A group of supply chain workers can bring an Illinois Minimum Wage Law claim as a class action against C.H. Robinson for alleged unpaid overtime wages, a federal judge ruled this week.
Although U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzman allowed the workers to bring the state wage claims as a class, he did not decide on the question of whether the workers were exempt from receiving overtime wages, under the Federal Labor Standards Act and the Illinois wage law.
“While the [c]ourt’s observations about the putative class members’ tasks touch on the merits of [the employer’s] administrative-exemption defense, the [c]ourt emphasizes that it is not, at this time, ruling on the issue of what the [workers’] primary duty is or whether it qualifies for the administrative exemption.
“The [c]ourt is simply concluding that such a determination is a common issue of law under Rule 23 that can be resolved with respect to the putative class members,” Guzman wrote in his opinion issued Tuesday.
In his seven-page opinion, Guzman found the plaintiffs satisfied the required elements to be certified as a class, under the Rules 23(a) and 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which includes numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy.
Patrick J. Cowlin, one of the attorneys representing Taryn Dietrich and a certified class of C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. employees, said he agrees with the court’s ruling.
“We believe the court’s ruling certifying the class is a win for the hard-working class members and all workers seeking to pursue their claims collectively against powerful and large employers. Working people are stronger in numbers. The decision also affirms that there are often common issues in wage and hour cases that make them quite appropriate for class certification,” said Cowlin, of Potter Bolaños LLC, in an email.
Dietrich and the certified class are also represented by Jamie S. Franklin, the Franklin Law Firm LLC, and Robin B. Potter and Maria De Las Nieves Bolaños, who are both of Potter Bolaños.
From June 2013 to June 2017, Dietrich worked at freight forwarder C.H. Robinson in Chicago, where she served in different account manager roles “to assist in providing logistical services, including booking loads of freight, with motor carriers across the country,” according to Guzman’s opinion.
In December 2018, Dietrich filed an amended complaint alleging violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act and Illinois Minimum Wage Law.
According to the complaint, Dietrich and the putative class carried out duties that were “limited to taking customer orders, providing quotes, matching customers with carriers, entering orders into the computerized systems, using said systems to schedule pickup and delivery and monitoring shipments.”
“These job duties do not constitute an overtime exempt position, nor did they constitute ‘management’ positions, despite the title,” the amended complaint states.
Dietrich also sued her employer for individual claims of discrimination, retaliation and constructive discharge.
In June 2019, Guzman conditionally certified the collective-action claim under the federal labor law. In his order this week, Guzman ruled that Dietrich’s Illinois wage claim could continue as a class action, finding that her claim satisfied the required elements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Guzman also rejected the company’s argument that Dietrich’s wage misclassification claims were an afterthought to her individual discrimination and retaliation claims.
“Any concern that the evidence regarding [Dietrich’s] personal claim will overshadow the [Illinois Minimum Wage Law] claim, confuse the jury or prejudice class members can be addressed by conducting separate trials,” his opinion states.
Guzman acknowledges in his decision the potential for “some confusion,” by allowing “an FLSA collective-action claim, which requires opting in, alongside a Rule 23 class action, which requires opting out.”
But Guzman found that “appropriate clarifying language in the class notice that specifically addresses this issue should alleviate or eliminate potential confusion.”
C.H. Robinson is represented by Christina M. Janice, Gerald L. Maatman Jr., Michael L. DeMarino and Andrew D. Welker, all from Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Maatman declined a request for comment.
This case is Taryn Dietrich v. C. H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc., No. 18 C 47871.