AT&T target of $1 billion class-action lawsuits from employees

Posted December 16th, 2009.

As it appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By Andrew Longstreth

The employment class action firm Sanford Wittels & Heisler won’t be invited to AT&T’s holiday party. Sanford Wittels already has a pending wage and hour case against one of the telecom’s subsidiaries, SNET, in Connecticut federal court. And on Wednesday, it filed two more cases against the company’s subsidiaries, one in Atlanta federal court and the other in San Francisco federal court. The actions seek a combined $1 billion in damages and back pay for roughly 5,000 current and former AT&T workers who were allegedly improperly classified by the company as exempt from overtime pay in violation of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

As The National Law Journal recently reported, Sanford Wittels has had a busy year filing wage and hour class actions. It’s pursuing a $100 million class action against United Parcel Service, and cases against Costco, Northwestern Mutual Life, and Valero Energy.

In the recently filed AT&T lawsuits, the plaintiffs are called “first level” managers within AT&T, but they allege that they’re managers in name only; they don’t have managerial duties or authority. Many perform clerical tasks and relay information between the company managers and technicians, according to the suits.

Steven Wittels of Sanford Wittels told us that two years ago, one of AT&T’s subsidiaries, BellSouth Telecommunications, had classified first level managers as nonexempt employees, which qualified them for overtime. The company’s decision to make them exempt, Wittels said, reflects the pressure that major companies have felt in recent years to cut their payroll costs.

Wittels notes that a class has been certified in the wage and hour case against AT&T’s subsidiary SNET. (We left a message with Lori Alexander of Littler Mendelson, counsel to SNET, but didn’t hear back.) “We felt that [the suits filed Wednesday] were strong cases all along, but that [certification] decision reinforces the strength of these cases,” said Wittels.

In the two suits filed Monday, the firm was joined by Ram & Olson in San Francisco, Buckley & Klein in Atlanta, and Edmond Clark in Madison, Conn.

AT&T provided the following statement: “AT&T values its employees and complies with all federal and state wage and hour laws. We have no comment on these cases.”

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