Sheppard Mullin Secures Major Victory for Chipotle in Nationwide Misclassification Action By Demonstrating Variations Among Proposed Class Members

by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

The Court’s opinion in Scott v. Chipotle Mexican Grill demonstrates how employers can successfully combat class action claims that employees were misclassified as exempt. The successful defense of the class certification motion relied chiefly on deposition and declaration testimony to highlight inconsistencies, variations, and individualized inquiries that prevented resolution of the claims at issue on a class-wide basis.

On behalf of their client, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Sheppard Mullin and Messner Reeves defeated certification of six separate classes involving allegations that the job position of “Apprentice” was misclassified as exempt for purposes of paying overtime wages. They also successfully moved to decertify a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) involving the same claims for 516 opt-in Apprentices nationwide. The case was brought by seven individuals who had worked as Apprentices in various Chipotle stores. The named plaintiffs worked in six states while the opt-in plaintiffs worked in 37 states. Chipotle considers the Apprentice position a salaried, management-level position and classified the position as exempt. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed that they, and the other Apprentices employed in their respective states, perform insufficient managerial work and that, as a result, all of these Apprentices were misclassified as exempt entitling them to overtime wages.

In order to successfully certify the six state-law classes of Apprentices, the plaintiffs were required to demonstrate that questions of law or fact were common to the Apprentices who they sought to represent and that a class action was the superior method to adjudicate their claims. Through plaintiffs’ own deposition testimony, deposition testimony from numerous other Apprentices, and declaration testimony, Sheppard Mullin demonstrated to the Court that individualized inquiries as to each Apprentice’s authority and job duties were necessary to determine if the exempt classification was appropriate. Thus, there was no common proof and class adjudication was inappropriate.

Indeed, during the various plaintiff depositions, Sheppard Mullin was able to catch the Apprentices taking conflicting positions. For instance, one plaintiff testified that he did not have any say in hiring employees, developing employees or setting work schedules. However, that very same plaintiff then admitted that he did engage in hiring, evaluating employee performance and scheduling. Another plaintiff testified that she spent the majority of her time on the floor making food. However, that same plaintiff testified that she was “running a good store” as an Apprentice, was involved in marketing, made hiring recommendations, drafted schedules and assisted with her store’s budget. Similar conflicts surfaced in the testimony of other plaintiffs as well as many of the opt-in plaintiffs that showed they were not similarly situated. These inconsistent accounts by the plaintiff and opt-ins demonstrated that Apprentices performed their duties in dissimilar ways and had varied authority that required individual, rather than collective analysis.

The Court also noted that differences in the structure of Chipotle locations, sales volume and managerial style also affected the amount of time Apprentices spent engaged in exempt managerial and administrative duties. Some locations have a General Manager or other management-level employee who is responsible for one or more stores that impacts the level of decision-making of an Apprentice at the same location. Yet, other locations have no such positions and are managed solely by Apprentices. Moreover, locations with higher sales volumes tend to have larger staffs. Apprentices at those locations engaged in more managerial activities such as hiring, discipline, training and supervision than Apprentices at stores with lower sales volumes. Because this too factors into whether and to what extent any individual Apprentice was engaged in exempt job duties, the Court concluded that proof of the Apprentices’ claims would not overlap and, thus, does not meet the class certification standard regarding common questions of law or fact.

As for the FLSA collective action, 516 Apprentices opted-in to join with the plaintiffs in their claims. In order to determine whether such a collective action could be maintained, the Court had to decide whether those Apprentices who opted-in were similarly situated to the plaintiffs. This included a consideration of disparate factual and employment settings of individual plaintiffs, Chipotle’s defenses, and procedural fairness. With respect to the disparate employment settings, the Court once again acknowledged the different levels and amount of authority each Apprentice might have in exercising tasks. The Court also observed that such disparities in job duties would permeate the job position because the 516 opt-ins came from 37 states and covered nine geographic regions. Such disparities were highlighted, in part, by the deposition testimony of an Apprentice who worked in two different states and testified to vastly different experiences engaging in management-level duties in those states.

Chipotle also asserted affirmative defenses arguing that some Apprentices were exempt under the “executive” exemption and others were exempt under a combination of the “executive” exemption and “administrative” exemption. Because of the inconsistencies in the testimony of plaintiffs as well as the testimony from the opt-in plaintiffs, the Court determined that it would be difficult for Chipotle to rely on “representative proof” in asserting these defenses. The Court opined that, to find otherwise would reduce the similarly situated requirement “to a mere requirement that plaintiffs share an employer, a job title, and a professed entitlement to additional wages.” Because such a standard falls far below what is required, the Court determined that the FLSA collective action that was conditionally certified in 2013 could not be maintained and granted Chipotle’s motion to decertify the collective action.

It is apparent from the Court’s opinion that the testimony presented was given significant weight in making its determination. Thus, employers who are able to highlight variations in job duties that are determinative of exempt status and articulate the necessity for individualized inquiries in misclassification cases should have a better chance of persuading a judge that class and collective certification is not appropriate.

Richard J. Simmons, Daniel J. McQueen, Brian D. Murphy and Lisa M. Lewis represented Chipotle in this matter.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.