Another Court of Appeal holds that PAGA claims cannot be split and sent partially to arbitration

GreatSealCalNew100.jpg

Right now, Lawson v. ZB, N.A., review granted Mar. 21, 2018, S246711, is making its way through the California Supreme Court. The case asks whether a representative action under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.) (‘PAGA”) seeking recovery of individualized lost wages as civil penalties under Labor Code § 558 fall within the preemptive scope of the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.). Lawson was argued on June 5, 2019. Supplemental briefing was requested and received, and the matter was deemed submitted on June 27, 2019. That means a decision is imminent.

Today, in Mejia v. Merchants Building Maintenance, LLC (August 13, 2019), the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) another Court of Appeal came down on the side of the Courts of Appeal that have concluded that PAGA claims cannot be split so as to direct a portion to arbitration:

We agree with the conclusion of the Lawson and Zakaryan courts on this question, and conclude that a single PAGA claim seeking to recover section 558 civil penalties may not be "split" between that portion of the claim seeking an "amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages" and that portion of the claim seeking the $50 or $100 per-violation, per-pay-period assessment imposed for each wage violation. The result is that an employee bringing a PAGA claim to recover the civil penalties identified in section 558 may not be compelled to arbitrate that portion of her PAGA claim that seeks an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages pursuant to that statute, while the rest of the claim that seeks the $50 or $100 per-pay-period per violation portion of the penalty remains in a judicial forum. We therefore affirm the trial court's order denying the MDM defendants' motion to compel arbitration in this case

Slip op., at 6.

As for reading tea leaves, the Lawson matter (perhaps to be known as the ZB matter due to a change in the name of the case), as noted above, requested supplemental briefing on this question:

If this court concludes Labor Code section 558's "amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages" is not a "civil penalty" recoverable under the Private Attorneys General Act (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.), should the trial court be ordered to deny ZB's motion to compel arbitration?

Lawson docket. That question suggests that at least someone on the Supreme Court is thinking about whether an aggrieved employee can recover unpaid wages at all through Labor Code § 558. There’s a curve for you.

In Moorer v. Noble L.A. Events Inc., the Court of Appeal confirms that a PAGA plaintiff can't keep the aggrieved employee share for himself

GreatSealCalNew100.jpg

In Moorer v. Noble L.A. Events Inc. (February 27, 2019), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Seven) definitively answered the question of whether the twenty-five percent share of a PAGA action that goes to “aggrieved employees” can be retained by the plaintiff bringing the action as a type of relator share. No, you can’t do that:

Moorer contends that because a PAGA action is a type of qui tam action, under which the private citizen enforces a statute on behalf of the government, the 25 percent of the civil penalties not allocated to the government should be distributed to the aggrieved employee who brings the PAGA action. Although Moorer asserts policy arguments for why this approach would serve the goals of PAGA, the Supreme Court in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, supra, 59Cal.4th 348 (Iskanian) held otherwise. As the Supreme Court explained, a PAGA representative action “conforms to the traditional criteria” for bringing a qui tam action, “except that a portion of the penalty goes not only to the citizen bringing the suit but to all employees affected by the Labor Code violation.” (Iskanian, at p.382;see Williams v. Superior Court (2017) 3Cal.5th 531, 545 (Williams) [PAGA “deputiz[es]employees harmed by labor violations to sue on behalf of the state and collect penalties, to be shared with the state and other affected employees”].)

Slip op., at 7-8.

Timbs v. Indiana to be cited in PAGA cases in 3...2...1...

Seal-USSC100.png

On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, the United States Supreme Court held, in Timbs v. Indiana, that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states. You can find plenty of analysis about this decision out there as it applies to things like state asset forfeiture laws, so I won’t even try to duplicate all of that analysis here, But it occurs to me that we should expect to see this holding tossed into the mix in PAGA cases on the theory that a large PAGA penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. How well that works remains to be seen, since, just spitballing here, a large PAGA penalty is pretty much only going to arise when an employer has lots of employees and violates lots of wage and hour provisions lots of times. Of course, out at the fringe, this argument might have some traction. I’m sure we’ll see in the next few years.

Petition for Review of PAGA decision denied in Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA

CA Seal.jpg

I previously mentioned the surprising appellate court opinion in Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA (May 23, 2018). When it was issued, I was certain that review would be requested, and I would not have been surprised if review had been granted. However, I missed the fairly quick denial of review and depublication. That denial issued on August 8, 2018. Sorry I missed that; this is a noteworthy opinion.

