Georgia Appellate Court Affirms the Certification of a Class of Firefighters Misclassified as Part-Time Employees

Georgia Appellate Court Affirms the Certification of a Class of Firefighters Misclassified as Part-Time Employees

In 2017, Johnson Fistel was retained to help several firefighters employed by the City of Roswell secure the employment benefits to which they were entitled. These firefighters were working full-time hours, but the City had been misclassifying them as “part-time” so as to deprive them of “full-time” benefits. After meeting with the firefighters, analyzing the City’s “Policy Manual,” and reviewing the basis for the City’s treatment of its firefighters, Johnson Fistel agreed that the firefighters were wrongfully classified as “part-time” and filed a class action on behalf of all similarly situated firefighters. Judge Tusan of the Superior Court of Fulton County agreed and certified the class, finding “[t]he four requirements of O.C.G.A. § 9-11-23(a) have been satisfied: (1) sufficient numerosity – up to 149 potential plaintiffs; (2) commonality – all class members are employees or former employees, employed during a specified period of time, who were classified as part-time employees, while working 40 or more hours per standard week; (3) claims of member representatives are representative of the class as a whole – all class members allege they were denied full-time employee benefits they were entitled to; and (4) representative parties fairly and adequately protect the interests of [the] class as a whole.” The City refused to accept Judge Tusan’s ruling and appealed.

On appeal, the City argued that Judge Tusan got it wrong by (1) relying on Plaintiffs’ unsupported allegations; (2) finding that class issues predominate; (3) finding that Plaintiffs met their burden of proof as to numerosity; and (4) finding that Plaintiffs satisfied typicality. All three judges on the Court of Appeals panel disagreed with each of the City’s arguments. Presiding Judge Carla W. McMillian wrote a 15-page opinion; Judge Christopher J. McFadden and Senior Appellate Judge Herbert E. Phipps concurred. The Court of Appeals reasoned that “where each of the class members’ claims arise out of identical terms in the [contract] and each of their claims are brought under the same causes of action,” as was the case here, predominance is satisfied. In support of its finding that Plaintiffs met their burden to establish numerosity, the Court pointed to the City’s own documents produced in discovery, which reflect “the names and work hours of potential class members during the relevant time period.” And lastly, the Court determined that typicality was also satisfied because the class representatives’ claims “are virtually identical to the claims of each proposed class member.”

“This is a great result for the firefighters of the City of Roswell,” said Michael Fistel, partner at Johnson Fistel and lead attorney on the case. “We look forward to getting back in the trial court and fighting for the rights of these hard-working men and women who put their lives on the line day in and day out and deserve the benefits to which they are entitled under the law.”

The Johnson Fistel team representing Plaintiffs and the Class are Michael I. Fistel, Jr., William Stone, Mary Ellen Conner, and Adam Sunstrom. City of Roswell v. Bible et al., A19A1310 (Ga. Ct. App. Sept. 16, 2019).