Syrja v. Westat Inc., Civil No. PJM 09–1956.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtPETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.
Citation756 F.Supp.2d 682
PartiesSteven R. SYRJA, Plaintiffv.WESTAT, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil No. PJM 09–1956.
Decision Date02 November 2010

756 F.Supp.2d 682

Steven R. SYRJA, Plaintiff
WESTAT, INC., Defendant.

Civil No. PJM 09–1956.

United States District Court, D. Maryland.

Nov. 2, 2010.

[756 F.Supp.2d 683]

Joyce E. Smithey, Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan and Silver, LLC, Annapolis, MD, Dean R. Fuchs, Schulten, Ward and Turner, LLP, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiff.Todd James Horn, Venable LLP, Baltimore, MD, for Defendant.

PETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.

Steven Syrja has sued his former employer, Westat, Inc. (“Westat”), alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law. With respect to his FLSA claim, Syrja has also filed a Motion for Conditional Class Certification [Paper No. 14], in which, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), he asks the Court to conditionally certify a class of current and former Westat employees who were allegedly denied compensation for hours worked in excess of 40 in a given work week. Westat opposes the Motion.

For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Syrja's Motion for Conditional Class Certification [Paper No. 14], as well as his Supplement to Motion for Conditional Class Certification [Paper No. 23].


For present purposes, the facts are taken to be 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 (“CDC”) 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

[756 F.Supp.2d 684]

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” 1—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. To administer the data collection process, Westat establishes temporary offices in specified geographic locations, usually for a period of eight to ten weeks. Each such location is referred to as a “stand,” and each stand is typically staffed by a study manager, a field manager, an office manager, an assistant office manager, a facilities specialist, and several field interviewers. When the data collection process for a given stand is complete, that stand's field personnel travel to the next designated stand and reestablish temporary offices to begin the data collection process anew. Each year, the NHANES project collects data from approximately 15 stands throughout the country, with three stands typically operating simultaneously at any given time.

Westat's NHANES field interviewers work at the stands 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 stands 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 stands and receive per diem allowances to cover expenses for meals and incidentals.

After arriving at a stand, 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 work schedules. Although they are obliged to report to their respective stand 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

[756 F.Supp.2d 685]

as few as 20 households in a stand, others as many as 100. The variations depend upon the geography of the stand, the resulting time travel required, the preferences of the stand'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 stands 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 study manager for approval. Once the timesheet is approved, the study manager delivers the timesheet to Westat's payroll department for processing.

Putative class representative Syrja worked as a Westat field interviewer on the NHANES project from January 2005 to January 2008. In his Second Amended Complaint [Paper No. 39], he alleges that, while at Westat, he regularly worked more than 40 hours in a given week, but that Westat never compensated him for his overtime hours at his regular rate of pay or at a premium overtime wage rate. The reason, Syrja says, is because Westat personnel explicitly directed him not to report more than 40 hours in a given work week, irrespective of the number of hours he actually worked. He further maintains, both in his Second Amended Complaint and in his Motion for Conditional Class Certification, that numerous other Westat field interviewers were similarly denied overtime compensation and were similarly directed not to report more than 40 hours on a weekly time sheet, irrespective of the number of hours they actually worked.

Adding to the complexity of this case is Syrja's acknowledgment that not only did he never record more than 40 hours on a weekly timesheet; 2 he also never maintained separate records of the number of hours he actually worked.3 Indeed, there is no indication that any of the field interviewers who did not report more than 40 work hours per week ever maintained separate records of the excess hours that they purportedly worked. 4 These considerations are clearly problematic. The determination of liability in this case—as well as the calculation of damages, should the Court or a jury ultimately find in favor of Syrja—would require a complex reconstruction not only of Syrja's work hours, but also of those of each member of the proposed class.

While Westat concedes that its field interviewers are “non-exempt” employees who would otherwise be entitled to overtime compensation under the FLSA, it denies that it ever failed to compensate field interviewers for overtime hours or directed them not to report hours worked in excess of 40 in a given week. Indeed, Westat asserts that, much to the contrary, its express policy is to pay its employees

[756 F.Supp.2d 686]

for all overtime hours worked, at 1.5 times the normal rate of pay, even when overtime hours are not approved in advance as required by company rules.5


Under the FLSA, a plaintiff may bring an action on behalf of himself and other employees, provided that the other employees are “similarly situated” to the plaintiff: “An action to recover the liability prescribed in [this subsection] may be maintained against any employer ... in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employees similarly situated.29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (emphasis added). In deciding whether to certify a collective action under the FLSA, courts generally follow a two-stage process. In the first stage,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
112 cases
  • Adedje v. Westat, Inc., 0620
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • September 6, 2013
    ...BACKGROUND 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 Dist......
  • Gionfriddo v. Jason Zink Llc, Civil Action No. RDB–09–1733.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • March 11, 2011 a defendant's filing of a motion to decertify, and is often referred to as the “decertification stage.” See Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682, 686, 1956 WL 95230, at *3 (D.Md. Nov. 2, 2010). Generally, plaintiffs bear the burden of showing that their claims are “similarly situated......
  • Dorsey v. TGT Consulting, LLC, Civil No. CCB–10–92.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • August 20, 2012
    ...deciding whether to certify a collective action under the FLSA, courts generally follow a two-stage process.” Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F.Supp.2d 682, 686 (D.Md.2010). The first stage, called the “notice stage,” generally occurs before much, if any, discovery has taken place. At this time,......
  • Rivera v. Mo's Fisherman Exch., Inc., Civil Action No. ELH-15-1427
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • May 1, 2018
    ...conditional collective action certification and court-facilitated notice are left to the court's discretion." Syrja v. Westat, Inc., 756 F. Supp. 2d 682, 686 (D. Md. 2010). Generally, when assessing whether to certify a collective action pursuant to the FLSA, district courts in this circuit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT