New York Applebee’s workers can join in court to hold their employer accountable

With Public Citizen’s legal representation, Applebee’s workers in New York can pursue their wage-and-hour lawsuit as a class action.

  • 10,000 Number of New York based Applebee’s employees who stood to benefit from a court win.
  • 10 Number of daily working hours after which an hourly employee is entitled to an additional hour of pay under New York state law.
  • 2 Number of years Public Citizen worked to win the case.

In May 2010, five New York state Applebee’s workers sued their employer, alleging that the company violated a state “spread of hours” law requiring employers to pay an extra hour’s pay whenever an employee’s work time spans more than 10 hours in a day, and that Applebee’s managers had changed time records to reflect breaks that its employees didn’t take. The workers sought certification of a class encompassing current and former Applebee’s workers throughout the state, a group estimated to include as many as 10,000 individuals.

In a March 5, 2013 report, a magistrate judge recommended certification of the class action for the spread-of-hours claim.

But on March 29, 2013, two days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Comcast v. Behrend, the district court rejected the recommendation and denied class-action status. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York said that under Comcast, it could not certify a class for which damages would need to be calculated on an individual basis.

In April 2013, Public Citizen, on behalf of Applebee’s workers, petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reconsider, arguing that the district court misread Comcast.

The lower court’s interpretation needed to be reversed not only for the sake of the Appelbee’s workers who filed the suit, but for many other workers as well. Individuals wrongly underpaid in relatively small amounts generally don’t have the resources to sue their employers individually. They need to be able to join together to hold their employers accountable in court. Had the lower court decision stood, then wage-and-hour laws and other protections for workers and consumers could have become prohibitively difficult to enforce.

The Second Circuit heard argument in Roach v. T.L. Cannon Corp., on September 2014. On Feb. 10, 2015, the court ruled that the lower court erred in refusing to allow a wage-and-hour lawsuit to proceed as a class action.

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. Scott Michelman, attorney, Public Citizen

Highlights

  • When a district court denied five New York Applebee’s workers the ability to sue for unpaid wages on behalf of all other state Applebee’s workers, future enforcement of workplace protections was at risk.
  • A district court erroneously cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision when it denied the class action.
  • In February 2015, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the district court and said the lawsuit could be heard as a class action.