California Court of Appeal examines American Pipe tolling in Fierro v. Landry's Restaurant Inc.

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It's easy to say that California courts look to Rule 23 decisions for guidance when there is a gap in California's jurisprudence on class-related issues.  But how that works out in practice is a different matter.  In Fierro v. Landry's Restaurant Inc. (May 14, 2018), the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) waded into uncharted procedural terrain when they sorted out how American Pipe tolling interacts with California's different procedural approach to certification as a "death knell" versus interlocutory issue.  The core of the American Pipe application issue is captured by the Court's discussion of how federal and state procedure differ:

In the federal system, because there can be no appellate review of an order denying class certification until after entry of a final judgment in the class action, there can be years of delay—including potentially a trial on the merits of the individual claims—before the parties have the benefit of appellate review of the denial of class certification. Under such a procedure, the policy of protecting the efficiency and economy of litigation is not furthered by the continuation of tolling—first, pending resolution of the remaining claims in the trial court and, then, pending review and disposition in the appellate court.
In contrast, in our state system, the death knell doctrine allows the parties the benefit of immediate appellate review of an order denying class certification. This procedure advances the efficiency and economy of class action litigation. Stated differently, neither efficiency nor economy will result if, upon the denial of class certification, an unnamed class member is required either to seek intervention in the individual action that remains in the trial court or to file a new action while an immediate appeal of the order denying class certification is pending. Thus, in both the state and federal systems, once the trial court denies certification, the putative class member is on notice that he or she must take action to protect his or her rights; however, in the state system, there is a right to immediate review of that decision, and to deny American Pipe tolling under such circumstances is to encourage a multiplicity of actions—i.e., to encourage inefficiency and expense—before the order denying class certification is final

Slip op., at 20. The Court's effort to get under the hood and examine how policy interacts with procedural differences is commendable.

Separately, this case presents an unusual procedural history in its own right, as the Court had to engage in some very proactive digging to try to get as complete a record as it could and still fell short of getting all of what it wanted.

Appellants were successfully represented by  Matthew Righetti and John J. Glugoski of Righetti Glugoski.

Episode 17 of the Class Re-Action Podcast is now live

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As 2018 heats up with big decisions, Episode 17 is here just in time.  Dynamex and Serrano v. Aerotek are discussed.  More importantly, I decide to rename the ABC test.

For Class Re-Action podcast listeners looking for more options, you can now find this podcast on Spotify, iHeartRadio, and in the Google Play store, in addition to the iTunes location where we started.

Castillo v. Glenair, Inc. examines a novel joint employer question

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The term "joint employer" is used to identify the wide variety of situations where one worker is controlled in frequently different ways by two employers.  Staffing agency relationships with client companies are a commonly cited example.  In Castillo v. Glenair, Inc., the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Two), tackled a novel question:

In a joint employer arrangement, can a class of workers bring a lawsuit against a staffing company, settle that lawsuit, and then bring identical claims against the company where they had been placed to work.

Slip op, at 2.  The Court's answer was succinct: "We answer no."  (Slip op., at 2.)

Before you get the wrong idea, this is not the situation you might have first imagined.  One firm did not sue a staffing agency, settle, and then bring the identical set of claims against the client company of the staffing agency.  Rather, the staffing company class action was running in parallel before another trial court and made it to the settlement finish line first.  (Slip op., at 2.)  There are many procedural niceties to this that don't matter.  What matters is that the first suit (known as the "Gomez" action), settled on a classwide basis, with a broad release of claims against the staffing company and its agents.  The Court in this matter concluded that Glenair was an agent of CGA with respect to CGA's payment of wages to its employees who performed work at Glenair.

While the reasoning of the Court is guided, in part, by a number of factual stipulations of the parties regarding the relationship between Glenair and the staffing company GCA, the core issue for purposes of res judicata application of the Gomez settlement hinged on whether Glenair was either a party in the Gomez settlement or in privity with a party.  The Court found that Glenair was both in privity with CGA as to the Gomez settlement and a released party in the Gomez settlement.

