DAYTON – A federal judge ruled Friday that employees of Airstream in Jackson Center will be able to join a civil lawsuit filed by a Sidney woman against the manufacturer regarding overtime pay and a violation of employment standards. The court also dropped Thor Industries as a defendant.
Also, on Friday, U.S. Second District Judge Walter Rice denied an emergency court injunction requested by the plaintiffs to correct inter-company communications designed to unduly influence employees who could be included in a class action lawsuit.
Rice also ruled that Thor Industries is not an employer of the plaintiffs and was removed from the action as a co-defendant.
The attorneys, Matthew Coffman, representing Funk, and defense attorney, Vladimir Belo, both of Columbus, were ordered by Rice to create a written document to inform Airstream employees of the lawsuit and how to participate in the class action, if they wish. The document is to be presented to the court during a status conference on Friday.
On March 1, Sandra Funk, 43, 8262 Lochard Road, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Dayton. She is asking for compensation for an alleged miscalculation of overtime pay; to allow all employees affected by the same pay method to join the class action; class action as a violation of the Ohio Prompt Pay Act (OPPA); violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with interference of her rights; and, for a violation of the Fair Market Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for retaliation actions towards her.
On April 26, during a telephone conference, Rice said he found nothing coercive about the two inter-company communications penned by Airstream’s Senior Vice President of Operations Mark Wahl. But questioned the overtime calculation method mentioned in the correspondence.
“One could raise an eyebrow as to whether Airstream discovered this error in evaluating its new system, or whether the lawsuit or the threat of the lawsuit alerted them to the fact that there were some difficulties,” according to the transcript of an April 26 telephone conference.
Coffman said, “The plaintiffs view their recent motion for a protective order as a win because it was granted in part. The most crucial part was granted, specifically the motion for Conditional Class Certification, which is one of the remedies requested.
He added, “This means that the court concluded that plaintiffs met their initial burden that the Airstream employees were similarly situated in not being paid the minimum required by the FLSA. This means that the employees are potentially entitled to unpaid overtime, liquidated damages, and other relief under the FLSA.”
Coffman explained the collective group of employees includes all current and former hourly employees who received additional remuneration from the period of March 1, 2015, through the present. The additional remuneration may be in the form of attendance bonuses and/or production bonuses.
Medical absences lead to firing
In March 2017, Funk developed a medical condition that required ongoing, and at times, immediate, medical care. She was absent from work from March 12 to April 10, 2017, claiming she qualified for the terms of the FMLA. Airstream officials approved Funk for the leave, according to court records.
In May, Funk claims ongoing medical problems led to attendance problems. On July 12, 2017, she received a letter stating that she was terminated for numerous failures of attendance. It was noted in the letter that Funk did not promptly request a medical leave. She claims it retaliation against her for using the FMLA.
Also, Funk claims she was not notified of her eligibility for medical coverage, if she began paying the premiums, when she was terminated. Employees may participate in the COBRA program (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) and continue their health coverage, once they are terminated.
Funk states she was not notified of the COBRA option. Coffman claims his client is eligible to receive the $110 per day penalty from the company for the non-disclosure, all medical expenses during that time, attorney fees and court-related costs.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.