Inconsistent Spanish and English arbitration clauses leads to invalidation in Juarez v. Wash Depot Holdings, Inc.

CA Seal.jpg

I won't hit you with too much analysis of a case right before the 4th of July holiday, but in Juarez v. Wash Depot Holdings, Inc. (July 3, 2018), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Six), upheld a trial court order declining to enforce an arbitration agreement.  The peculiarity that led to the result is pretty simple:

A company provides its employees with a handbook setting forth its employment policies. The handbook is written in English and Spanish. The handbook requires arbitration of employment disputes and denies an employee's right to bring an action under the California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). The English version states that the denial of the right to bring a PAGA action is severable if such denial is found by a court to be unenforceable. The Spanish version provides that the PAGA denial is not severable. 

Slip op., at 1.  The Court concluded that this was potentially deceitful and declined to sever the provision regarding PAGA, agreeing that the entire agreement was unenforceable.

Jack Bazerkanian of Shin Ryu Bazerkanian, LLP, and James M. Lee, Caleb H. Liang of LTL Attorneys LLP, represented the successful Plaintiff and Respondent.

Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. finds broad standing for plaintiffs bringing PAGA claims; [UPDATED]

GreatSealCalNew100.jpg

I haven't posted anything yet about Epiq Systems Corp. v. Lewis (what's there to say that hasn't been kicking around for years in various ways), but certainly that decision motivates a renewed focus on PAGA claims in California.  And would you look at that?!  Here's a new decision about PAGA.  In Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., the Court of Appeal (Sixth Appellate District) examined the following question:

This case presents the question of whether a plaintiff who brings a representative action under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA; Lab. Code, § 2698, et seq.) may seek penalties not only for the Labor Code violation that affected him or her, but also for different violations that affected other employees.

Slip op., at 1.  So at this point, I must admit that my assumption for about 5 seconds was that the answer would be a big "No, they may not."  To my surprise, the Court held to the contrary:

As we will explain, we conclude that PAGA allows an “aggrieved employee” –– a person affected by at least one Labor Code violation committed by an employer –– to pursue penalties for all the Labor Code violations committed by that employer.

Slip op., at 1.  That was unexpected.

The Court's primary analysis is well summarized by this passage:

When we interpret a statute our primary task is to ascertain the Legislature’s intent and effectuate the purpose of the law. We look first to the words of the statute itself as the most direct indicator of what the Legislature intended. (Hsu v. Abbara (1995) 9 Cal.4th 863, 871.) PAGA provides in section 2699, subdivision (a) that “any provision of this code that provides for a civil penalty to be assessed and collected by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency or any of its departments, divisions, commissions, boards, agencies, or employees, for a violation of this code, may, as an alternative, be recovered through a civil action brought by an aggrieved employee on behalf of himself or herself and other current or former employees pursuant to the procedures specified in Section 2699.3.” The statute then specifically defines “aggrieved employee” in section 2699, subdivision (c): “ ‘aggrieved employee’ means any person who was employed by the alleged violator and against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.”

As the trial court did, we interpret those provisions to mean that any Labor Code penalties recoverable by state authorities may be recovered in a PAGA action by a person who was employed by the alleged violator and affected by at least one of the violations alleged in the complaint. Indeed, we cannot readily derive any meaning other than that from the plain statutory language, and Securitas does not offer a reasonable alternative for what those provisions mean when read together.

Slip op., at 5-6.  After this, the Court spent a lot of time rejecting arguments that it should look to the legislative history (the Court held that when a statute is clear, it is not to consider legislative history) and other arguments about absurd results.  It rejected all of those arguments.

Of course, in good Apple presentation fashion, this case has a couple of items that qualify as a "one more thing" moment.  One of those moments included the following:

