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Long, D. v. Epic Systems Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

September 6, 2016

LONG, D., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
EPIC SYSTEMS CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil action for monetary relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and Wisconsin overtime compensation laws. Plaintiff Dayna Long contends that defendant Epic Systems Corporation misclassified her and other technical writers as exempt from overtime wages and failed to pay them wages of one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for any overtime hours that they worked. Defendant asserts that technical writers qualify for the overtime exemption for “employee[s] employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).

         On April 17, 2015, the parties stipulated to conditional certification of a nationwide FLSA collective action and a court-authorized notice to be sent to approximately 50 putative class members. Dkt. #23. (Although plaintiff had moved for class certification of her state law claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23, dkt. #54, she withdrew that motion on June 13, 2015 because the proposed subclasses would have not met the numerosity requirement. Dkt. #98.) Fourteen individuals in addition to plaintiff have opted into the collective action and defendant's motion to decertify the FLSA collective action, dkt. #56, is now before the court.

         After considering the arguments of the parties and conducting an independent review of the declarations and other documents in the record, I conclude that plaintiff's FLSA claims may proceed as a collective action. Although there are individual variances among the opt-in plaintiffs as to their employment experiences, the inquiry at the heart of this case is whether their primary job duties and defendant's practices and processes that applied to all technical writers exempted them from overtime wages under federal law. It makes sense to decide the exemption issue with respect to all employees in one case. Defendant has not identified any persuasive reason why individual lawsuits would be a superior method to resolving the parties' dispute. Accordingly, I will deny defendant's motion to decertify the FLSA collective action.

         From the declarations, depositions and other materials submitted by the parties, I find the following facts for the purpose of deciding defendant's motion to decertify.

         BACKGROUND

         A. The Parties

         Defendant Epic Systems Corporation makes software applications for medical groups, hospitals and integrated healthcare organizations. The technical writers involved in this case are all members of the Technical Communications group and performed work in one of three application areas: clinical inpatient (healthcare in inpatient settings), clinical ambulatory (healthcare in outpatient settings) and revenue and reporting (billing, accounting and practice management). (There are other application areas but those are not relevant to the issues in this case.) Defendant's customers may use applications from any or all of these areas. The applications cover a wide range of topics, may have different functions and are used by different types of health care professionals and administrators.

         Technical writers provide different types of written materials for different audiences. For example, implementation writers prepare written materials targeted to analysts working for a customer who is installing software for the first time. Support writers develop written materials for analysts who are maintaining and updating an application. Training writers develop written materials that teach end-users, such as clinicians and administrators, how to use software applications. Sometimes a technical writer may work on a special project or write about particular features common to multiple applications. Technical writers are supervised by “team leads.”

         1. Long

         Between July 5, 2011 and August 2012, named plaintiff Danya Long was employed as a technical writer in defendant's Madison office, performing implementation writing for a revenue application called Tapestry related to billing, benefit plans and referrals. Her team lead was Cate Valenzuela. Beginning in August 2012 and until Long left on June 28, 2013, she worked as a team lead.

         2. Vanderwist

         Opt-in plaintiff Michelle Vanderwist was employed as a technical writer with defendant at its Verona campus from August 1, 2011 to June 15, 2012. Her team lead was Eric Szakacs. She primarily performed support writing for three different clinical inpatient applications, including Op Time (used by surgeons) and Anesthesia (used by anesthesiologists). Vanderwist spent about 60 percent of her time on development log documentation (known as “DLG”), which required her to evaluate whether changes to a software application should be communicated to customers and creating the documents to describe the changes. In addition, Vanderwist became the “owner” of NoteWriter, a feature that appears in several applications. As the owner, she created documents to describe any changes made to the feature. (The parties dispute whether Vanderwist was responsible for NoteWriter documentation or was merely assigned writing work related to the feature.) In a self-assessment form, Vanderwist expressed an interest in volunteering for more ad hoc projects but she dedicated the majority of her time to technical writing.

         3. Paley

         Opt-in plaintiff Caitlyn Paley was employed as a technical writer at defendant's Verona campus from March 5, 2012 to February 15, 2013. Her team lead was Dana Apfel. Her primary job responsibility was performing support writing for clinical inpatient applications. She spent about 27 percent of her time on development log documentation. Paley worked on the Beaker application, which is used by laboratories to track specimens. Shortly before leaving her employment, she attended a special training on defendant's Electronic Data Interchange to learn how to create written materials explaining how to use Beaker with non-Epic software.

         Paley spent about 11 percent of her time on special projects, including writing a guide for Rover for Lab (a Beaker-like application for handheld devices) and working as part of the Document Design group (helping use design programs to lay out the way defendant's documents would look). (The parties dispute whether Paley spent 25 percent of her time performing the following tasks: (1) mentoring a new technical writer; (2) serving as a member of defendant's Writer Education Coordination group, helping to create new training materials and processes for writers; and (3) ...


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