Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Chastise the universe for failing you, and sometimes it responds. Just earlier today I decried the absence of any decisions having anything to do with the subjects usually covered here. But soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is an opinion, and suitable seating is the sun. In Hall v. Rite Aid Corporation (May 16, 2014), the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) reversed a trial court order decertifying a suitable seating claim.
The plaintiff successfully certified a class action alleging failure to provide suitable seating. Later, defendant Rite Aid moved for decertification, citing to other decisions and to evidence it offered. The trial court granted the motion to decertify and denied the cross-motion to permit the matter to proceed as a non-class representative action. (Oh my gosh, this is already exciting!) Based on the analytic framework of Brinker ("O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art As glorious to this night, being o'er my head As is a winged messenger of heaven Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds And sails upon the bosom of the air."), the Court of appeal concluded that the trial court erroneously considered the merits of the action, rather than whether the action was amenable to class treatment.
The decertification train got rolling after Rite Aid cited the recently decided matter of Duran v. U.S. Bank Nat. Assn., 203 Cal. App. 4th 212 (2012) (review granted). Rite Aid then pounced, asking the trial court to sua sponte decertify. The trial court declined, but briefing was requested. Rite Aid then submitted federal court decisions and declarations from cashiers that had opted out of the action, along with other evidence. In spite of numerous bases for opposition, the trial court granted the motion to decertify and denied the motion to permit the case to proceed as a representative action.
The Court began its review by thoroughly analyzing Brinker and its progeny. Describing several of those subsequent decisions, the Court said:
Subsequent cases have concluded, considering Brinker, that when a court is considering the issue of class certification and is assessing whether common issues predominate over individual issues, the court must "focus on the policy itself" and address whether the plaintiff's theory as to the illegality of the policy can be resolved on a class-wide basis. (Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 220, 232 (Faulkinbury); accord, Bradley, supra, 211 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1141-1142 ["[o]n the issue whether common issues predominate in the litigation, a court must 'examine the plaintiff's theory of recovery' and 'assess the nature of the legal and factual disputes likely to be presented' "]; Benton v. Telecom Network Specialists, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 701, 726 (Benton) ["under Brinker . . . for purposes of certification, the proper inquiry is 'whether the theory of recovery advanced by the plaintiff is likely to prove amenable to class treatment' "].) Those courts have also agreed that, where the theory of liability asserts the employer's uniform policy violates California's labor laws, factual distinctions among whether or how employees were or were not adversely impacted by the allegedly illegal policy does not preclude certification. (See, e.g., Bradley, supra, at pp. 1150-1153 [where theory of liability was employer's uniform policy violated labor laws by not authorizing employees to take meal and rest breaks, class certification is proper and fact some employees in fact took meal and rest breaks is a damage question that " 'will rarely if ever stand as a bar to certification' "].)
Slip op., at 13. Once the Court turned to plaintiff's theory, it wasted no time in applying the mandates of Brinker (and I sense no trace of bitterness):
Our review of Brinker, which is binding on this court (Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court (1962) 57 Cal.2d 450), compels the conclusion the trial court erroneously based its decertification order on its assessment of the merits of Hall's claim rather than on the theory of liability advanced by Hall. We are instructed under Brinker that the starting point for purposes of class certification commences with Hall's theory of liability because, "for purposes of certification, the proper inquiry is 'whether the theory of recovery advanced by the plaintiff is likely to prove amenable to class treatment.' " (Benton, supra, 220 Cal.App.4th at p. 726.) Here, as in Brinker and its progeny, Hall alleged (and Rite Aid did not dispute) that Rite Aid had a uniform policy of the type envisioned by Brinker: Rite Aid did not allow its Cashier/Clerks to sit (and therefore provided no suitable seats for its Cashier/Clerks) while they performed check-out functions at the register. Hall's theory of liability is that this uniform policy was unlawful because section 14 mandates the provision of suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats, and the nature of the work involved in performing check-out functions does reasonably permit the use of seats. Hall's proffered theory of liability is that, regardless of the amount of time any particular Cashier/Clerk might spend on duties other than check-out work, Rite Aid's uniform policy transgresses section 14 because suitable seats are not provided for that aspect of the employee's work that can be reasonably performed while seated.
Slip op., at 18-19. The Court then dismissed Rite Aid's arguments on appeal:
Rite Aid's arguments on appeal largely ignore the analysis of Bradley, Benton and Faulkinbury. Instead, Rite Aid asserts the trial court properly reached the merits of (and correctly rejected) Hall's theory of liability when it ruled on the decertification motion because Brinker cannot be read to permit a plaintiff to "invent a class action by proposing an incorrect rule of law and arguing, 'If my rule is right, I win on a class basis.' "
Slip op., at 20.
The Court found it unnecessary to address the representative action theory and declined the plaintiff's request to address the correct standard applicable to section 14's seating mandate.
I remarked on a number of occasions during Class Re-Action podcast episodes that Brinker's true impact was in the certification sphere, not the wage & hour issues it addressed. Q.E.D. Well, that's insanely smug and pretentious. But, you know, scoreboard.