District court rules on attempted wage class action by ex La Buca waiter who worked there for three weeks

By Charmaine Little | Nov 9, 2018

U.S. District Court Judge Mark A. Kearney  

PHILADELPHIA - On Oct. 26, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a former restaurant worker’s motion for conditional certification for his colleagues to opt into his federal law claim against Ristorante La Buca Inc.

At the same time, the court denied plaintiff Nicholas J. Wright’s motion to certify a Pennsylvania wage class of at most 22 restaurant workers with unknown wage losses who have already been required to opt in to the federal wage claim and be represented by the same lawyer. The court said it ruled this way since Wright failed to show joinder of each worker’s common Pennsylvania wage claims as impracticable.

Wright sued for wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment Collection law after he worked for the restaurant for only three weeks.

The court first provisionally green-lighted a collective class under federal law. Ristorante La Buca didn’t challenge this motion. Still, the court also denied Wright’s certification of a class for his wage claims. The court pointed out that “just because a wage case involves several similar claims brought by persons in similar jobs does not automatically require a class action.” The court said it couldn’t grant this order without discovering Wright fulfilled the requirements of Rule 23. 

The only factor that Ristorante La Buca contested was that the 22 workers who lived in the area can be joined into the case where the lawyer for the act will back them and judicial economy won’t be aided by class treatment. The court determined Wright didn’t properly show the propriety of certifying a class of employees with Pennsylvania state law wage claims by a preponderance of the evidence.

The court added the proposed class doesn’t fulfill the impracticability of joinder requirement, at least not in its present state. It also pointed that while Wright said his class is at least 22 people who were tipped from 2015 until his deposition, the maximum size of the class only shows the employees who received payment per shift. The list is only used as a starting point and doesn’t indicate how much the class will grow.

It also added the court doesn’t have enough evidence on the ability and motivation of workers to join the suit, such as financial resources, before it suggested it doesn’t have to identify and name any future claimants. There are also other factors Wright left out such as the location of his coworkers (the court only knows that seven still work in Philadelphia), the size of the individual claims, and pointed out that Wright only wants damages, not injunctive relief. Considering this, his lawsuit won’t benefit any Ristorante La Buca workers in the future.

Justice Mark Kearney ruled on the case.

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