In Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc., another pre-emption argument falls flat

Greatsealcal100With collateral attacks on the class action device – such as several efforts to amend California’s class action law (Code Civ. Proc., § 382) – proving unsuccessful, the name of the game in recent years has been pre-emption arguments. In general, it’s fair to say that those arguments have had limited success. <cough> Wyeth. <cough> In Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc. (March 24, 2009), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Four) considered whether the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act of 1965 (SCA) (41 U.S.C. § 351 et seq.) pre-empts all state law remedies for wage & hour violations.

The Court described the SCA:

The SCA requires government contractors to pay service employees “minimum wages and benefits determined by the Secretary of Labor.” (U.S. ex rel. Sutton v. Double Day Office Services (9th Cir. 1997) 121 F.3d 531, 533.) “Its purpose is to protect employees of government contractors. Before the [SCA], the federal government had been ‘subsidizing’ substandard levels of compensation by awarding contracts to those who were able to bid low by paying less. [Citation.]” (Saavedra v. Donovan (9th Cir. 1983) 700 F.2d 496, 497.)

(Slip op., at p. 4.) After considering the pre-emption argument successfully raised by defendant at summary judgment, the Court concluded that the SCA did not pre-empt the Labor Code Claims at issue:

We therefore conclude that Naranjo’s action to recover additional wages under Labor Code section 226.7 neither conflicts with the SCA nor hinders the achievement of its goals. The wage determination attached to Spectrum’s contract sets forth the minimum basic wage rates for a large number of employment categories, including Naranjo’s category of detention officer; in addition, it contains provisions setting minimum rates for night pay, Sunday pay, and a “[h]azardous [p]ay [d]ifferential,” but none regarding additional pay for the denial of meal and rest breaks. Naranjo’s suit thus seeks state-required wages that exceed the minimum wages determined by the Secretary. In view of the language of the form clause in Spectrum’s contract and the authorities discussed above, Naranjo’s action under Labor Code section 226.7 does not conflict with the SCA and promotes, rather than impedes, its goals.

We reach the same conclusions regarding Naranjo’s claims under Labor Code sections 203 and 226. Labor Code section 203, subdivision (a), imposes a penalty upon employers who willfully fail to pay discharged employees their full compensation in a timely manner. Naranjo’s complaint seeks this penalty for the additional wages allegedly not paid under Labor Code section 226.7. As explained above, Naranjo may properly seek the wages in a state court without impeding the operation of the SCA. In view of Butler, we conclude that Naranjo’s litigation of his request for a penalty under Labor Code section 203 also would not hinder or conflict with the SCA.

Finally, Labor Code section 226 obliges employers to provide their employees with records of their earnings and deductions, and imposes penalties upon employers who knowingly and intentionally fail to supply the records. In contrast, under the SCA and its regulations, employers must maintain records and disclose them to the Secretary, but are not required to disclose the records to employees. (29 C.F.R. § 4.6(g)(1).) The employer’s sole duty regarding employees is to post a form notice in a prominent place regarding the wages and benefits required under the SCA. (29 C.F.R. §§ 4.183, 4.184.) The form clause in Spectrum’s contract specifying its SCA obligations imposes no duty upon Spectrum to provide wage and benefit records to its employees. (48 C.F.R. § 52.222-41(i).) As the evident goal of the employer’s recordkeeping duties under the SCA is to ensure compliance with the SCA, we conclude that Labor Code section 226 complements the SCA and facilitates its goals by enhancing scrutiny of the employers’ conduct.

(Slip op., at pp. 13-14.) The plaintiff did not address the trial court’s ruling of pre-emption as to claims for violation of the UCL, conversion, and injunctive relief. Having not raised those rulings as erroneous, the Court did not address them. And so another pre-emption argument fizzles.

The life cycles of these trends are interesting.  Consider, for example, the anti-class action arbitration provisions that were struck down in waves, or the run of decisions about class member identity discovery after Pioneer.  Makes you wonder how these issues manage to percolate up to the appellate level in such temporal proximity.  Probably coincidence, but maybe a vast defense conspiracy...