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Strauch v. Computer Sciences Corporation

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 18, 2017

JOSEPH STRAUCH and TIMOTHY COLBY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
COMPUTER SCIENCES CORPORATION, Defendant.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DECERTIFY

          JANET BOND ARTERTON, U.S.D.J.

         In this overtime exemption misclassification action, Defendant Computer Sciences Corporation (“CSC”) moves to decertify the certified California subclass of Associate Professional and Professional System Administrators (“SAs”) on the basis of Plaintiff Joseph Strauch's purported inadequacy as a class representative. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion.

         I. Background

         After oral argument held on May 10, 2017, [Doc. # 326, 329], the Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiffs' Motion [Doc. # 323] for Class Certification on June 30, 2017. (Ruling on Mot. for Class Cert. [Doc # 327].) In an Endorsement Order [Doc. # 328] entered on June 30, 2017, the Court instructed Plaintiffs to file an Amended Complaint in conformity with the Court's Ruling on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification by July 10, 2017, with a status report and proposed Revised Scheduling Order due July 14, 2017.

         Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint [Doc. # 330] on July 10, 2017. The Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) retained Plaintiff Joseph Strauch as the only putative representative for the California class, but added new allegations describing how Mr. Strauch was in fact a member of the California class that the Court certified. (Id. ¶ 19, 36.) According to the SAC, Mr. Strauch first worked as a Senior Professional System Administrator until August 2014, but then worked as a Professional Systems Administrator from August 2014 to December 2014. (Id. ¶ 19.) The SAC also alleges that “[e]ven though Mr. Strauch's job title changed, his job duties did not.” (Id.) “In both positions, Mr. Strauch had the primary duties of installing, maintaining, and supporting servers for one of CSC's clients.” (Id.)

         On July 14, 2017, Defendant sought to appeal this Court's Order on Class Certification to the Court of Appeals, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(f). (Petition for Permission to Appeal Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(f) at 1, Strauch v. Computer Sciences Corporation, No. 17-2185 (2d Cir. July 14, 2017)). Defendant asked the Court of Appeals to determine two questions: First, “[w]hether the District Court erred in certifying a class under Rule 23 by creating an impermissible ‘fail-safe' class in order to avoid an Article III standing problem[, ]”and second, “[w]hether the District Court erred in certifying a class under Rule 23 by placing improper weight on the company's uniform job titling program where the record evidence clearly demonstrated wide variation among individuals in the actual job qualifications, characteristics, and duties.” (Id.)[1]

         The Court held a telephonic status conference on July 25, 2017 at which the parties discussed the timing of the appeal, the continuation of Mr. Strauch as the putative class representative in Plaintiffs' SAC, and Defendant's intended motion to decertify. (Transcript July 25, 2017 Status Conf. [Doc. # 349].) Defendant explained to the Court that Defendant had petitioned the Second Circuit for review of the class certification order under Rule 23(f), and suggested that it would be beneficial to “get guidance from the Second Circuit” on the class certification order before proceeding to trial, while conceding that the Court still retains jurisdiction of the case unless and until either this Court or the Court of Appeals orders differently. (Id. at 4-7.)

         At the status conference, Plaintiffs clarified that the reason that they did not replace Mr. Strauch as a proposed California class representative was because Plaintiffs understood the Court's suggestion to do so to be “based on the misunderstanding that [Mr. Strauch] never worked in the position [of Professional SA].” (Id. at 34.) Plaintiffs noted that they had given “an unclear answer at oral argument . . . suggesting that [Mr. Strauch] had only worked as a senior professional.” (Id.) Plaintiffs accordingly “read the order [on Class Certification] to say ‘Because [Mr. Strauch] was only a senior professional and never worked in a class position, obviously you have to replace him so please go ahead.'” (Id.) Plaintiffs clarified that in their SAC their implicit “response was ‘We apologize for creating a misunderstanding, he is a class member; therefore he is an adequate class representative.'” (Id.) The Court expressed its concerns that “this becomes too much of an iterative process” and asked whether “there [is] some way to identify at this point . . . who, if necessary, would be substituted so that we can know whether there's a challenge to that person, or whether that person would . . . be unchallenged as class representative.” (Id. at 35-36.)

