In 2010, employees at Applebee’s restaurants who were not paid wages to which they were entitled under state and federal law sued the company that owned and operated the restaurants for their wages and sought to proceed in a class action. Although the plaintiffs presented evidence that defendants’ uniform policies and practices – such as a policy of docking employees for rest breaks they had not taken – led to the wage law violations, the district court denied class certification in March 2013, ruling that after the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Comcast v. Behrend, a class action cannot be maintained whenever monetary relief must be calculated on an individual basis for each member of the class. On behalf of the plaintiffs, Public Citizen filed a petition for permission to appeal to the Second Circuit in New York in April 2013. The petition argued that the district court’s rule, if accepted, would dramatically reduce the availability of class actions, because there are many types of cases (such as wage-and-hour cases) in which each member of the plaintiff class is entitled to a different amount of damages. And it explained that the district court’s decision conflicted with the long-standing view of the courts of appeals that a class action for damages may sometimes be maintained based on a common theory of liability notwithstanding the need for individualized damages calculations.
The court of appeals accepted the appeal and vacated the order denying class certification. The court agreed with us that the district court had read Comcast too broadly and that the Supreme Court had not imposed a categorical bar to class certification where damages must be calculated on an individual basis. The court directed the district court on remand to reconsider certification, applying the Second Circuit’s longstanding approach – undisturbed by Comcast – that the individuation of damages is just one factor to be considered in the certification inquiry and that class certification may be appropriate even where damages are individualized.