Adedje v. Westat, Inc.

Decision Date06 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. 0620,Sept. Term, 2012.,0620
Citation75 A.3d 401,214 Md.App. 1
PartiesJudith ADEDJE v. WESTAT, INC., et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


Joyce E. Smithey (Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, LLC, on the brief), Annapolis, MD, (Dean R. Fuchs, Schulten, Ward & Turner, LLP, on the brief), Atlanta, GA, for Appellant.

Todd J. Horn (Venable, LLP, on the brief) Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: ZARNOCH, HOTTEN and ARRIE W. DAVIS (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.


Following dismissal of a proposed collective action in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, appellant, Judith Adedje, filed a complaint, individually, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County against appellees, Westat, Inc. (“Westat”), Westat's Senior Vice President, Renee Slobasky, Westat's Vice President, Patricia Montalvan, and Westat's Assistant Director of Survey Operations for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys Project, Katrina Apodaca, alleging violations of Maryland's Wage and Hour Law and Wage Payment and Collection Law, regarding unpaid overtime wages.1 Appellees filed a motion to dismiss appellant's complaint, asserting a failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that appellant's claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The circuit court granted appellees' motion. Appellant noted an appeal, and presents two questions for our consideration:

1. Is [a]ppellant's claim for overtime wages under the [Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law] barred by the statute of limitations despite being tolled under class action judicial tolling during [a]ppellant's participation in prior collective action litigation in Syrja v. Westat under the [Fair Labor Standards Act]?

2. Has [a]ppellant stated a claim for overtime wages under the [Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law] in claiming wages which [a]ppellee was required by law to pay [a]ppellant and which [a]ppellee withheld from [a]ppellant during [a]ppellant's employment and upon her termination?

For the reasons outlined below, we answer the first question positively, and we need not address the second question. Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.


The procedural history of appellant's efforts to obtain her alleged overtime wages originated with Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682 (D.Md.2010). On July 27, 2009, the plaintiff-employee, Steven Syrja (“Mr. Syrja”), filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland (Maryland U.S. District Court), maintaining that Westat violated the Family and Medical Leave Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it failed to compensate him for applicable overtime pay. Id. at 683. On August 13, 2009, Mr. Syrja filed an amended complaint, on behalf of himself and all other similarly situated individuals, and further claimed a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Maryland's Wage Payment and Collection Law.2Id.

The Maryland U.S. District Court offered a comprehensive description of Westat and its employees as follows:

Westat is a Rockville, Maryland-based statistical survey research company that collects and analyzes data on various subjects for government agencies, businesses, and foundations. Since the 1980s, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [ ] have engaged Westat to assist with the collection of medical data for its National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (“NHANES”). The NHANES project, which endeavors to provide a statistical snapshot of the baseline health of Americans, requires that annual data be collected at several thousand selected households throughout the country. The data collected through the NHANES project eventually serve as a source for health science study and analysis for federal agencies, universities, and other public and private research entities.

To facilitate the collection of data for NHANES, Westat employs “field interviewers”—also sometimes referred to as “data collectors” [ ]—whose job is to visit households selected by NHANES statisticians to request their participation in the study and to collect information about the background and health of the households' members....

* * *

Westat's NHANES field interviewers work at [specific locations] for approximately 48 weeks each year. They receive two vacation breaks-one in the summer and another in the winter—lasting approximately two weeks each. Given that the interviewers must work at several different [locations] each year, the job requires travel on a full-time basis. The interviewers stay in hotels or apartments in the general vicinity of their assigned [location] and receive per diem allowances to cover expenses for meals and incidentals.

After arriving at a [location], each field interviewer receives materials containing addresses and basic information for households that have been identified as possible candidates for the NHANES study. Each field interviewer travels to each address assigned to him, greets the person who answers the door, and describes the purpose of the NHANES project. The field interviewer then conducts a “household screening,” a process through which he collects demographic data about the people in the household, enters the data in a portable computer, and receives feedback from the computer indicating whether one or more candidates for the NHANES study resides in the household. If at least one such candidate is identified, the field interviewer attempts to persuade the candidate(s) to submit to a comprehensive health interview, to be followed by a medical examination to be conducted by a different group of Westat personnel.

