October 10, 2019

A former Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. management trainee asked a federal court to allow her wage dispute to advance as a collective action late Wednesday, saying she’s tackled the burden of showing the trainees were all exposed to the same illegal policy denying overtime pay for toiling more than 40 hours a week.

In a motion for conditional class certification, former management apprentice Carmen Alvarez said that her complaint, Chipotle’s own admissions and declarations of three employees who worked in different states exceeded her “minimum evidentiary burden” of showing she and her fellow workers are similarly situated. The suit alleges that the fast-casual restaurant improperly classified management apprentices as exempt from a U.S. Department of Labor rule raising the salary threshold for overtime pay requirements.

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In her June 2017 complaint, Alvarez claimed Chipotle paid her an annual salary of $43,082 during her employment from December 2015 to March 2017, and she regularly worked about 50 hours a week. She alleged she was classified as exempt from overtime until November 2016, around the time that the DOL implemented a rule raising the salary threshold for overtime exemption to $47,476. At that point, the company switched her and other management apprentices to nonexempt, Alvarez claimed.

However, the apprentices were reverted back to exempt status shortly after because a federal judge in Texas enjoined the DOL from enforcing the rule. Alvarez asserted that the action didn’t invalidate the rule or enjoin private parties from enforcing it.

Alvarez and the firms representing her, Outten & Golden LLP and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, faced a contempt order by the Texas judge, who accused them of disregarding a “duty owed to the court” when they brought the New Jersey action against Chipotle despite the injunction against the DOL rule.

The Fifth Circuit lifted the order in July, saying U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant didn’t have the authority to hold them in contempt absent an express or implied legal relationship between Alvarez and the labor department.

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Alvarez is represented by Joseph M. Sellers and Harini Srinivasan of Cohen Milstein, Glen D. Savits of Green Savits LLC and Justin M. Swartz and Melissa Lardo Stewart of Outten & Golden.

The complete article can be accessed here.