Hewlett-Packard has succeeded in breaking up a class-action lawsuit brought by its tech support workers who say the IT giant stiffed them on overtime pay.
In an order [PDF] handed down yesterday, Judge Beth Labson Freeman said the enterprise field-support technicians can't band together against the Palo Alto goliath, and must take on the biz one-on-one.
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The class, filed in a northern district court of California and led by named plaintiffs Eric Benedict and David Mustain (not that one), accused HP of illegally making their positions exempt from overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours per week.
After notice of the suit was filed in 2013, 1,385 workers signed on to join the class. Salaries for the workers ranged from below $40,000 to $100,000 yearly.
One slightly confusing aspect of this legal fight is that the lawsuit is pursuing Hewlett-Packard Company, but the organization broke in half in 2015 into HP Inc (which flogs PCs and printers) and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (which flogs servers and similar gear). Still, lawyers acting on behalf of Hewlett-Packard Company are battling away with Benedict and Mustain. No one was able to clarify exactly which bit of HP is being sued.
Before the split, HP claimed that the employees were not eligible to sue in a class action, as their various positions were not similar enough to warrant a single claim. Rather, HP argued (and the court agreed), the employees should be forced to file their cases separately.
The court notes that the employees taking part in the class covered multiple roles and service tiers, some responding to field calls directly and others providing remote work or developing programs within HP. Many reported to different managers at different locations. Additionally, the filing noted, some of the class members had been able to define or add responsibilities to their roles.
"Plaintiffs' attempt to gloss over significant differences in Collective Members' job duties by relying on their shared Job Title and HP's blanket exemption policy fails to show that they are similarly situated for several reasons," Judge Freeman wrote.
"The fact that an employer classifies all or most of a particular class of employees as exempt does not eliminate the need to make a factual determination as to whether class members are actually performing similar duties."
Because of this, the court agreed with HP's argument that the class action was too broad to be tried as a single case.
In doing so, HP will make it harder for the individuals to successfully sue, as they will no longer be able to pool into a large class to fight the company's massive legal team.
Both sides have said, in a separate filing, that they are actively in settlement negotiations with a mediator. ®