Section 2699, subdivision (f) creates a civil penalty for any Labor Code violation for which a penalty is not provided elsewhere in the law. The penalties under section 2699, subdivision (f) are “one hundred dollars ($100) for each aggrieved employee per pay period for the initial violation and two hundred dollars ($200) for each aggrieved employee per pay period for each subsequent violation.” Securitas posits that using the definition of aggrieved employees in section 2699, subdivision (c) to calculate those penalties would allow over-counting in some cases to include weeks worked by employees affected by just one of the Labor Code violations alleged in the complaint, even if it is not the one giving rise to the penalties imposed by section 2699, subdivision (f). To the contrary, it is entirely possible to harmonize the two provisions. The method of calculation under section 2699, subdivision (f) imposes penalties based on the total number of employees that have been affected by an employer’s Labor Code violations. Though Securitas calls that “over-counting,” it is not impermissible for the Legislature to impose penalties measured in that way. Even if the method of calculation provided for by section 2699, subdivision (f) is something of a blunt instrument, it is not our role to rewrite the statute. (People v. Garcia (1999) 21 Cal.4th 1, 14.) Separation of powers principles require us to interpret the law as written, “and leave for the People and the Legislature the task of revising it as they deem wise.” (Id. at p. 15.) We also note that PAGA gives a court broad discretion to “award a lesser amount than the maximum civil penalty amount … if, based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case, to do otherwise would result in an award that is unjust, arbitrary and oppressive, or confiscatory.” (§ 2699, subd. (e)(2).) So the statute incorporates a remedy if the penalty calculation is unfair or arbitrary as applied to a particular employer.

Slip op., at 12-13.  Let that sink in for a moment.  If I am not imaging things, I believe that this means that for subdivision (f) penalties, the Court held that the correct method of counting up the penalties would be to count the total number of employees that qualify as "aggrieved" by any violation an multiply that number by the $100 or $200 penalty.  Oh my.  So, if this stands the test of time, more employers will avoid class actions with class waivers in their arbitration agreements, but if there are violations of any of the sections included in PAGA, the penalty calculation for that one year will be absolutely brutal.  Big winner?  The LWDA.  For California employers in the long run it will likely be a slight loss.  While Epiq will cut into class actions, that will be countered with larger penalty recoveries.  And since the statutory period is just one year, an employer that doesn't fully correct issues will see plaintiffs returning to that well with regularity.

Respondent and Plaintiff was successfully represented by Michael Millen.

UPDATE: In response to a question about my post, I want to clarify something that is potentially unclear. When I wrote, “…if there are violations of any of the sections included in PAGA, the penalty calculation for that one year will be absolutely brutal,” I was referring to the penalty look-back period of one year prior to filing. In other words, I was not saying that a specific one year period was implicated by this decision. I was only observing that the penalties for a one-year statute of limitation could be high, compared to a four-year statute in a wage and hour class action (plus whatever time passes while a case is pending).

Just reading Cortez v. Doty Bros. Equipment Company should earn you CLE credit for appellate specialization

CA Seal.jpg

When I started reading this opinion, I went a little too fast on the first page, read on a few more pages, got really confused, re-read the first page, and then re-read the next four pages, marveling and what happened.  Cortez v. Doty Bros. Equipment Company (September 1, 2017) (Second Appellate District, Division Seven) is one of those decisions that you read and say, "I didn't know they could do that."

Here's what gets you.  The first page say, "APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Jane L. Johnson, Judge. Appeal dismissed."  Slip op., at 1.  If you are rushing, you assume that some procedural failing led to a dismissal.  This incorrect conclusion is only amplified when you read this:

While Cortez’s appeal was pending, the appellate courts in Munoz v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 291, 310 (Munoz) and Miranda v. Anderson Enterprises, Inc. (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 196, 201-202 (Miranda) held the death knell doctrine did not apply to the denial of class certification or dismissal of class claims while a plaintiff’s PAGA claim remained pending in the trial court. Concerned about the viability of his initial appeal, Cortez voluntarily dismissed his PAGA claim with prejudice on March 30, 2016 and filed a second notice of appeal on May 20, 2016, again identifying the September 19, 2014 order compelling arbitration and the March 23, 2015 order dismissing all class claims as the orders subject to appellate review. We consolidated the two appeals. 

Slip op., at 2-3.  At this point (if you were me), you figure that the filing of the second appeal and the dismissal of the PAGA claim in the trial court were going to interact somehow to lead to the dismissal of the appeal, perhaps on some timeliness ground.  Nah.  You're way off base (if you are me).

Here's where the whiplash gets you:

Although not fully identified by the parties in their briefs, Cortez’s appeal poses several difficult jurisdictional questions, in particular, the effect of Cortez’s dismissal of his PAGA claim on the appealability of the earlier order dismissing the class claims, including whether a plaintiff’s voluntary action can create an appealable order under the death knell doctrine and whether the second notice of appeal from an order entered more than a year before was timely; and the applicability of Code of Civil Procedure section 906 to an order made appealable under the judicially created death knell doctrine rather than pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1. We resolve none of those issues. Rather, in light of the uncertainty of the appealability of the orders challenged by Cortez and the absence of any delay or prejudice our intervention at this stage would cause, we find this an appropriate case in which to exercise our discretion to treat the consolidated appeal as a petition for writ of mandate and reach the merits of the superior court’s orders compelling arbitration of Cortez’s individual claims and terminating the class claims.

