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Varied Testimony Won’t Sink Avis Class Action

(CN) - Avis Budget Rent-A-Car cannot decertify a nationwide class of employees who gave differing testimony in support of their overtime claims, a federal judge ruled.

Frederick Ruffin Jr. and Loretta Donatelli, on behalf of a nationwide class of shift managers and similar employees, sued Avis Budget Car Rental LLC and Avis Rent A Car System LLC in New Jersey on Feb. 24, 2011.

The employees say they performed nonexempt duties for Avis under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), such as cleaning and renting cars, moving them around the parking lot, checking inventory, and/or installing child car seats.

But the nationwide car rental company allegedly misclassified the workers as exempt from the FLSA and "failed to pay them for all hours worked as well as overtime compensation."

The plaintiffs "are or were formerly employed by defendants ... at any time since Feb. 24, 2008 to the entry of judgment in the case," according to the federal complaint.

After the court conditionally certified the collective action, Avis moved to decertify last year, arguing that the plaintiffs are not similarly situated as "different plaintiffs had very different job duties" based on 16 purportedly conflicting deposition testimonies.

Various management duties included interviewing and hiring, coaching employees, scheduling, and handling discipline conflicts and customer complaints, Avis said.

The testimonies also allegedly differed regarding freedom from supervision, time spent performing exempt work, and how the plaintiffs valued certain management tasks.

Workers contended, however, that the defendants exaggerated and mischaracterized the factual differences, as 23 managers testified that "their job duties are fundamentally the same."

Plus, Avis' policies reflect that the training, compensation, and job description for shift managers nationwide is the same, the plaintiffs argued.

The managers "spent the majority of time performing [ ] non-managerial duties and [ ] cannot qualify under the executive exemption of the FLSA because their primary duty is not management," they told the court.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton refused to decertify the class last week, finding that the testimonies' similarities outweigh their "immaterial" disparities.

"Although defendants emphasize differences in testimony with respect to managerial duties, the record shows that plaintiffs 'do not regularly interview, schedule, review performance, train, or make recommendations about employment decisions,'" the unpublished ruling states.

Wigenton later added: "Moreover, to the extent that plaintiffs were engaging in any managerial tasks, it was limited. At bottom, the record reflects that there were not significant differences with respect to plaintiffs' factual and employment settings."

Procedural considerations and fairness also weigh in favor of collective treatment, the judge ruled.

"Because the record testimony indicates similarities among plaintiffs' duties, responsibilities, training, and tasks, a collective action would effectively lower the parties' costs, limit the controversy to one proceeding, and promote judicial efficiency," Wigenton wrote.

The judge also tossed aside "anomalous" accusations from Avis of résumé fraud.

"Here, deposition testimony of plaintiffs and defendants' witnesses demonstrates that plaintiffs performed primarily the same duties, were nearly all given the job title and job description of shift manager, underwent the same training program, and were subject to the same policies-including not being paid overtime wages," Wigenton wrote.

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