Mazariegos v. Pan 4 Am., LLC

Decision Date28 October 2021
Docket NumberDLB-20-2275
PartiesAIZAR MAZARIEGOS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. PAN 4 AMERICA, LLC, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

AIZAR MAZARIEGOS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.

PAN 4 AMERICA, LLC, et al., Defendants.

No. DLB-20-2275

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 28, 2021


MEMORANDUM OPINION

Deborah L. Boardman United States District Judge

Plaintiffs Aizar Mazariegos, Ana Cecilia Ayala, and Carlos Alonso filed this lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated individuals against their former employers, Pan 4 America LLC t/a La Baguette (“Pan 4 America”), Super Pasteles LLC d/b/a La Baguette (“Super Pasteles”), and Un Yong Lee, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (“FLSA”) and related state laws based on the failure to pay overtime wages. ECF 1, 8. Plaintiffs assert the FLSA claims as a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), and they have moved for court-approved notice to potential plaintiffs and conditional certification of the action. ECF 17. Defendants oppose the motion, which has been fully briefed. ECF 17-1, 24, 28. A hearing is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. Because plaintiffs have made a threshold showing that potential plaintiffs are similarly situated employees, their motion for notice to potential plaintiffs and conditional certification is granted.

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I. Factual Background[1]

From 2015 to Spring 2020, plaintiffs Mazariegos, Ayala, and Alonso worked at “La Baguette, ” a bakery in Hyattsville, Maryland. La Baguette bakery is the principal business of defendant Pan 4 America, a Maryland limited liability company organized in 2012, and Super Pasteles, a Maryland limited liability company organized in 2019. Defendant Lee organized both companies and owns and operates La Baguette.

The three plaintiffs performed different roles at the bakery. Mazariegos was the store manager. He supervised approximately 35 hourly employees. His supervisory responsibilities included creating employee schedules, disciplining employees, and handing out paychecks. His other duties included printing images on sugar paper for other employees to transfer onto cakes, taking pictures and videos of La Baguette's products for marketing and menus, and purchasing ingredients and supplies. He also, on occasion, baked and performed other manual tasks. Ayala was a supervisor. She supervised the cashiers and ensured the shelves and display cases at La Baguette were well stocked. When Mazariegos was not working, Ayala was the manager in charge. Ayala also provided La Baguette with Spanish-language media marketing. Alonso was a baker and pastry chef. He typically worked the night shift and was the person in charge of the night shift bakery workers and pastry chefs.

Plaintiffs assert that during the last three years of their employment, from 2017 until Spring 2020, approximately 30 to 40 other employees worked with them at La Baguette. These potential plaintiffs' duties included baking, decorating cakes, creating marketing materials and menus,

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ordering supplies and ingredients, stocking shelves and display cases, servicing customers, receiving food and supply shipments, organizing food and other goods in storage, cleaning, and ringing up sales on the cash register. None of the potential plaintiff s was a m anager or a supervisor.

La Baguette paid the named and potential plaintiffs by the hour. The company regularly directed its employees to work more than 40 hours per week, but it did not pay them one-and-one-half times the employees' hourly rates for the overtime hours. The payment scheme worked as follows. From 2015 until about April 2019, La Baguette paid its employees hourly wages every two weeks, partially in cash and partially by check. For each employee, the check was drawn from Pan 4 America's bank account. The check was usually for 80 hours (40 per week) at the employee's regular hourly rate. The cash payment was for the overtime hours worked. The cash payment compensated the employee at an hourly rate that was slightly higher than the employee's regular hourly rate but always less than one-and-one-half times the regular rate. Beginning in approximately May 2019, La Baguette paid the named and potential plaintiffs their hourly wages with two paychecks issued on the same day, one from Pan 4 America and one from Super Pasteles. The employees no longer received cash for their work. With the Pan 4 America check, La Baguette paid the employees at their regular hourly rate for the first 80 hours they worked in the two-week period (40 per week). With the Super Pasteles check, La Baguette paid the employees for the overtime hours they worked . The hourly wage each employee was paid with the Super Pasteles check was slightly higher than the employee's regular hourly rate but always less than one-and-one-half times that rate.

Plaintiffs seek conditional certification of the collective action on behalf of individuals who: (i) worked for La Baguette during the period August 2017 through the present; (ii) were paid as hourly employees by La Baguette; (iii) in at least one week during the period August 2017

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through the present, worked more than 40 hours; and (iv) were paid by La Baguette for hours worked over 40 hours a week at an hourly rate that was less than one-and-one-half times their regular hourly rate.

