U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Bryant is having a busy week. Today, she released a decision certifying a FLSA class action against Smith & Hawken based on an alleged failure to pay overtime.
In Holbrook v. Smith & Hawken, Ltd., the Plaintiff, a former assistant store manager (ASM) in the Glastonbury, Connecticut store, claimed that she was improperly classified as an exempt employee. She moved for certification of a class under the FLSA and comparable state law.
Notably, Smith & Hawken conceded that all ASMs were subject to the same job description. Smith & Hawken claimed that each store functions autonomously and the sheer number of ASMs and store locations should preclude that finding. The court disagreed. In doing so, the court indicated that the Plaintiff’s claims should proceed as a collective action since she was similarly situated to the other ASMs.
The court need not find uniformity in each and every aspect of employment to determine a class of employees are similarly situated…. The consistent manner in which Smith & Hawken classified its own ASMs is sufficient to carry Holbrook’s burden, even in the presence of minute factual variances in treatment between store locations.
Ultimately, the court defined the class as "individuals employed as ASMs by Smith & Hawken within the three years preceding the date of this order who worked more than forty hours in
any week." According to the Company’s website, there are currently 58 stores in 23 states. The parties have the next two weeks to come up with a plan on how to proceed in this case.
The "Assistant Manager" argument raised by the plaintiff is certainly not new in the context of wage & hour litigation. But the case serves as a additional cautionary tale about classifying "assistant store managers" as exempt employees.