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Petco Groomers Push For Cert. In Clipped Wages Suit

Law360—Kali Hays

A group of current and former Petco Animal Supply Stores Inc. pet groomers urged a New York federal court on Monday to conditionally certify a class action claiming the chain forced thousands of groomers to pay for grooming tools required for them to perform their jobs.

Attorneys for the proposed class said the “plaintiffs far exceed their low burden” for certification in this case with documentation of spending between $1,000 and $3,000 to purchase and maintain tools and of Petco’s policies requiring the costs. Attorneys pushed for certification in order to “protect the rights of thousands of current and former pet stylists and grooming assistants.”

“Petco’s policies with respect to its pet stylists and grooming assistants do not vary from salon to salon,” the filing stated. “Evidence shows that all pet stylists and grooming assistants had substantially similar job duties, compensation, and terms and conditions of work.”

Kristina Kucker, Sonny Urbine, Hillary Anderson, Magda Alexandra Sereno, Amy Dodge, Jill Filippone and Heather Bradshaw accused Petco in December of requiring all company pet groomers and grooming assistants to purchase and maintain grooming equipment by deducting the costs from earned wages without reimbursement, resulting in a failure to pay the minimum wage and in violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The suit is a collective action and includes state class claims against the company for violations of wage laws in New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut and Kansas.

The company pays all groomers based on the number of animals they groom rather than an hourly rate, meaning all groomers who were forced to pay for job tools earned less than the minimum wage during weeks when costs were deducted from their paychecks, the suit says.

Though Petco has argued that its “formal” policy was to provide some necessary tools to groomers, the proposed class attorneys rejected the argument as meaningless during this stage of the proceedings.

“The focus of the inquiry is not on whether there has been an actual violation of law but rather on whether the proposed plaintiffs are similarly situated with respect to their allegations that the law has been violated,” the filing stated.
 
Class attorneys asked the court to order Petco to provide all of its most recent contact information for grooming personnel employed by Petco in the last three years, including email addresses, and to authorize the creation of a standalone website for potential claimants to submit forms.

Petco is facing a separate FLSA suit from a group of assistant store managers in California alleging the company knew, or recklessly disregarded, the employees were improperly classified as exempt from overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

A move by Petco to have the assistant manager claims dismissed for being “devoid of facts” was dismissed in June 2014.

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Kristina Kucker and the proposed class are represented by Justin M. Swartz, Molly A. Brooks and Sally J. Abrahamson of Outten & Golden LLP, Brian S. Schaffer and Frank Mazzaferro of Fitapelli & Schaffer LLP and Gregg I. Shavitz and Susan H. Stern of Shavitz Law Group PA.

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The case is Kristina Kucker et al v. Petco Animal Supplies Stores Inc., case number 1:14-cv-09983, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.