II. Discussion

A. The FLSA Collective Action Certification Process

The FLSA generally requires that non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a week receive overtime pay at the rate of one-and-one-half times their regular pay rate. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a); see Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, __ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 1134, 1138 (2018); Wai Man Tom v. Hosp. Ventures LLC, 980 F.3d 1027, 1032 (4th Cir. 2020). Under the FLSA, an employee may file an action against an employer on his or her own behalf and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b); see Simmons v. United Mortg. & Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 757-58 (4th Cir. 2011). The statute establishes an opt-in scheme for “similarly situated” employees whereby they must notify the court of their intention to become a party to the action. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (“No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought.”). If employees choose to pursue a collective action, as is the case here, they may seek court-approved notice to inform similarly situated employees that they may join the litigation. See Hoffman-La Roche, Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 169-70 (1989) (considering § 216(b) in context of ADEA action). “[D]istrict courts have discretion, in appropriate cases, to . . . facilitate[e] notice to potential plaintiffs” and to allow claims to proceed as a collective action. See Camper v. Home Quality Mgmt., Inc., 200 F.R.D. 516, 519 (D. Md. 2000) (quoting Hoffman-La Roche, 493 U.S. at 169); Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682, 686 (D. Md. 2010).

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When assessing whether an FLSA claim should proceed as a collective action, all district courts in this circuit traditionally have employed a two-stage process. See Lancaster v. FQSR, No. TDC-19-2632, 2020 WL 5500227, at *2 (D. Md. Sept. 11, 2020); Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686; Stacy v. Jennmar Corp. of Va., Inc., No. 1:21CV00015, 2021 WL 4787278, at *2 (W.D. Va. Oct. 14, 2021); Mebane v. GKN Driveline N. Am., Inc., 337 F.R.D. 479, 485 (M.D. N.C. 2020); Vazquez-Aguilar v. Gasca, 477 F.Supp.3d 418, 421 (E.D. N.C. 2020); O'Quinn v. TransCanada USA Servs., Inc., 469 F.Supp.3d 591, 604 (S.D. W.Va. 2020); Graham v. Hall's S. Kitchens, LLC, 331 F.R.D. 619, 621 (D.S.C. 2018); Byard v. Verizon W.Va., Inc., 287 F.R.D. 365, 368 (N.D. W.Va. 2012); Long v. CPI Sec. Sys., Inc., 292 F.R.D. 296, 298 (W.D. N.C. 2013); Purdham v. Fairfax Cnty. Pub. Sch., 629 F.Supp.2d 544, 547 (E.D. Va. 2009). In the first stage, usually initiated pre-discovery and often “referred to as the ‘notice stage,' the court makes a ‘threshold determination of whether the plaintiffs have demonstrated that potential plaintiffs “are similarly situated, ” such that court-facilitated notice to putative class members would be appropriate.'” Butler v. DirectSAT USA, LLC, 47 F.Supp.3d 300, 306 (D. Md. 2014) (quoting Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686). If the Court determines the potential plaintiffs are “similarly situated, ” the action is conditionally certified and court-approved notice is sent to potential opt-in plaintiffs. See Id. In the second stage, which typically follows the conclusion of discovery and begins with a motion for decertification, “the court engages in a more stringent inquiry to determine whether the plaintiff class is [in fact] ‘similarly situated' in accordance with the requirements of § 216, and renders a final decision regarding the propriety of proceeding as a collective action.” Syrja, 756 F.Supp.2d at 686 (quoting Rawls v. Augustine Home Health Care, Inc., 244 F.R.D. 298, 300 (D. Md. 2007)).

At the conditional certification stage, the Court conducts a “modest inquiry” and “make[s] a threshold determination whether the class is similarly situated.” Lancaster, 2020 WL 5500227,

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at *2-3. In making that determination, the Court considers whether the plaintiffs and potential plaintiffs had similar job responsibilities and whether they were victims of the same unlawful policy. Blake v. Broadway Servs., Inc., No. CCB-18-86, 2018 WL 4374915, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 13, 2018). The Court may grant conditional certification if there are “substantial allegations that the putative class members were together the victims of a single decision, policy, or plan.” Lancaster, 2020 WL 5500227, at *3 (quoting Thiessen v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 267 F.3d 1095, 1102 (10th Cir. 2001)); see also Montoya v. S.C.C.P. Painting Contractors, Inc., No. CCB-07-455, 2008 WL 554114, at *3 (D. Md. Feb. 26, 2008) (“[I]f all the employees were wrongly treated in the same way, this should be a factor in favor of a similarly...

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