Are punitive damages available in class actions asserting statutory wage & hour violations? Savaglio v. Wal-Mart may have the answer.

California Punitive Damages has an intriguing post about a pending appeal that could affect punitive damage claims in wage & hour class actions.  (Cutting, Pending Appeal Will Affect Punitive Damages Claims In Wage & Hour Class Actions (May 16, 2008) calpunitives.blogspot.com.)  In an appeal to the First Appellate District, Division Four, Wal-Mart is contesting, among other things, a $115 million punitive damages award by asserting the "new right-exclusive remedy" rule:

Among the issues that Wal-Mart has raised on appeal is whether California's "new right-exclusive remedy" rule bars the punitive damages award in this wage and hour case. Under this rule, "where a statute creates a right that did not exist at common law and provides a comprehensive and detailed remedial scheme for its enforcement, the statutory remedy is exclusive." (Rojo v. Kliger (1990) 52 Cal.3d 65, 79.) According to Wal-Mart's opening appellate brief, no California appellate cases have upheld an award of punitive damages for any statutory wage and hour claims, and at least three federal district courts have applied the "new right-exclusive remedy" rule to dismiss claims seeking punitive damages predicated on alleged wage and hour violations.

(Ibid.)  So what is the "new right-exclusive remedy" rule you ask?  Tell me about Rojo you say?  You had but to ask.

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Law review article contends that puntive damage claims have been precluded in class actions

Inferential preclusion of punitive damage claims in many class actions is the premise of a forthcoming Law Review article by Professor Sheila Scheuerman of the Charleston College of Law. (Scheuerman, Sheila B., Two Worlds Collide: How the Supreme Court's Recent Punitive Damages Decisions Affect Class Actions (2008, forthcoming) Baylor Law Review, available at SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1127691.) Although self-described as an alternative assessment of the impact of recent Supreme Court punitive damage decisions, the article ultimately echoes the refrain advanced by, among others, members of the defense bar immediately following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Philip Morris USA v. Williams, 127 S.Ct. 1057 (2007).

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