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Western District of Kentucky Grants Coal Miners’ Motion for Conditional Certification of Claims Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

by | Apr 21, 2021 | Wage And Hour Claims

Owensboro, KY, April 20, 2021 – The United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting a motion by workers in three coal mines owned and operated by Alliance Coal, LLC and its subsidiaries to conditionally certify their collective action under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Plaintiffs are represented by a team of lawyers from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Kentucky that includes Edelson Lechtzin LLP lawyers Eric Lechtzin and Liberato P. Verderame.

In granting conditional certification, the Court has directed Plaintiffs’ counsel to provide written notification to all members of the FLSA collective, so that they have “an opportunity to opt into the action.” The collective is defined as: “All individuals who work or have worked as coal miners at the Dokiti, Warrior/Cardinal, and River View mines between May 19, 2017 and the present.”

The Amended Complaint alleges that the Alliance Coal Defendants required miners to work off-the-clock before and after their shifts. Specifically, Defendants required mine workers to be “dressed and ready” 15 minutes prior to their shifts and that they spent significant time “donning and doffing” their mining gear and collecting and storing tools and materials before clocking in and after clocking out. In addition, the Alliance Coal Defendants did not include nondiscretionary bonus payments as part of employees’ regular wages, so Plaintiffs’ overtime payments were artificially low.

Under the FLSA, employees who are “similarly situated” to the lead plaintiff may opt-in to the lawsuit by filing a written consent form with the court. Providing notice at the beginning of discovery expedites disposition of the case.

The Alliance Coal Defendants opposed conditional certification and asked the District Court to apply a standard of review used in a controversial recent decision known as Swales v. KLLM Transport Servs., L.L.C., where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit broke from a majority of other Circuit Courts of Appeals by abandoning the widely accepted two-step process for FLSA collective certification.

The District Court declined to follow Swales for several reasons, including factual differences between the cases. Notably, the District Court observed that “the certification issue and merits issue were intertwined in Swales; [but] here, the ‘similarly situated’ question is divorced from the merits.” The Court also stated, “More fundamentally, however, Swales rested on rationale … [that] courts should make a merits decision before alerting prospective opt-in plaintiffs….” While the court in Swales assumed that “opt-in plaintiffs would remain out of the litigation,” the District Court said that this “rationale simply does not apply here,” as more than 90 opt-in plaintiffs had already joined this lawsuit.

The case is Randy Branson, et al. v. Alliance Coal, LLC, et al., Civil Action No. 4:19-CV-00155-JHM (W.D. Kentucky).

If your employer has required you to work off-the-clock, please contact Edelson Lechtzin LLP at 844-696-7492 or send an email inquiry to learn about class action lawsuits and other legal remedies that may correct the wrongdoing by your employer.