View the Lowe’s Class Action Complaint. (PDF)

Law360, New York (Jan. 14, 2014, 4:38 PM ET) — A Florida federal judge on Friday conditionally certified a nationwide class of Lowe’s Home Centers Inc. human resources managers for claims they weren’t actually managers and were willfully misclassified as exempt from overtime pay requirements.

U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington conditionally certified as a collective action a suit brought by former Lowe’s employee Lizeth Lytle, accusing the retailer of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime requirements.

The opt-in class includes human resources store managers and other HR employees who have worked more than 40 hours per week over the past three years without being paid overtime. According to the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, Lowe’s employs as many as 1,745 human resources managers.

Lytle’s suit, initially lodged in August 2012, asserts that the company classified its human resources managers as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements — but that their duties are not as sophisticated as their title suggests and they should not be classified as exempt. An amended complaint filed in July contends that the misclassification was willful.

“This was done so the defendants would not have to pay their employees overtime. This decision was made at the highest corporate level, was wrong, and the actors knew it,” the complaint said. “The policy saves hundreds of millions of dollars … Said simply, this was a business decision to purposefully evade our country’s national wage and hour law[.]”

Although given the title of manager, Lowe’s human resources managers lack discretion to make meaningful decisions and do not supervise employees, the complaint alleges. The complaint maintains that these employees’ duties actually include menial tasks such as operating cash registers, cleaning bathrooms, greeting customers and sweeping floors. The suit seeks unpaid overtime compensation, liquidated damages, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, attorneys’ fees, costs, and other compensation, as well as injunctive relief. In addition to the FLSA claims, the complaint alleges Lowe’s has also violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Because the 401(k) plan offered by the company calls for it to make employee contributions based on a percentage of the total wages earned in a year and those wages are defined to include overtime, denying the human resources managers overtime resulted in them also accruing less in retirement benefits than the plan requires, the complaint alleges. The current class certification decision pertains only to the FLSA claims.

Although Judge Covington granted the motion for conditional class certification, she rejected Lytle’s bid to toll the statute of limitations on the FLSA claims because the motion for class certification remained pending for almost 10 months. The delay did not constitute an extraordinary circumstance that warrants such tolling, the judge found. Attorneys for the parties were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Feldman Legal Group. Lowe’s is represented by Juan C. Enjamio and Jennifer D. Ellis of Hunton & Williams LLP. The case is Lytle v. Lowe’s Home Centers Inc., case number 8:12-cv-01848, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

By Abigail Rubenstein

Editing by Philip Shea.

The attorneys at Feldman Legal Group. assist employees involved in overtime and wage and hour disputes as well as employment discrimination matters in Tampa and Atlanta.