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Class Certification Granted in Flowers Foods Independent Contractor Suit

Bread on a shelf in a kitchen.

Shot of a rack of freshly baked goods with a woman working in the background at a bakery

Class certification was granted on Tuesday in a suit filed in the Southern District of California. The suit was originally filed in 2018 against defendants Flowers Foods, Inc., Flowers Bakeries, LLC, and Flowers Finance, LLC, by plaintiffs Daniel Ludlow and William Lancaster. The complaint alleged that the defendants misclassified the plaintiffs as independent contractors when they should have been classified as employees.

The plaintiff’s initial complaint cited claims under the California Labor Code, including failure to pay overtime, unlawful deductions from wages, failure to indemnify for necessary expenditures, and failure to provide proper wage statements. The initial complaint also sought class certification for the plaintiffs and all other similarly situated, which was granted on Tuesday.

The defendants are a national bakery company that is behind common and well-known brands including Wonder Bread, Nature’s Own, and Dave’s Killer Bread. The complaint describes Flower Foods as “America’s premier baker” that serves bakery products which are prominent in the retail and food service market.

Part of the defendant’s business is distributing and delivering its packaged bakery goods to its customers. The defendant’s delivery drivers are referred to as distributors. The complaint notes that each distributor “enters into a standard and substantially identical distributor agreement [DA] with a local operating subsidiary of Flower Foods and Flowers Bakeries that governs the distributor relationship.”

The distributors are responsible for purchasing bakery products from the defendants and reselling them to customers in their territory. They earn a profit from the difference between the price they buy the product for and the price the product is sold for, which is based on the defendant’s negotiations with its customers. The plaintiffs contend that the level of control the defendants exert over the plaintiff’s day-to-day operations partly causes them to fall under the label employee rather than independent contractor.

The plaintiffs cite the ABC test as proof that they were misclassified by the defendants as independent contractors. The ABC test requires three conditions to be met for an individual to be deemed as an independent contractor. Specifically, the worker must be free from the control and direction of their hiring entity, the work must be outside the usual course of business for the hiring entity, and the worker must already be engaged in a similar occupation or business.

The defendant’s countered that they did not qualify as a “hiring entity” under the ABC test and the test could therefore not be applied, which the Court rejected. The Court concluded alongside their class certification that “the ABC test is the applicable legal framework for plaintiff’s misclassification claims.”

The Court also granted the plaintiffs’ request for class certification, ruling that the class is sufficiently numerous, the named plaintiffs are typical and adequate, and that there are questions of law and fact common to the class in the complaint.The plaintiffs in the case are represented by Nicholas & Tomasevic, LLP.

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