Slip op., at 4.  "We resolve none of those issues."  What?  "[W]e find this an appropriate case in which to exercise our discretion to treat the consolidated appeal as a petition for writ of mandate and reach the merits of the superior court’s orders compelling arbitration of Cortez’s individual claims and terminating the class claims."  Spectacular.

The actual result is far less amazing than the procedural knot that was circumvented to get there.  The outcome is a fairly standard application of how Stolt-Nielsen is currently construed:

We grant Cortez’s petition in part, finding Cortez’s cause of action under the Labor Code for Doty Bros.’ failure to timely pay wages upon his separation from employment (Lab. Code, § 203) (sixth cause of action) and his unfair competition action based on that alleged statutory violation (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200) (seventh cause of action) are not encompassed by the arbitration provision in the CBA. In all other respects, we deny the petition, concluding the remaining causes of action are subject to 5 arbitration, and the court’s termination of class claims proper on the ground the CBA does not authorize classwide arbitration. 

Slip op., at 4-5.

Near the end of the opinion, the Court notes the split of federal authority at the Circuit level on the issue of whether a ban on classwide arbitration is antithetical to the NLRA.  While this panel might have done that issue justice, it noted that the California Supreme Court had rejected that argument in Iskanian, and concluded that it was bound by that determination.

Kingsley & Kingsley, Eric B. Kingsley, Liane Katzenstein Ly, Kelsey M. Szamet and Ari J. Stiller; DesJardins & Panitz, Michael A. DesJardins and Eric A. Panitz successfully represented Plaintiff and Appellant (though as a petitioner)

Further nuances to PAGA and arbitration clauses in Esparza v. KS Industries, L.P.

Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014) held that PAGA representative claims for civil penalties are not subject to arbitration.  In Esparza v. KS Industries, L.P. (August 2, 2017), the Court of Appeal (Fifth Appellate District) tackled the question of whether any claims asserted under PAGA can be "individual" claims, and, if so, how are they treated for purposes of arbitration agreements. The issue arose, in particular, because it appeared that the plaintiff asserted, within the PAGA claim, a claim to recover wages under Labor Code section 558, which, unlike the other PAGA penalties (in the sense of the word meaning something akin to a fine) sought, would result in the recovery of the underlying wages owed, with no portion going to the State from the recovered wages.  The Court directed the plaintiff on remand to declare unequivocally whether only penalties would be sought or whether, in addition, individual recovery claims would be pursued.  The Court concluded that such individual recovery claims would be severed and arbitrated.

Don't see the Fifth Appellate District having to wade into these issues regularly, so hat tip to that District for getting into the PAGA mix.

The trial court was technically affirmed, but the holding and directions on remand make this one a win for defendant/respondent, who was represented by Call & Jensen, John T. Egley and Jamin S. Soderstrom.

In Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc., the Ninth Circuit adds to the list of decisions severing PAGA claims from claims sent to arbitration

Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc. (9th Cir. Dec. 21, 2016) isn't the first decision to hold, in the face of a motion to compel arbitration in a wage and hour suit, that (1) PAGA claims should be severed from the rest of the claims and proceed in Court, and (2) the arbitrability of all other claims was for an arbitrator to determine.  The Court said:

In Iskanian v. CLS Transp. L.A., LLC, 327 P.3d 129 (Cal. 2014), the California Supreme Court held that where “an employment agreement compels the waiver of representative claims under the PAGA, it is contrary to public policy and unenforceable as a matter of state law.” Id. at 149. We have held that the Federal Arbitration Act does not preempt this rule. Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail N. Am., Inc., 803 F.3d 425, 427 (9th Cir. 2015). 

Slip op., at 21.

Court of Appeal holds that monetary value of accrued vacation need not appear on wage statements until payment is due

In Soto v. Motel 6 Operating, L.P. (Oct. 20, 2016), the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) held in a PAGA action that Labor Code § 226(a) "does not require employers to include the monetary value of accrued paid vacation time in employee wage statements unless and until a payment is due at the termination of the employment relationship." Slip op., at 2.  The Court easily concluded that the disclosure of such information on wage statements on a regular basis was not required by the current law.  Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Spencer C. Skeen, Jennifer L. Santa Maria, and Sarah A. Williams of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart represented Motel 6 Operating, L.P.