After reviewing developments in the law of privity, the Court said:

With this in mind, it is clear Glenair and GCA are in privity for present purposes. The subject matter of this litigation is the same as the subject matter of the Gomez litigation—namely, both cases involve the same wage and hour causes of action arising from the same work performed by the same GCA employees (the Castillos) at GCA’s client company Glenair. Based on the undisputed facts, it is apparent Glenair and GCA share the same relationship to the Castillos’ claims here. Both Glenair and GCA were involved in and responsible for payment of the Castillos’ wages. Glenair was authorized by GCA and responsible for recording, reviewing and transmitting the Castillos’ time records to GCA. GCA paid the Castillos based on those time records. And, by virtue of the Gomez settlement, the Castillos were compensated for any errors made in the payment of their wages. Thus, with respect to the Castillos’ wage and hour causes of action, the interests of Glenair and GCA are so intertwined as to put Glenair and GCA in the same relationship to the litigation here. Accordingly, we conclude they are in privity for purposes of the instant litigation.

(Slip op., at 23.)  The Court emphasized that this should not be construed as a finding that Glenair and GCA are in privity for all purposes (e.g., a tort claim for an on-premises injury).  The Court also found that Glenair was an agent of CGA based on facts that could not be reasonably construed any other way:

Glenair was an agent of GCA for the purpose of collecting, reviewing, and providing GCA’s employee time records to GCA so that GCA could properly pay its employees. The evidence is undisputed that GCA authorized Glenair to collect, review, and transmit GCA employee time records to GCA. Thus, Glenair was authorized to represent, and did represent, GCA in its dealings with third parties, specifically GCA’s payment of wages to its employees placed at Glenair. (Civ. Code, § 2295; Borders Online, supra, at p. 1189; see also Garcia v. Pexco, LLC (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 782, 788 [in concluding the plaintiff employee’s claims must be arbitrated, court considered “alleged joint employers” staffing company and its client company “agents of each other in their dealings with” the plaintiff].)

(Slip op., at 26.) The Court rebuffed the plaintiffs' argument that there was no evidence of the requisite control necessary to support the agency conclusion:

Here, GCA authorized Glenair to perform certain timekeeping-related tasks on behalf of GCA and the only reasonable inference is that GCA required Glenair to perform those tasks. Had Glenair failed to perform those timekeeping tasks, GCA would not have been able to pay its employees.

(Slip op., at 27.)  This raises a question in my mind.  Many large staffing companies install their own timekeeping systems in the workplaces of large clients.  If the staffing company collects its own time records, or its employees report time themselves, does this vitiate the agency analysis in this decision?

The decision also includes an extended discussion of procedural rules governing summary judgment, if that floats your boat.

Respondent was successfully represented by Jesse A. Cripps, Sarah Zenewicz and Elizabeth A. Dooley of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, 

We're back, baby!

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The Class Re-Action podcast is back in business with new Episode 16, how available anywhere digital technology is!  We discuss Alvarado v. Dart Container with attorneys who argued the case before the California Supreme Court.  Listen loud!  Listen often!

In Lambert v. Nutraceutical Corp., the Ninth Circuit examines Rule 23(f) petitions

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I won't diminish the expectant quality of your Friday by providing a blow-by-blow of the decision, but Lambert v. Nutraceutical Corp. (9th Cir. Sept. 15, 2017) takes a thorough look at the timing requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(f) petitions, concluding that the 14-day filing deadline of Rule 23(f) is not jurisdictional and can be extended or tolled for a variety of reasons.  The opinion also reversed the District Court's decertification order in the consumer class action, concluding that it erred in its treatment of the plaintiff's damage model.

Appellant was successfully represented by Gregory Weston (argued) and David Elliott, The Weston Firm, San Diego, California; and, Ronald A. Marron, The Law Offices of Ronald A. Marron APLC, San Diego, California.