To a significant degree, Westat's NHANES field interviewers set their own schedules. Although they are obliged to report to their respective [ ] offices a few times each week, it is generally up to the interviewers to decide when to begin their work days, decide when to take breaks, determine their own daily and weekly travel itineraries, and decide when to end their respective work days.

The quantity and nature of work assignments among field interviewers vary considerably. Some interviewers are assigned as few as 20 households in a [location], others as many as 100. The variations depend upon the geography of the [location], the resulting time travel required, the preferences of the [location's] managers, and the skill and experience levels of the field interviewers, among other things. The complexity of a given interview also varies from household to household.

Because they generally work alone in the [locations] and largely set their own schedules, the interviewers are responsible for recording and reporting their work hours. To facilitate the reporting process, Westat provides each field interviewer with blank timesheets. On a weekly basis, each field interviewer records his or her work hours on a timesheet and submits the timesheet to his [or her] study manager for approval. Once the timesheet is approved, the study manager delivers the timesheet to Westat's payroll department for processing.

Id. at 683–85.

Appellant, an Alabama resident, was employed as a Westat field interviewer from April 2003 to May 2007. After this position ended, appellant alleged that she too was entitled to overtime wages for working in excess of forty hours per week. On September 15, 2009, in addition to other Westat employees, appellant filed written consent to join the Syrja case, stating, “I hereby consent and agree to opt-in to become a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., to recover unpaid wages and overtime wages from my current/former employer, Westat, Inc. Thereafter, Mr. Syrja filed a motion for conditional class certification relating to his Fair Labor Standards Act claim. Id. The Maryland U.S. District Court determined that:

[T]he adjudication of multiple claims in this case would require the parties, the Court, and perhaps eventually a jury, to engage in an unmanageable assortment of individualized factual inquiries. At a minimum, these inquiries would require an examination of: each individual field interviewer's work assignments; the nature and length of the assignments, his [or her] interactions with his [or her] respective managers; the details of how and when he [or she] was instructed to complete his [or her] timesheets; the notes he [or she] took during his [or her] household screenings; the computer entries he [or she] made during his [or her] household screenings; the policies in place regarding hours to be worked in his [or her] particular [location(s) ]; whether he [or she] was ever authorized to work overtime; and whether he [or she] was in fact compensated or uncompensated for his [or her] overtime hours[.] [ ]

Id. at 688. On November 2, 2010, the Maryland U.S. District Court issued an order that denied Mr. Syrja's motion for conditional class certification. Id. at 690.

On December 2, 2010, appellant and nineteen other Syrja plaintiffs filed a new complaint in the Maryland U.S. District Court, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Maryland's Wage Payment and Collection Law. In response, appellees filed a motion to sever and dismiss. Following a motions hearing, the Maryland U.S. District Court issued another order on September 1, 2011, stating (emphasis in original) (capitalization in original):

1. Defendants' [m]otion to [s]ever and [d]ismiss [ ] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The [m]otion is GRANTED insofar as: (a) the claims of all [the] [p]laintiffs other than Judith Adedje are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE from this suit; to the extent those [p]laintiffs wish to pursue their claims against [d]efendants, they must do so by filing separate lawsuits; and (b) the claims of [p]laintiff Judith Adedje are DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. The [m]otion is DENIED insofar as the Court declines to...

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    ...the very purpose behind Maryland Rule 2-231 —the efficient and timely resolution of class action claims.29 In Adedje v. Westat, Inc. , 214 Md. App. 1, 75 A.3d 401 (2013), the Court of Special Appeals considered the issue and declined to apply cross-jurisdictional class action tolling to an ......
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    ...estoppel's requirement that the defendant act to prevent the plaintiff from filing suit"); see also Adedje v. Westat, Inc., 214 Md. App. 1, 75 A.3d 401, 408 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2013) ("[E]quitable tolling seeks to excuse untimely filing by an individual plaintiff and is generally applicable......
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