and after their scheduled shifts, as well as to perform unpaid work during breaks. They alleged Air Check had a policy of adjusting punch-in and punch-out times to conform with even hours or scheduled shift times, potentially depriving workers of overtime pay to which they were entitled under the law.
In an opinion issued June 21, U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan considered the workers’ motion to be certified as a class under the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act, noting commonality requirements demand plaintiffs must show more than suffering a violation of the same law from the same defendant.
Air Check argued class certification was improper because the employees in question had different jobs and were subject to different policies. Among the groups were workers who drive vehicles to empty airplane waste, a group given specialized training, and other workers who are responsible for clearing the bridge that connects airplanes to the terminal gate. Some of the ramp workers also check for objects on the tarmac, empty garbage cans, remove snow, pull weeds and mow grass.
Those two groups, Air Check indicated, have different supervisors and supervisory command structures, different pre- and post-shift tasks and different break times and meal periods.
“Even among the ramp workers there are differences in the tasks by those working in hangars and those not working in hangars,” Der-Yeghiayan wrote. “Evaluating the alleged work that plaintiffs claim was performed without pay for each group would require an inquiry into a diverse set of facts that would not be consistent with the commonality requirement.”
The plaintiffs argued questions of common law to proposed class members predominated over any questions affecting only individual workers, but Der-Yeghiayan said the court must consider if the efficiency of a class action is superior to individual lawsuits.
This argument failed along similar grounds, Der-Yeghiayan wrote, because of the broad disparities among the employees who would be covered. The distinctions are so significant, he explained, even subclasses would not effectively address the diversity of claims that would encompass each individual class member.
Ultimately, while the judge said “it is conceivable that among the array of categories of workers and alleged misconduct presented in this case, there might potentially lurk an appropriate class,” he noted the argument that all should be lumped together because they were not paid for all the work they performed essentially suggested a class could be construed to encompass “virtually all violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, IMWL and IWPCA by an employer.
“While it might be advantageous for plaintiffs to use the class mechanism to obtain a one-stop clearing house for all overtime claims that could be brought against an employer within the limitations period, such an approach is not consistent with the goals of Rule 23,” the judge said.
In denying the motion, Der-Yeghiayan wrote that “a jury would likely be confused by the myriad of permutations needed to be employed to divide up the class members and there would need to be such an individualized inquiry in this case that all efficiency that might be gained by the use of the class mechanism would be lost.”
Plaintiffs in the case are represented by attorney Jeffrey Grant Brown, of Chicago, and attorneys from the firm of Glen J. Dunn & Associates, of Chicago.
Air Check is defended by the firm of Chuhak & Tecson P.C., of Chicago.