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

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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)

Arbitration bid sunk in Sprunk

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Yes, yes I did write that post title.  In Sprunk v. Prisma LLC (August 23, 2017), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division One) considered whether a defendant in a putative class action can waive its right to compel arbitration against absent class members by deciding not to seek arbitration against the named plaintiff.  The Court agreed that it did, holding that Prisma LLC "waived its right to seek arbitration by filing and then withdrawing a motion to compel arbitration against the named plaintiff, Maria Elena Sprunk, and then waiting until after a class had been certified to seek arbitration against class members."  Slip op., at 2.

Some of the less interesting issues in the opinion concern the sufficiency of evidence of arbitration agreements with class members.  The juicy stuff, however, is described as follows:

Plan B [Prisma LLC] also raises a legal issue concerning the status of absent class members. Plan B argues that the trial court erred in considering Plan B’s delay in moving to compel arbitration before the court decided class certification because the unnamed class members were not parties until a class was certified. Because this argument raises an issue of law concerning the time period that the trial court could properly consider in analyzing waiver, we review it de novo. (Sky Sports, Inc. v. Superior Court (2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 1363, 1367 (Sky Sports) [applying the de novo standard to the issue whether a defendant “waived its right to compel arbitration because it did not bring the motion before certification of a class that included parties to the arbitration agreement”].)

Slip op., at 12.  The Court concluded that strategic delay can properly result in waiver:

An attempt to gain a strategic advantage through litigation in court before seeking to compel arbitration is a paradigm of conduct that is inconsistent with the right to arbitrate. For example, Bower was a putative wage and hour class action in which the defendant engaged in discovery and attempted to settle the case on a classwide basis when the class was a modest size. (Bower, supra, 232 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1038–1040.) When the plaintiff sought an amendment that would have expanded the class, the defendant (Inter-Con) moved to compel arbitration. The trial court found waiver, and the appellate court affirmed, concluding that Inter-Con’s decision to delay seeking arbitration “appears to have been tactical.” (Id. at pp. 1045, 1049). Based upon Inter-Con’s litigation conduct, “[o]ne can infer that InterCon chose to conduct discovery, delay arbitration, and seek a classwide settlement because it saw an advantage in pursuing that course of action in the judicial forum.” (Id. at p. 1049.) Such conduct provided substantial evidence to support the finding that “Inter-Con’s actions were inconsistent with a right to arbitrate.” (Id. at p. 1045.)

Slip op., at 18.  The discussion about waiver is extensive (seriously - about 24 pages of the opinion concern waiver).  The Court seems to leave the door open for situations where the trial court believes that there is a bona fide desire to wait for an expected clarification in the law, but it would seem to be a risky bet for a defendant if its actions could just as well be perceived as done for strategic benefit.

I'm somewhat surprised that this hasn't come up more frequently.

Knapp, Petersen & Clarke, André E. Jardini, Gwen Freeman and K. L. Myles successfully represented Plaintiff and Respondent.

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.

A rest break says what? Vaquero v. Stoneledge Furniture LLC holds that commission-only pay employees must be paid separately for rest periods.

California is the wage and hour gift that keeps on giving.  And if you thought every wage and hour question must have been answered by now....well....the naivete is charming.  A few weeks ago, in Vaquero v. Stoneledge Furniture LLC (February 28, 2017), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Seven) tackled two new questions related to rest breaks:

Are employees paid on commission entitled to separate compensation for rest periods mandated by state law? If so, do employers who keep track of hours worked, including rest periods, violate this requirement by paying employees a guaranteed minimum hourly rate as an advance on commissions earned in later pay periods? 

Slip op., at 2.  And how do you think the Court answered these questions?  Everyone should pass this test; it's still California we're talking about.  The Court said yes to both questions.

The facts are important to the outcome, since this result would not apply to every commission plan.  The defendant had two different plans in operation during the class period. The first was described as follows:

After a training period during which new employees received $12.01 per hour, Stoneledge paid sales associates on a commission basis. If a sales associate failed to earn “Minimum Pay” of at least $12.01 per hour in commissions in any pay period, Stoneledge paid the 3 associate a “draw” against “future Advanced Commissions.” The commission agreement explained: “The amount of the draw will be deducted from future Advanced Commissions, but an employee will always receive at least $12.01 per hour for every hour worked.”

