Ex-Michaels Worker Seeks Class Cert. In Medical Leave Suit

By Kurt Orzeck

Law360, Los Angeles (September 16, 2015, 5:21 PM ET) — A breast cancer survivor who claims Michaels Stores Inc. fired her after she applied for medical leave urged a California federal judge on Tuesday to certify a class of 230 disabled workers who she says are similarly situated.

In a memorandum supporting her motion for class certification, former store employee Irene Barreras argued that certification can be established by form termination letters that Michaels allegedly issued to employees when they didn’t qualify for or exhausted their right to medical leave.

The plaintiff claimed the store violated California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act by maintaining a companywide policy of refusing medical leave to employees who fail to meet certain criteria.

The putative class would consist of all California employees to whom the arts and crafts chain allegedly sent a termination letter similar to the one that Barreras received in September 2010 at any time between July 24, 2008 through the present.

Larry W. Lee of Hyun Law APC, which is representing the plaintiffs, told Law360 on Wednesday that they “feel very strongly about this case. It’s an undisputed policy that they have, and it’s no different than if employers said, ‘We don’t accommodate any disabled people at all.’”

The class certification motion came after a judge in late April ordered Michaels to produce the identities of former employees who allegedly received the form letters, granting Barreras’ bid to compel. U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler ordered Michaels to fork over the identities and contact information of all of its California employees who received similar letters terminating their employment because of their “own serious health condition.”

Barreras first brought her lawsuit against the arts and crafts supplies retail chain in California state court in July 2012, alleging that in 2010 she was terminated from her part-time sales associate position after requesting to be placed on medical leave. The case was removed to federal court in August 2012.

Barreras says she “suffered from various physical conditions, including breast cancer,” and alleges that upon requesting leave, Michaels responded with a “boilerplate” letter informing her that she was not eligible to take a medical leave of absence because of her part-time status and because she worked fewer than 1,250 hours in the 12-month period prior to the beginning of her requested leave. The same letter informed her of her termination, according to court filings.

In November 2012, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton denied Michaels’ motion to dismiss the suit, saying the bid was premature and should be raised in opposition to the motion for class certification.

The plaintiff wrote to the court requesting that Michaels produce the putative class information, even though class discovery wasn’t “appropriate at [that] stage,” saying that courts have “uniformly held that named plaintiffs in class actions are entitled” to such information.

Michaels had argued that the court should deny the discovery request because pre-certification class discovery is prohibited, but the magistrate judge in April said “numerous courts” had made it clear that the disclosure of class members’ contact information is a common practice.

Barreras argued on Tuesday that Michaels’ allegedly uniform treatment of employees through the use of the termination form letters makes the case ideally suited for class treatment.

“If any case warranted class certification, it is the instant case,” the memorandum said.

A spokesman for Michaels told Law360 on Wednesday that they don’t comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiff is represented by Dennis S. Hyun and Larry W. Lee of Hyun Law APC, and Edward W. Choi of Law Offices of Choi & Assoc.

Michaels is represented by Michael J. Burns, Laura J. Maechtlen and Joshua M. Henderson of Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

The case is Irene Barreras et al. v. Michaels Stores Inc., case number 4:12-cv-04474, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

–Additional reporting by Lisa Ryan. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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