California Labor Lawsuit Led to Class Action v. Barnes & Noble

A class action suit against Barnes & Noble based out of New York has roots in California. The California labor lawsuit will continue – a New York judge refused to grant summary judgment for the defendants. Barnes & Noble, the major chain and online bookseller, is being accused of avoiding the payment of overtime to employees by purposefully misclassifying them as exempt. Allegations would leave Barnes & Noble in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Court documents indicate that until 2005, Barnes & Noble classified all assistant store managers as FLSA exempt. This meant that no assistant store managers were eligible for overtime pay on hours worked above and beyond the standard workweek or workday. Generally speaking, managers (who are paid a salary and perform managerial tasks) are properly exempt in just this fashion. However, Barnes & Noble assistant store managers in California filed suit citing violations of California labor law.

The assistant store managers who filed suit in this California case made allegations that they performed tasks that fell outside of the managerial realm. They also indicated that despite their official title (assistant store manager) they had no actual authority over other employees.

The lawsuit resulted in Barnes & Noble reclassifying its assistant store managers in California as nonexempt. As nonexempt employees, they can now qualify for overtime pay. But Barnes & Noble apparently did not make the change at other stores in other locations throughout the country until a much later date.

Barnes & Noble did eventually (in 2010) reclassify all of its assistant managers as nonexempt throughout the states. This was the basis for Barnes & Noble’s petition for summary judgment in the lawsuit (originally brought in 2005 as an action citing California labor code). It would seem that the FLSA violations ended in June 2010, but the wider lawsuit was filed in January 2013. The defendants cited that the lawsuit fell outside the FLSA’s two-year statue of limitations.  

US District Court Judge John Koeltl disagreed, pointing out that the FLSA two-year limit extends to three years when there is proof, evidence or suspicion that there was a willful violation. Considering that Barnes & Noble reclassified California based assistant managers as a result of the California labor lawsuit, but failed to do so nationwide for 5 years, it would be easy to suggest that there was at least some evidence that a jury could perceive as willful violation.  

The three plaintiffs (named) in the current, New York based lawsuit, are all former assistant store managers for Barnes & Noble. They note that their duties were not limited to managerial duties, they often performed tasks performed by other non-exempt employees, such as working the cash register, processing product returns, etc.

If you feel you have been misclassified as an exempt employee, contact the employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik today.