Class of Paralegals Certified to Sue Firm

     HOUSTON (CN) - A federal judge has conditionally certified a class of paralegals who demand overtime pay from the Texas law firm that negotiated a huge insurance settlement for hurricane victims.
     Lead plaintiff Sherri Davis says the Mostyn Law Firm denied overtime pay to paralegals who worked more than 40 hours in a week, as mandated by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
     Texas Monthly included the law firm's founder, Steve Mostyn, as one of the most influential people determining the fate of Texas in 2011. The article states that "Mostyn, who made his fortune representing home-owners devastated by Hurricane Rita (2005) and Ike (2008), contributed nearly $10 million to Democratic causes in the 2010 election cycle."
     The Texas Windstorm Insurance Association ultimately settled Hurricane Ike claims for $189 million.
     In addition to its two Houston locations, the Mostyn Law Firm has offices in Austin, Galveston and Beaumont.
     Davis says that she often worked more than 70 hours a week for the firm in Houston during her employment as a paralegal from June 2007 to February 2009, yet she only received a salary that covered 40 hours per week.
     Carlos Alvarado, who joined the federal class action as a plaintiff after it was filed in August 2011, reported a similar experience. He says he didn't receive overtime pay, despite putting in more than 50 hours a week as a paralegal for the firm from July 2009 to June 2010.
     U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison on Thursday granted certification for a class of current and former salaried paralegals who worked at the firm but did not receive time-and-a-half pay for hours worked in excess of 40 per week going back to Aug. 3, 2008.
     Though Davis and Alvarado have not worked for Mostyn in over a year, Ellison rejected claims that they are disconnected from paralegals employed more recently by the firm.
     "Plaintiffs assert that they worked with, knew of, and conversed with other salaried paralegals who worked more than forty hours per week and were also denied overtime pay," Ellison wrote. "Davis also contends that she spoke with office manager, Margaret McCoy, who informed her that no salaried employee received overtime pay. With these declarations, plaintiffs have established that there is a reasonable basis to believe other aggrieved individuals exist."
     Mostyn also claimed that class members were not similarly situated because of variations in job duties, titles and locations, but Ellison disagreed.
     "The court finds that plaintiffs have shown a reasonable basis that others will join the lawsuit because additional plaintiffs have joined the lawsuit since its inception, in conjunction with the fact that plaintiffs have named other paralegals who worked overtime without being paid at an overtime rate," Ellison wrote.
     Mostyn did persuade the court to narrow the class definition in two aspects. "The court agrees that notice should not issue as to 'legal assistants,' as plaintiffs nowhere provide a basis for assuming that they are similarly situated to legal assistants, or indeed even describe the job duties of legal assistants," Ellison wrote. "The court also believes that the proposed class should be limited to salaried paralegals only. Plaintiffs have not advanced sufficient evidence to show there is a reasonable basis for believing that they are similarly situated to non-salaried paralegals."