While class actions may prove lucrative for the plaintiffs who bring them, most cases just aren’t suitable for class action treatment and many would likely fare far better if the plaintiffs simply limited themselves to a single employee or location.
Case in point. In Guzman v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Case No. 17-cv-02606-HSG (N.D. Cal. Jan. 15, 2020), the plaintiffs sought to assert that all of the hundreds of California Chipotle restaurants operated under an unwritten policy requiring aspiring managers to speak at least good English and possibly only English. They sought to certify a class spanning the entire state (roughly 400 restaurants) and over 40,000 employees of either Hispanic or Mexican national origin.
Common sense tells you that the claims and their scope are going to be problematic. Many of those of Hispanic or Mexican national origin speak excellent English. Many class members (students, for example) may have career plans that don’t involve managing the fast food restaurant where they have worked as an hourly employee. Particularly in restaurants with significant numbers of workers who don’t speak Spanish, some level of English proficiency on the part of a manager may be necessary simply to direct the workforce.
The plaintiffs sought class certification under Rule 23, supporting their motion with testimony from approximately class members. The court noted that this sample amounted to but 0.03% of the putative class, but it was plain that it was unimpressed with the submission in any case.
The court ultimately concluded that the case lacked both commonality under Rule 23(a) and predominance under the somewhat higher standard of Rule 23(b)(3). The sample class members all gave different testimony about the ability to use Spanish in their own restaurants, with experiences ranging from limited restrictions, such as dealing with customers, to outright requirements that English be used at work. It noted that rather than demonstrate uniformity, these experiences reflected the importance of management discretion at each location.
The court likewise rejected claims that the company’s offer to provide English language instruction to prospective managers demonstrated class-wide discrimination. Indeed, it found that the plaintiff’s claimed evidence that employees in four restaurants were told that improving their English would help them obtain management positions was too weak to establish a class-wide claim.
It’s not clear why, apart from a desire to exert pressure on the defendant, the plaintiffs in this case sought class certification as their experiences were so different. If an individual plaintiff had believed that their English-language skills were proving to be an impediment to advancement, they might have been better off bringing the claims on an individual or store-wide basis.
The bottom line: Cases coming down to the treatment of different individuals by different managers are poor candidates for class action treatment.