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Hazel v. Couche-Tard

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 25, 2017




         Plaintiff Jennifer Hazel sued Defendants Circle K Stores and The Pantry Inc. (who does business as "Kangaroo Express") alleging that the Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by misclassifying her and other similarly situated Store Managers as overtime-exempt employees.[1]Ms. Hazel has now moved the court to conditionally certify a class containing current and former Circle K and Kangaroo Express Store Managers who were paid as salaried employees at any time from June 9, 2013 until the present. The court will grant in part the motion as to the Store Managers employed within the State of Alabama at any time from June 9, 2013 until the present, but deny in part the motion as to those employed outside the state.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Circle K is a chain of convenience stores with locations throughout the world. Circle K's parent company also owns Kangaroo Express, and is in the process of rebranding Kangaroo Express stores as Circle K stores. Circle K's operations in the United States are divided into separate regions. Alabama is in the Gulf Coast division.

         A. Evidence Submitted by the Plaintiffs

         In April 2016, Circle K issued a memo stating it had "decided that it will convert all Exempt Store Managers to the Hourly pay structure." The Gulf Coast Division completed the conversion during the 2016 calendar year, and. Ms. Hazel alleges Circle K misclassified Store Managers as exempt salaried employees until the reclassification occurred. The Store Manager job description remained the same despite the reclassification.

         Ms. Hazel has been joined by four other Alabama Circle K Store Managers who have opted into this litigation. Each of these managers allege that they worked more than 60 hours a week and that they spent a "vast majority" of their time performing the same tasks as hourly employees, including assisting customers with transactions and performing manual labor by cleaning, stocking, and organizing the store. Because these stores were open twenty-four hours a day, any of the managers could be required to fill in for an hourly employee at any time.

         The managers also testified that a Market Manager or other executive has authority over the stores' budget, payroll, store hours, merchandise selection, and other management tasks. Further, Market Managers controlled hiring and termination decisions. According to the affidavits, the Market Managers have access to video of the stores and can make management decisions based on what they see.

         Because the labor budget is set by the corporate office, and that budget does not provide enough money to pay for all the hours needed for non-exempt employees to man the store, managers are required to cover the difference. As a result, Store Managers are required to perform predominately non-exempt tasks.

         B. Evidence Submitted by the Defendants

         In response to the motion for conditional certification, Circle K submitted eighteen declarations. Five were from Human Resources Managers of Circle K's regional divisions; six were from Market Managers in the Gulf Coast Division; five were from Store Managers in the Gulf Coast Division; and one was from the Lead Customer Service Representative in the Gulf Coast Division.

         Those documents establish the following facts. Market Managers visit their stores around once a week, giving feedback on the store's performance. The Market Managers treat Store Managers differently; some Market Managers encourage Store Managers to be independent, while others exercise more oversight, especially if problems start to crop up at a store or if the manager is new. Circle K's evidence suggests that differing treatment extended to personnel decisions. One Store Manager said that while she provides recommendations to her Market Manager, she is ultimately responsible for the decision to hire or fire an employee; another Market Manager said he cannot remember rejecting a Store Manager's recommendation. Circle K's evidence confirms that Store Managers perform some manual labor, but an Alabama Store Manager testified that even when he is doing that sort of work, he is still supervising the store.

         Store Managers are responsible for setting the store's work schedule, and Circle K agrees that a manager's hours and responsibilities may vary based on the store needs. For example, high volume stores require more attention to scheduling and high risk stores require more focus on loss prevention.

         II. ...

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