Wisconsin Burger King lawsuit: Court reverses class action decision

WILLIAMSPORT, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES - 2022/11/21: A general view of a Burger King restaurant in Willimsport. (Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A judge improperly certified a lawsuit alleging that scores of Burger King managers across Wisconsin deserve overtime pay as a class action, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A group of around a half-dozen managers and assistant managers at Burger Kings run by Cave Enterprises Operations LLC filed a lawsuit in November 2019, alleging that they have to work more than 40 hours a week and spend most of their time doing the same work as nonexecutive employees at the restaurants. Wisconsin administrative code provides that employers don't have to pay workers overtime if those workers serve as executives or managers.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Pedro Colon, a former Democratic legislator, granted the plaintiffs' motion in August 2021 to certify the lawsuit as a class action, including all salaried managers and assistant managers at Cave Burger Kings across the state. The class includes 207 general managers and 107 assistant general managers, according to court documents.

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The company argued on appeal that Colon erroneously exercised his discretion and that questions about how much time each manager in the class actually spends on nonmanagerial tasks haven't been answered. Colon agreed that those questions should be answered for each manager but didn't explain how to do that without requiring individual testimony.

The 1st District Court of Appeals agreed with the company, issuing a unanimous ruling that Colon didn't explain the rationale for his decision and determined multiple questions of fact must be addressed before certifying the lawsuit as a class action. The appellate court sent the case back to Colon to reanalyze the class action request.

"The court's demonstration of rational decision-making will in turn support a determination that it properly exercised its discretion in reaching a decision on the class certification that a reasonable court could reach, " Judge Maxine Aldridge White wrote.

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The attorneys representing the managers, Timothy Maynard, Summer Murshid and Larry Johnson, didn't immediately respond to an email Tuesday seeking comment on the ruling.