Citizens Bank dodged a multimillion-dollar bullet when a federal jury in Pittsburgh agreed with its designation of assistant branch managers as salaried employees not eligible for overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster of the Western District of Pennsylvania presided over the case, captioned Bell v. Citizens Financial Group.
The plaintiffs, more than 450 assistant managers from Citizens Bank branches across several states, alleged that they hadn’t been compensated for the time they worked beyond the 40 hours a week covered by their salaries. The plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Liesl Mae Fox, calculated the lost wages at $7.1 million.
The judge didn’t end up having to weigh in on the calculation of the damages since the issue became moot with the verdict.
Following a three-week trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the bank. The jurors decided that Citizens Bank had proved that the assistant managers were executive or administrative employees, meaning that they weren’t entitled to overtime pay.
The plaintiffs in this nationwide opt-in collective-action case are considering an appeal, according to Peter Winebrake of Winebrake & Santillo in Dresher, Pa., who represented the managers with Brendan Donelon of the Law Office of Donelon in Kansas City, Mo.
Lawyers for Citizens Bank weren’t authorized to speak on the record, but the legal team was led by Mark Batten and Elise Bloom, both of Proskauer Rose in New York.
Often, in high stakes FLSA cases with a lot of money on the line, the parties end up settling, so this was somewhat unusual since it proceeded to trial.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted final approval to a $20.9 million settlement in a nationwide class- and collective-action suit that consolidated 14 cases and included nearly 7,500 plaintiffs against Rite Aid, which was alleged to have misclassified assistant managers and co-managers as exempt employees under the FLSA who were not eligible for overtime pay.
In the suit against Citizens Bank, the assistant managers were, in most cases, the second-highest-ranking employees in a given branch, under the branch mangers, according to the bank’s pretrial statement.
Although their tasks varied by branch and by their own individual abilities, assistant managers were generally responsible for encouraging good performance from hourly employees in order to "drive branch results," according to the pretrial statement.
With the bank managers, the assistant managers were charged with "providing sales leadership to ensure franchise growth through personal examples and regular monitoring of team sales results," the pretrial statement said. Also, in consultation with the branch managers, they were responsible for hiring, firing, reviewing and counseling non-exempt staff. In the absence of the branch manager, the assistant managers were typically put in charge of the branch.
Those facts appeared to have convinced the jury that the bank had properly classified the assistant managers as exempt from the FLSA’s requirement for overtime pay.
The plaintiffs argued that the bank had taken a sweeping approach to classifying the assistant managers as exempt and hadn’t audited or analyzed the actual work of the plaintiffs and that they actually spent most of their time performing tasks that wouldn’t qualify as management, according to the plaintiffs’ pretrial statement. That argument, though, didn’t prevail.
"We’re very proud of the work we put into this three-week trial," Winebrake said in a prepared statement. "It was a hard-fought case against able counsel. The outcome remained uncertain until the bitter end, and our post-verdict discussions with the jurors confirm that the result easily could have gone the other way. Going forward, we’re both considering our appellate options and, as importantly, getting ready to try the related Rule 23 cases in Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania."
The Pennsylvania class action is in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Winebrake said.