The Kansas City Star Reports Class Action in Pizza Hut Wage Dispute Grows

By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star

March 29, 2011

Perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 delivery drivers for Pizza Hut’s largest franchisee, NPC International Inc., are eligible plaintiffs in a national collective action alleging a minimum-wage violation.

U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum in Kansas City, Kan., this week granted conditional certification for the drivers in a case that centers on the franchisee’s mileage reimbursement practice.

Rick Paul, an attorney for the plaintiffs at Stueve Siegel Hanson in Kansas City, said the employee drivers were paid at least the prevailing federal or state minimum wages. But, because they were paid at a rate far less than the IRS mileage reimbursement rate for driving their personal vehicles, the unreimbursed cost of operating their vehicles caused their effective pay to fall below minimum wage.

The class certification covers drivers employed at about 1,135 Pizza Hut stores owned by NPC International in 28 states at any time in the three years preceding March 28, 2011.

NPC has 14 days to provide plaintiffs’ counsel with the names of employees who are eligible members of the class, and they have 90 days to opt to be included in the lawsuit.

Vonnie Walbert, NPC’s vice president of human resources, responded to the lawsuit Tuesday: “We believe this litigation is lawyer-driven and will continue to vigorously defend our position. We value our delivery drivers and believe we reimburse them fairly. We look forward to having the opportunity to prove this once the court evaluates the merits of this case.”

Similar cases alleging related violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act have been filed against company-owned Pizza Hut stores, Papa John’s and other franchise operations.

Lungstrum’s order said that the “plaintiffs have made substantial allegations and submitted evidence” that the eligible employees “were together the victims of a single policy that resulted in their failure to receive the federal minimum wage.”

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