         Defendant on August 4, 2017 moved to decertify the California subclass of Associate Professional and Professional System Administrators on the grounds that Mr. Strauch was an inadequate class representative. (Mot. Decertification California Subclass [Doc. # 343].) Defendant's Motion to Decertify advances two primary arguments. First, Defendant asserts that Mr. Strauch is not an adequate class representative for California employees pursuing meal and rest break claims, because he worked from home and does not allege that CSC denied him a meal or rest break. (Id. at 1.) Second, Defendant argues that Mr. Strauch “spent most of his CSC career as a Senior Professional SA” and his job duties did not change “when he became a Professional SA for the last four months of his career.” (Id.) Defendant notes that the Court “held that the Senior Professional subclass lacked [sufficient] commonality and thus could not be certified, because the ‘wide array of tasks [the Senior Professional SAs] perform . . . cannot be readily inferred from common evidence[, ]'” and argues that “[i]f Plaintiffs could not establish commonality as between Strauch and his Senior Professional peers, it follows that they cannot do so as between Strauch and the Professional and Associate Professional SAs he purports to represent.” (Id. at 1-2.) Defendant argues that “[t]hese defenses, unique to Strauch, preclude him from establishing himself as an adequate representative of the California subclass” and the subclass should therefore be decertified. (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiffs, in their Opposition to the Motion to Decertify, first note that they no longer intend to pursue classwide meal and rest break claims for the certified California subclass. (Pls' Opp. Def's Mot. Decertification California Subclass [Doc. # 344 at 2].) Second, Plaintiffs argue that “Mr. Strauch's earlier non-class job title has no bearing on his ability to serve as a class representative for Professional and Associate Professional SAs.” (Id. at 2-3.) According to Plaintiffs, Mr. Strauch “worked in a class position (Professional SA) in California during the class period, and [] has no conflicts with the class, he is [therefore] adequate.” (Id. at 3.) Plaintiffs argue that “the Court did not find that all Senior Professional SAs' duties differ from all class members' duties, nor did the Court find that all (or even any) Senior Professional SAs are exempt.” (Id.)

         In the alternative, Plaintiffs request that if the Court accepts CSC's arguments as to Mr. Strauch, that Plaintiffs be permitted to substitute California subclass member Kay DeLira as a subclass representative. (Id. at 8.)

         In its Reply, Defendant notes that while Plaintiffs clarify that they are not pursuing California meal and rest period claims, “they take no steps to withdraw that claim or amend their prior complaint” and therefore requests that the Court grant Defendant's motion to decertify. (Reply Supp. Def's Mot. Decertification California Subclass [Doc. # 345 at 1].) Second, Defendant argues that Mr. Strauch is not an adequate representative because (1) his job duties did not change when he moved from Senior Professional SA to Professional SA, (2) the Court held that Senior Professional SAs had job duties that were too diverse to determine misclassification on the basis of common evidence, and that therefore (3) even if Mr. Strauch was performing non-exempt job duties, the only way to know this is by relying on an “individualized inquiry into Mr. Strauch's job duties.” (Id. at 1-2.)

         On October 10, 2017, the parties filed a Joint Stipulation and Proposed Order that sought to narrow the scope of issues that Defendant is appealing to the Second Circuit. (Joint Stipulation and Proposed Order [Doc. # 353].) Specifically, Defendant raised two issues on appeal: (1) the question of whether the Court impermissibly solved a standing problem by re-defining the class into a “fail-safe” class, and (2) whether the Court impermissibly certified a class by placing improper weight on Defendant's uniform job titling program. (Id.) The parties requested that the Court adopt a proposed stipulated order that would allow Defendant to withdraw Issue (1) from the scope of its 23(f) appeal to the Second Circuit. (Id.)

         As the parties noted in their joint stipulation, Plaintiffs' Pretrial Memorandum [Doc. # 347] proposed that “any damages awarded at trial be based on the hours of work recorded in CSC's timekeeping systems[.]” (Joint Stipulation and Proposed Order.) The parties requested that the Court adopt this proposed order, as delineated in the Joint Stipulation and Proposed Order, and represented that if the Court adopted the Order, Defendant would notify the Court of Appeals of its withdrawal of Issue (1) in its Rule 23(f) Petition, with an explanation that Defendant continues to seek review of ...


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