Interesting Class-Action Decision from the First Circuit

Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affrimed a class-action judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in Matmaros v. Starbucks Corp., Nos. 12-1189 and 12-1207. The plaintiffs were Starbucks baristas who claimed that, under a Massachusetts wage law known as the Tips Act, they did not have to share the cash in tips jars with their supervisors. The district court certified a class and entered a large money judgment for the plaintiffs. On the merits, the First Circuit affirmed, in a long analysis of the text and purpose of the Tips Act. The First Circuit affirmed the class certification, too, and many of our readers may find that worth reading. Here's an excerpt:

We do not gainsay that the class, as certified, is not monolithic; it embodies a potential for conflict. But perfect symmetry of interest is not required and not every discrepancy among the interests of class members renders a putative class action untenable. "Only conflicts that are fundamental to the suit and that go to the heart of the litigation prevent a plaintiff from meeting the Rule 23(a)(4) adequacy requirement." 1 William B. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions § 3:58 (5th ed. 2012). Put another way, to forestall class certification the intra-class conflict must be so substantial as to overbalance the common interests of the class members as a whole. See, e.g., In re NASDAQ Mkt.-Makers Antitrust Litig., 169 F.R.D. 493, 514-15 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). We think that the district court acted within the realm of its discretion in determining that there was no intractable conflict here. A barista-turned-shift supervisor will only be considered a member of the class (and entitled to damages) for the period during which she was a barista. She will share in the awarded class-wide damages for that period. And inasmuch as shift supervisors are not named as defendants, a barista-turned-shift supervisor will not be required to reimburse any funds that she may have received from the tips pools after she was promoted. Last but not least, if a barista-turned-shift supervisor is uncomfortable with the attack launched by the plaintiff class on Starbucks' tips policy, she — like every other class member — has the right to opt out of the class. The availability of this option is an important factor in weighing the effect of a largely hypothetical conflict on a class-certification decision. See Smilow v. Sw. Bell Mobile Sys., Inc., 323 F.3d 32, 43 (1st Cir. 2003).

The plaintiffs were represented by class-action wage-and-hour expert Shannon Liss-Riordan.

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