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Feb. 10, 2015

Second Circuit Ruling Is a Win for New York State Applebee’s Workers, Will Help Workers and Consumers Nationwide

Statement of Scott Michelman, Attorney, Public Citizen

Note: Today, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court erred in refusing to allow a wage-and-hour lawsuit, Roach v. T.L. Cannon Corp., to proceed as a class action. The Second Circuit said that the lower court improperly interpreted a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding what is needed to satisfy the criteria for certifying a case as a class action.

Today’s decision is a significant win for thousands of New York state Applebee’s workers at dozens of restaurants, whose case – in which they seek back pay for hours they maintain were shaved off their time cards and for state-mandated wages they were denied – may now be considered for class-action status.

The decision also is a victory for workers and consumers throughout the country who seek to vindicate their rights through class actions but may be prevented from doing so by the type of narrow approach to class-action standards that the Second Circuit today rejected.

In the Applebee’s case, the lower court had ruled that if damages must be calculated on an individual basis, a lawsuit can’t be certified as a class action. This ruling was based on a misreading of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Comcast v. Behrend decision.

Had the lower court’s interpretation prevailed, it would have been virtually impossible to certify most wage-and-hour class actions – and consumer class-actions – because people who take companies to court often suffer different amounts of damages. In the Applebee’s case, it would have meant that only the four individual plaintiffs – instead of thousands of Applebee’s workers – could pursue their case against the defendant company, a franchise operator that runs more than 50 Applebee’s restaurants in New York.

In ruling that the lower court erred in denying class-action status, the Second Circuit today joined six other circuits in holding that Comcast does not require every victim in a lawsuit to suffer the same damages for the case to be certifiable as a class action.

The case will now return to the district court, which will decide under the proper standards whether to certify the class.

Thomas & Solomon LLP of Rochester, N.Y., and O’Hara, O’Connell & Ciotoli of Fayetteville, N.Y., are trial counsel for the plaintiffs and co-counsel on appeal.

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