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Wlotkowski v. Michigan Bell Telephone Co.

April 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Nancy G. Edmunds


This matter is brought by eleven named Plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated Michigan employees of Defendant Michigan Bell Telephone Company ("Michigan Bell") that hold or held the job title of "Manager, Outside Plant Planning Engineering and Design" (hereinafter "Outside Plant Engineers"). The eleven named Plaintiffs are joined by sixty current and former Outside Plant Engineers as opt-in Plaintiffs (collectively "Plaintiffs"). All allege that Defendant violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq, by misclassifying them as exempt employees prior to May 16, 2009. Their lawsuit was spurred by Defendant's collective reclassification of all its Outside Plant Engineers on May 16, 2009 from exempt employees to non-exempt, hourly, and overtime-eligible employees. Plaintiffs seek to recover damages permitted by the FLSA, including unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. Plaintiffs filed this FLSA action against Defendant Michigan Bell on May 18, 2009.*fn1

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion asking the Court to conditionally certify the proposed class, as permitted under Section 216(b) of the FLSA, for purposes of notice and discovery; to approve the proposed notice and reminder notice to putative collective class members; and to require Defendant to produce a list, in Microsoft Excel format, of certain information pertaining to all persons employed by Defendant Michigan Bell as Outside Plant Engineers within the past three years and up to May 16, 2009; and to authorize a ninety-day notice period for putative plaintiffs to join this FLSA case. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED.

I. Facts

A. Parties

The eleven named Plaintiffs have all worked for Defendant Michigan Bell as Outside Plant Engineers within the last three years. (Pls.' Ex. B, Decl. of named Plaintiffs.) All of the named Plaintiffs are currently employed by Defendant as Outside Plant Engineers except for Plaintiff Maryann Sligay, who retired in February 2008. (Id.) These Plaintiffs work or worked at Defendant's Livonia or Mt. Clemens offices. (Id.) On average, they have worked for Defendant or its predecessor companies for more than 26 years. (Selander Decl. ¶ 7.) Another sixty current or former Outside Plant Engineers have joined this litigation by filing their written consent with the Court. (Id. at ¶ 8.) These opt-in Plaintiffs worked for Defendant or its predecessor companies for an average of 25 years. (Id. at ¶ 9.) They work or worked in Defendant's Grand Rapids, Pontiac, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Flint, Saginaw, Ann Arbor, Howell, East Lansing, Traverse City, Livonia or Mt. Clemens offices. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

Defendant Michigan Bell is a Michigan corporation with its principal place of business in Detroit, Michigan. It provides customers with local, long distance and wireless telephone service. It also provides digital television and internet services. (Dolega Decl. at ¶ 4.)

Defendant Michigan Bell employs Outside Plant Engineers in at least twelve Michigan locations. (Pls.' Ex. B, Declarations; Ex. C, Def.'s Interrog. Resp. Nos. 3, 6.) Defendant collectively classified all Outside Plant Engineers as exempt before May 16, 2009 and collectively reclassified all Outside Plant Engineers as non-exempt employees on May 16, 2009, making them hourly employees and eligible for overtime payments. (Pls.' Ex. D, Def.'s Admission Nos. 1 and 2.) Plaintiffs' job duties have not changed since the May 16, 2009 reclassification. (Dolega Dep. at 27; Cicilian Dep. at 14-15.) Defendant admits that "during the three year period preceding May 16, 200, there were workweeks in which the named Plaintiffs worked more than forty (40) hours." (Pls.' Ex. D, Def.'s Admission No. 3.) Defendant asserts that the administrative exemption applies to all Plaintiffs because each is employed in a job where the "primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of Defendant and Defendant's customers" and the "primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance." (Pls.' Ex. C, Def.'s Interrog. Resp. No. 5.)

B. Plaintiffs' Supporting Testimony and Declarations

In support of their motion, Plaintiffs submit the Declarations of 35 named and opt-in Plaintiffs. (Pls.' Ex. B.) Despite being called Outside Plant Engineers, Plaintiffs are not engineers. They are not required to have an engineering degree or any other specialized training or education. (Id., Decl. of Plaintiffs Burden, Dohm-Beiser, and Hurl.) They are not licensed by the State of Michigan as professional engineers. (Dolega Dep. at 85.) As Plaintiff Shellie Ann Domalski explained, "we're more clerical people, not engineers per se as an engineer is known in the real world, but that is our title at AT&T." (Domalski Dep. at 21.)

Defendant's employees that share the job title of "Manager, Outside Plant Planning Engineering and Design" hold one of four positions: Design Engineer, Planner, Right of Way Engineer ("ROW Engineer"), or Loop Electronics Engineer ("LECs"). (Def.'s Br. at 2.) Plaintiff Shellie Ann Domalski, who holds the position of Design Engineer, testified that although these positions have "different functions," this did not mean that she, as a Design Engineer, could not "walk over and do a planner's job." (Domalski Dep. at 21.) In fact, she testified that, "I have done that when they're on vacation. So I know what they do." (Id.) She also testified that she "could step into a planner's shoes at a moment's notice," and could "perform the right of way engineer job" as well. (Id. at 22.)

Plaintiffs' supporting Declarations similarly aver the following about the position of Outside Plant Engineer at Defendant Michigan Bell.

The primary job duty of Plaintiff Outside Plant Engineers is to draw up specifications or plans which workers then use to place telephone and data cables in the appropriate locations so that Michigan Bell's customers have adequate service. (Pls.' Ex. B, Decl. ¶ 7.) Their work is largely governed by standards and technical specifications over which they have no control. It is their responsibility to apply these specifications to a given situation using predetermined guidelines and rules. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff Outside Plant Engineers work alongside each other on a daily basis. They attend training alongside other Outside Plant Engineers from various Michigan locations. When standing or moving around their offices at Michigan Bell, they can see other Outside Plant Engineers who are also present and working in the office. They frequently consult each other about their work. "Based on this," Plaintiff Outside Plant ...

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