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A federal appeals court has rejected a class action claim that Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and other restaurants failed to pay part-timers vacation pay.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that two employees failed to qualify for class action status because they were not proper representatives, particularly because they were part-time employees and vacation was offered only to full-time employees. Under Illinois wage laws, the court said, the restaurants were not required to pay part-time employees vacation benefits.
Jennifer Clark, who worked part-time at the Olive Garden until 2012, said that she was not paid her pro-rata vacation benefits when she left the company. She argued that if an employer provides paid vacation to its full-time employees, it must provide the same benefit to its part-time employees under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act.
"The district judge rejected this novel interpretation of the IWPCA, and rightly so," the appellate court said. "It has no support in the text of the Act, its implementing regulations, or in Illinois cases interpreting it."
Demiko McCaster, who worked worked part-time at the Red Lobster until 2009, settled his claim with the company after Clark's case dismissed but reserved the right to appeal the denial of class certification.
Darden Restaurants, Inc., operates 75 casual diners in Illinois, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and others. McCaster and Clark worked intermittently as hourly employees at Darden-owned restaurants for about eight years.
Prior to June 1, 2008, all Darden employees were eligible for vacation pay, which the company called "anniversary pay." It was an earned benefit for full-time and part-time workers. After that, the company change the vacation policy to include only full-time workers and McCaster and Clark sued.
In seeking class certification, the plaintiffs offered a declaration from a law firm's paralegal that 1,200 employees who did not receive all earned vacation pay benefits. The trial judge struck the declaration in granting a motion for summary judgment for Darden, and the court of appeals found it immaterial because the plaintiffs' claims could not make such a "fail safe" claim when they did not represent the potential class.
"In other words, resolving the proposed class members' claims doesn't center on any question common to the class, but instead turns entirely on facts specific to each individual class member's claim," the court said." The plaintiffs' failure to satisfy the commonality requirement is fatal to their request for class certification."