Burger chain Five Guys now has on its plate a class action filed by two of its female managers who claim that the company paid them less than their male peers.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo of the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted class certification to plaintiffs Jody Finefrock and Julia Francis, who filed their Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit on behalf of all female managers at Five Guys who faced wage discrimination.
Finefrock and Francis, both general managers at their respective Five Guys restaurants for three years from 2012 to 2015, earned $38,000 and $40,000 salaries, respectively, according to Rambo’s opinion. The two eventually learned that several male general managers made anywhere from $41,000 to $55,000 annually.
The plaintiffs sued in July 2016 and Five Guys filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Finefrock and Francis did not state valid claims under the Equal Pay Act. Particularly, Five Guys claimed Finefrock and Francis did not provide evidence that the issue was companywide, arguing they failed to show how all the individual restaurants could be considered “a single establishment” under the act.
Rambo, however, said the plaintiffs showed enough to move past the preliminary stages of the litigation.
“At this initial stage, plaintiffs sufficiently provided a modest factual showing that Five Guys could be considered a single establishment under the EPA based upon the nationwide job descriptions and policies, the frequency that the named plaintiffs transferred store locations, and the final compensation approval by a central office,” Rambo said.
Additionally, while Rambo noted that the company has no uniform compensation policy, job descriptions and qualifications for manager positions nationwide are all the same.
“The information submitted by plaintiffs shows that assistant general managers and general managers, respectively, had the same job descriptions and responsibilities, required the same baseline qualifications nationwide, and were paid less than some allegedly similarly situated males. Compensation decisions, although based initially on input from their district managers, were finalized by a central, common office,” Rambo said.
Five Guys also took issue with the fact that the pair did not name the specific male managers who allegedly made more than them in their complaint.
“The information submitted shows that plaintiffs Finefrock and Francis, at various times, earned less than their alleged male comparators,” Rambo said. “Because the focus of the inquiry at this conditional certification stage is not whether there was an actual violation of law, but rather whether the proposed plaintiffs are similarly situated, the court finds that plaintiffs have met their modest factual burden.”
Larry A. Weisberg of McCarthy Weisberg Cummings in Harrisburg represents the plaintiffs and Emilie R. Hammerstein of Littler Mendelson in Pittsburgh represents Five Guys. Neither returned calls seeking comment.