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Clarion Hotel Housekeeper's Overtime Class Action Clears Hurdle

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A federal judge has rejected efforts by the parent company of the Clarion Hotel chain to dismiss a proposed class action that claims the company failed to pay overtime to housekeepers.

U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on April 5 denied Choice Hotels International's motion to dismiss, determining that the plaintiff, Gina DiFlavis, showed enough of a connection between the international hotel company and the Pennsylvania-based franchisee that she directly worked for.

Choice Hotels International had contended that the only connection DiFlavis could point to between it and the franchisee, Rama Construction Co., which owned and operated the Clarion Hotel where DiFlavis worked, was the franchise agreement that said Rama was in charge of all personnel issues. However, Pratter said DiFlavis alleged enough in her complaint to allow the case to proceed through discovery.

"The amended complaint states that Choice Hotels exercised significant control over all aspects of the operation of Clarion Hotels, maintained financial data on the business, performed quality assurance visits to evaluate compliance with the rules and regulations, required all Clarion Hotels' owners and managers to attend training, provided the 'Choice University' training program, and more," Pratter said.

According to Pratter, DiFlavis worked as a full-time hourly housekeeper at a Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Essington for three months in 2018. She contended that, although she worked on average between 50 and 55 hours each week, she was only paid for 36 hours each week.

DiFlavis alleged that, each day, Clarion Hotel housekeepers are given a list of 16 or more rooms to service, which can be further supplemented throughout the day. Housekeepers, according to DiFlavis are paid $9 per hour for their first eight hours each day, plus $5 for each room they service beyond the mandated 16 in a given day. However, housekeepers must work until they have serviced all of their assigned rooms each day, DiFlavis contended. She alleged it was this requirement that led housekeepers to work between 10 and 12 hours each day, sometimes through paid meal breaks.

Choice Hotels International, which is a Delaware corporation based in Maryland, owns dozens of hotel and motel brands that consist of roughly 6,400 properties globally, including about 300 Clarion Hotels in the United States.

DiFlavis sued the hotel company alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act on behalf of all Clarion Hotel housekeepers.

Along with its motion to dismiss, the hotel company had also asked Pratter to narrow the alleged class to only housekeepers who work at Clarion Hotels that were also owned and operated by Rama Construction, but Pratter said granting that request would be premature.

"Choice Hotels has not met the high standard to strike Ms. DiFlavis' collective and class action claims," Pratter said. "It is premature to strike any class or collective allegations at this early stage of the case, particularly given that the parties have not yet conducted discovery on these issues."

In a footnote, Pratter also noted that DiFlavis alleged that Choice Hotels' former CEO, Steve Joyce, was featured on an episode of the TV show "Undercover Boss," which, she said, showed Joyce directing "a range of improvements after his undercover experiences." Ultimately, Pratter declined to factor those allegations into his decision.

"Although interesting, the court declines to consider how probative this fact is for the purposes of this motion," Pratter said.

Attorneys Joseph Centeno of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, who is representing Choice Hotels International; David Cohen of Stephan Zouras, who is representing DiFlavis; and Richard DeFortuna of Paisner Litvin, who is representing Rama, each did not return a call seeking comment.