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A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has granted collective action status to a lawsuit filed by two Starbucks store managers who claim that they are entitled to overtime pay because they are “glorified baristas” and not true managers. The decision last week by U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra to give the store managers collective action status allows the plaintiff attorneys to begin a search for more claims by Starbucks managers across the country. Collective action cases differ from class action suits in that the eligible plaintiffs are not automatically included in the suit and must opt in to participate. In a class action case, eligible plaintiffs are automatically included, and must opt out of the suit if they do not wish to proceed with their claim. Other Starbucks store managers from Florida, Iowa, Virginia and Connecticut filed affidavits with the court making similar claims. The plaintiffs predict that thousands of Starbucks store managers will join the suit. Last June, Sean Pendlebury and Laurel Overton, two Starbucks store managers in Broward County, Fla., filed the overtime suit under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. They claimed they spent only 10 percent of their time on management duties and that they rarely exercised true discretionary powers in any significant matters. Most of their time was spent making coffee drinks and ringing up sales alongside hourly workers. Robin Cohen, a partner at Shapiro Blasi & Wasserman in Boca Raton, Fla., who is representing Pendlebury and Overton, said the overtime hours of the store mangers varied from week to week, and she would not have an exact number until she obtains the employees’ records. Despite the overtime, Starbucks store managers receive about the same pay as certain hourly employees who are eligible to receive overtime, such as shift supervisors and assistant managers, according to the lawsuit. Federal law allows the managers to collect overtime pay from three years back if the case is decided in their favor. Federal law requires overtime pay of time and a half for nonmanagement employees working over 40 hours. Managers are exempted as long as they make over $455 per week, supervise more than two employees and have input in key staffing decisions. “They have the title of store manager but the job description talks about how their time must be spent as ‘glorified baristas,’” Cohen said. “They’re doing everything baristas do, but without the hourly rates.” Seattle-based Starbucks, which has almost 9,000 stores around the country and had revenues of $649 million for the five-week period ending Jan. 2, has a carefully cultivated reputation for generous employment policies, such as providing employees with health insurance. The company was named one of Fortune 100′s best places to work in 2004. In response to questions from the Miami Daily Business Review, Starbucks defended its policy on store managers. “We believe that the plaintiffs are properly classified as exempt under the federal wage laws, and we intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit,” the company said in a written statement. In opposing the plaintiffs’ motion seeking collective action status, attorneys for Starbucks argued that different store managers have different job descriptions, including differences in the amount of time spent doing managerial duties and the number of employees they supervise. Starbucks is represented in the litigation by attorneys from Holland & Knight in Miami and by the Washington, D.C.-based firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. In a written opinion issued Jan. 3, Judge Marra ruled that the inconsistencies in the job duties described in the various affidavits filed by Starbucks store managers in the case would be more appropriate in a motion by Starbucks seeking decertification in a later phase of the case. Under decisions of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, there is a two-tiered procedure to determine whether plaintiffs are similarly situated for class certification. At the notice stage, the courts usually base their decisions on pleadings and any submitted affidavits. The second stage comes at the end of discovery, when the defendant can move for decertification of the class. Starbucks played down the significance of Marra’s ruling. “The court’s decision to permit notice was not unexpected,” the company said in its written statement. “As the court noted, the standard for issuing notice under the federal wage laws is ‘lenient’ and does not require any determination that the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail.” Starbucks now is required to give the plaintiff attorneys the names and contact information of all current and former store managers across the country over the last three years. Marra has not set a deadline for turning the information over. Starbucks previously settled similar overtime lawsuits filed in state court in California. In 2002, it reached an $18 million settlement in two class actions alleging that the espresso empire improperly denied its managers overtime. In a statement released after that settlement, Starbucks denied liability and said it settled to avoid protracted litigation. Since then, Starbucks store managers in California have been paid an hourly rate and receive overtime.

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