April 04, 2011

7th Circ. Lets Class Stand In DirectSat OT Action

By Abigail Rubenstein

Law360, New York (March 30, 2011) — The Seventh Circuit on Tuesday denied a request by DirectSat USA LLC and Unitek USA LLC to review a lower court’s decision to certify a class of satellite installation technicians in an overtime pay dispute.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied DirectSat’s petition for an interlocutory appeal of an order certifying a nationwide Fair Labor Standards Act class as well as three classes bringing state law wage-and-hour claims.

The panel did not provide its reasoning for rejecting the appeal.

DirectSat was hoping to appeal Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin’s decision to certify classes of workers who are accusing DirectSat and its parent company Unitek of forcing them to perform duties off-the-clock and denying them proper overtime compensation.

Judge Crabb certified an FLSA collective action and then divided the FLSA class into three subclasses based on the theory on which the plaintiffs’ were asserting their claims. Of the 4,000 DirectSat technicians notified about the suit, 952 individuals have opted in to the case, according to court documents.

The district court also certified classes to bring claims under state wage laws in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Like the FLSA class, each of these classes was further divided into subclasses in what the court characterized as an effort to “to address defendants’ concerns regarding commonality, typicality and management of the case.”

In its petition to the Seventh Circuit, DirectSat argued that Judge Crabb erred by granting class certification to technicians who did not all share the same claims, saying that the class members were subject to “varying informal practices.” The company claimed that the division of the plaintiffs into subclasses exacerbated rather than alleviated the problem.

The company further alleged in its petition that certifying the state law classes four months before the scheduled trial date increased the size of the case from the three named plaintiffs to 3,000 individuals, substantially upping the pressure on the company to consider settling.

The lawsuit was initially filed in October 2009 by Aaron Espenscheid a nonexempt, hourly employee responsible for installing, upgrading and servicing DirecTV equipment in Wisconsin. Two other named plaintiffs were later added to the suit to bring the Pennsylvania and Minnesota claims.

Espenscheid’s case is one of a string of lawsuits filed by technicians accusing the company, which provides installation service to DirecTV at approximately 24 locations across the country, of wage-and-hour violations.

Judges William J. Bauer, Richard A. Posner and John Daniel Tinder sat on the panel for the Seventh Circuit.

The plaintiffs are represented by Gingras Cates & Wachs’ Michael Luebke and Robert Gingras as well as Axley Brynelson LLP’s Michael Modl and Timothy Edwards.

DirectSat was represented in its appeal bid by Miguel Estrada and Scott P. Martin of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Eric J. Bronstein, John P. Elliott, Colin D. Dougherty and Gregory S. Voshell of Elliott Greenleaf.

The case is Espenscheid et al. v. DirectSat USA LLC et al., case number 3:09-cv-00625, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

–Editing by Jonathan Jacobson.

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