This case raised, on a question certified by the federal court to the SJC, the issue of the standard for the certification in class actions brought in connection with employment actions under G. L. c. 149, § 150. The federal case, which had generated a fair amount of press coverage, was filed by American Airlines skycaps who allege that, under the Massachusetts tips statute, a fee the airline charges for curbside baggage services constitutes a tip that must be paid over to them. U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young certified a question of statutory construction to the Massachusetts high court on the issue and the plaintiffs tried to use the occasion to seek a determination from the SJC that G. L. c. 149, § 150, which permits class actions to be brought on behalf of “similarly situated” plaintiffs based on violations of any of nine employment statutes, creates an exemption from the class action requirements set out in Rule 23 of the federal and state Rules of Civil Procedure.
NELF and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts argued in an amicus brief filed in support of American Airlines that since Judge Young had already refused to certify a class, the plaintiffs were using the certified question procedure as a way to obtain an impermissible review in state court of a federal court order. NELF argued that the SJC should therefore not respond at all to the plaintiffs’ request for an opinion on the issue of class action requirements under G. L. c. 149, § 150. NELF also argued the SJC should decline the request because, unlike a properly certified question, any answer that SJC might give to this question would not determine any issue in the federal court, where Judge Young had firmly declared himself bound by federal law to apply federal Rule 23 standards, regardless of the public policy of the Commonwealth. In the alternative, NELF argued that if the Court nonetheless addressed the plaintiffs’ question, it should reject the contention that § 150 relaxes the requirements for maintaining class actions. NELF argued by analogy that SJC precedent requires the application of Rule 23(a) standards to putative class actions under the state Consumer Protection Act, G. L. c. 93A, § 9(2), which employs identical “similarly situated” language. NELF further argued that the requirement of numerosity is fundamental to the very notion of a class action, which is meant to provide a substitute procedure when joinder is impracticable, and that application of the other Rule 23(a) requirements ensures the economical use of judicial resources and protects the due process rights of class members who are not named plaintiffs.
In its decision, the SJC followed the first course of action urged by NELF and declined to consider the class certification issue because the question was not properly before it.