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Faulkner v. Ensign United States Drilling Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 12, 2019

RICKIE FAULKNER, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,



         This matter comes before the Court on the parties' Stipulated Motion to Approve Settlement [Docket No. 79]. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant is an oilfield services company located in Denver, Colorado that has operations in North Dakota. Docket No. 14 at 2, 5, ¶¶ 3, 12. Plaintiff has worked for defendant as a rig manager in North Dakota. Id. at 6, ¶ 20. Plaintiff claims that rig managers typically worked more than 40 hours each week. Docket No. 1 at 5, ¶ 31. As compensation, plaintiff claims that he and other rig managers were paid a day rate regardless of the number of hours they worked. Docket No. 1 at 3, ¶ 11.[1] Plaintiff alleges that defendant knowingly or recklessly classified him and other rig managers as exempt employees, and therefore not eligible for overtime pay, in order to avoid compensating them for all hours worked. Docket No. 1 at 6, ¶¶ 37, 39. Plaintiff claims that, had rig managers been appropriately classified, they would have been entitled to overtime premium pay. Id. at 6, ¶ 39.

         On December 20, 2016, plaintiff filed this case against defendant, bringing a claim for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and a claim for violation of North Dakota Administrative Code § 46-02-07. Docket No. 1. Plaintiff brings his FLSA claim as a collective action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Id. at 1-2, ¶ 2. Plaintiff alleges that he and defendant's other rig managers are similarly situated because they performed the same or similar work and were subject to the same compensation scheme. Id. at 8-9, ¶¶ 51, 63.

         On January 15, 2018, the parties jointly moved for and stipulated to conditional certification of a collective action. Docket No. 46. The Court granted the motion on February 9, 2018, conditionally certifying a class of

[a]ll current and former rig managers of Ensign United States Drilling Inc. classified as exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for at least one week during the two-year period prior to the date the Court authorizes notice to the present.

Docket No. 52 at 6-7, ¶ 1. The Court further approved plaintiff's proposed Notice of Collective Action. Id., ¶ 2.

         Following receipt of the court-authorized notice, three individuals joined the collective action as opt-in plaintiffs, bringing the total number of members of the putative collective action to four. Docket No. 79 at 4. The parties advised Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix that they had reached a settlement on July 16, 2018. Docket No. 78. On July 31, 2018, the parties jointly moved for a court order approving the settlement agreement and dismissing the matter with prejudice. Docket No. 79.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In a lawsuit brought by employees against their employer to recover back wages under the FLSA, any proposed settlement between the parties must be presented to the court for a determination of whether the settlement is fair and reasonable. Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982). This requirement effectuates the “prime purpose” of the FLSA, which is to “aid the unprotected, unorganized and lowest paid of the nation's working population . . . who lacked sufficient bargaining power to secure for themselves a minimum subsistence wage.” Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 707 n.18 (1945).

         A. Final Class Certification

         The FLSA permits an employee or employees to bring an action “[on] behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Courts apply a two-stage approach to determining whether plaintiffs are “similarly situated” for purposes of FLSA collective action certification. Thiessen v. GE Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1105 (10th Cir. 2001). First, a court makes an initial determination as to whether plaintiffs are similarly situated for purposes of sending notice to putative class members. Id. at 1102. At the “notice” stage, a court applies a fairly lenient standard, requiring only “substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Id. at 1102 (quoting Vaszlavik v. Storage Tech. Corp., 175 F.R.D. 672, 678 (D. Colo. 1997)). After discovery, a court makes a second determination about whether putative class members are similarly situated. See Id. at 1102-03. In deciding whether to certify a collective action at this stage, courts apply a stricter standard and consider several factors, including: “(1) [the] disparate factual and employment settings of the individual plaintiffs; (2) the various defenses available to [the] defendant which appear to be individual to each plaintiff; [and] (3) fairness and procedural considerations.” Id. at 1103 (quoting Vaszlavik, 175 F.R.D. at 678). Final class certification is generally required before a court may approve a collective action settlement. See Whittington v. Taco Bell of Am., Inc., No. 10-cv-01884-KMT-MEH, 2013 WL 6022972, at *2 (D. Colo. Nov. 13, 2013) (quoting Peterson v. Mortg. Sources, Corp., 2011 WL 3793963, at *4 (D. Kan. Aug. 25, 2011)).

         Plaintiff contends that the requirements for final collective action certification are satisfied because (1) opt-in plaintiffs all worked as rig managers for defendant, performing the same job duties and performing the same training; (2) defendant's defenses apply equally to all plaintiffs; and (3) proceeding as a collective action provides a fair and procedurally efficient resolution of plaintiffs' claims. Docket No. 79 at 3. The Court agrees that opt-in plaintiffs are similarly situated for purposes of final certification. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that he and other members of the putative class have similar relevant job duties and pay structure. Docket No. 1 at 8, ¶ 53. These allegations are supported by the common job description offered by the parties, which applies to all rig managers. Docket No. 79 at 3, Docket No. 79-1. Further, Mr. Faulkner and opt-in plaintiff Brent Heim have filed declarations that indicate that their job duties are substantially similar. Docket Nos. 53-2, 53-3. Both plaintiffs state that their primary job duties were performing manual labor at oil well sites for Ensign. See Docket No. 53-2 at 1-2, ¶¶ 4, 6; Docket No. 53-3 at 1-2, ¶¶ 4, 6. They also describe similar work schedules, regularly working 15 to 18 hours a day and over 40 hours in a work week being paid a low salary and a day rate. See Docket No. 53-2 at 2, ¶ 12; Docket No. 53-3 at 2, ¶ 11. Given the similar job responsibilities and pay structure of plaintiffs, defendant's principal defense - that plaintiffs were exempt from overtime pay under the FLSA - applies equally to all members of the putative collective. See Docket No. 79 at 4-5. Finally, fairness and procedural considerations support final certification. Collective actions allow plaintiffs to ...

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