Slip op., at 2-3.  Later, the plan was changed:

Effective March 30, 2014, Stoneledge implemented a new commission agreement that pays sales associates a base hourly wage of $10 “for all hours worked.” In addition, sales associates can earn various types of incentive payments based on a percentage of sales. Under the new agreement, no portion of a sales associate’s base pay is deducted from or credited against incentive payments.

Slip op., at 4.  The Court began its analysis by exhaustively setting forth the rest break requirement, the nature of Wage Orders, and the policies underlying California wage and hour laws, beginning with a citation to Augustus.  Next, the Court examined whether Wage Order 7 requires separate compensation for rest breaks:

The plain language of Wage Order No. 7 requires employers to count “rest period time” as “hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.” (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11070, subd. 12(A), italics added.) In Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 864 the court interpreted this 12 language to require employers to “separately compensate[ ]” employees for rest periods where the employer uses an “activity based compensation system” that does not directly compensate for rest periods. (Id. at p. 872.)

Slip op., at 11-12.  After a thorough examination, the Court agreed that the approach in Bluford was correct:

We agree with Bluford that Wage Order No. 7 requires employers to separately compensate employees for rest periods if an employer’s compensation plan does not already include a minimum hourly wage for such time. (See Gonzales, supra, 215 Cal.App.4th at pp. 48-49 [concluding that the identical language in Wage Order No. 4 requires employers to separately pay piecerate workers for nonproductive time].) All of the federal courts that have considered this issue of California law have reached a similar conclusion and have held employers must separately compensate employees paid by the piece for nonproductive work hours.

Slip op., at 14.  The Court then concluded that the same result applies to commission-pay employees:

The plain language of Wage Order No. 7 covers employees paid by commission. (See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11070, subd. 1 [applying to “all persons employed in the mercantile industry whether paid on a time, piece rate, commission, or other basis”]; id. at § 11070, subd. 2(O) [“wages” includes “amounts for labor performed by employees of every description, whether the amount is fixed or ascertained by the standard of time, task, piece, commission basis, or other method of calculation”].) Where, as here, the language of a wage order is unambiguous, it is dispositive. (Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1028; see also Gonzales, supra, 215 Cal.App.4th at p. 49 [the wage order “does not allow any variance in its application based on the manner of compensation”].)

Slip op., at 15.  The Court explained that commission pay systems and piece rate systems were essentially identical in their treatment of rest breaks:

The commission agreement used by Stoneledge during the class period is analytically indistinguishable from a piece-rate system in that neither allows employees to earn wages during rest periods. Indeed, the purpose of a rest period is to rest, not to work.

Slip op., at 16.  After reaching its conclusion, the Court then spent the balance of its discussion disposing of various arguments by the defendant.  In one example, the Court rejected that a guaranteed base drawn against future commissions did not pay for rest periods:

For sales associates whose commissions did not exceed the minimum rate in a given week, the company clawed back (by deducting from future paychecks) wages advanced to compensate 23 employees for hours worked, including rest periods. The advances or draws against future commissions were not compensation for rest periods because they were not compensation at all. At best they were interest-free loans. Stoneledge cites no authority for the proposition that a loan for time spent resting is compensation for a rest period. To the contrary, taking back money paid to the employee effectively reduces either rest period compensation or the contractual commission rate, both of which violate California law. (See § 221 [prohibiting employers from collecting or receiving from an employee “any part of wages theretofore paid by said employer”]; § 222 [prohibiting employers from withholding any part of a wage agreed upon]; § 223 [prohibiting employers from “secretly pay[ing] a lower wage while purporting to pay the wage designated by statute or by contract”]; cf. Armenta, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 323 [averaging wages across pay periods to satisfy minimum wage requirements “effectively reduces [employees’] contractual hourly rate”].)

Slip op., at 22-23.  The Court then went through mathematical examples to show that the system in place earlier in the class period did compensate employees differently depending upon whether they took rest breaks or not.  If you are paid exclusively on commission, expect to see your compensation system get a tweak in the near future.

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.