In a class and collective action against a national home
healthcare company, a federal district court recently denied class
certification of the plaintiffs' state law misclassification
claims, finding the claims were too individualized and that
proceeding as a class action would render the case
Rindfleisch v. Gentiva Health Services, Inc., five former home
healthcare clinicians brought claims on behalf of a class of
thousands of registered nurses, physical therapists, and
occupational therapists for alleged violations of the federal Fair
Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act
(NCWHA), asserting they were misclassified as exempt employees and
therefore denied overtime compensation for hours worked over 40 in
In January 2012, the plaintiffs filed a motion for certification
of the NCWHA claims. In order to satisfy the requirements for class
certification of state law claims, plaintiffs must show that
"questions of law or fact common to class members predominate
over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a
class action is superior to other available methods of fairly and
efficiently adjudicating the controversy." In this case, the
plaintiffs argued that representative testimony could be used to
establish the hours worked by potential class members to support
their claims for unpaid overtime. The judge disagreed, finding the
plaintiffs had not provided support for their argument that
representative testimony can be used to prove the class members
worked more than 40 hours per week because, among other things, the
employers' time records showed there were substantial
variations in the clinicians' work hours. Thus, the judge
stated, "[t]he representative testimony of some small fraction
of the clinicians can quickly lose its character as generalized
proof, and open the door to individualized inquiries into each
class member's hours that will overwhelm the class
In addition, the judge found that the plaintiffs did not provide
sufficient support for their argument that a class action is the
superior method for litigating the claims at issue. Significantly,
in considering the issue of superiority, the court emphasized the
importance of considering the manageability of the case as a class
action. In determining that the case would be unmanageable as a
class action, the judge again relied on the plaintiffs'
inability to support their claims through representative testimony.
Because of the variability in the hours the plaintiffs worked, the
court concluded that to establish both liability and damages it
"may have to resort to 'mini trials' that will create
'staggering problems of logistics' that could render th[e]
This decision is interesting because in denying class
certification, instead of focusing on the misclassification issue,
the court focused on the lack of common proof of liability and
damages for overtime hours worked in the event the plaintiffs were
found to be non-exempt. The decision also demonstrates the
importance of conducting a thorough investigation of potential
overtime claims and of adopting mechanisms and policies to
accurately record hours worked.
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A recently publicized settlement with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services highlights that it is not only important to have a HIPAA-compliant form of business associate agreement, but also to train staff to identify and carefully analyze when a BAA is required.
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