Northern District Court certifies under 23(b)(2) a class of shift workers alleging meal period violations at a Shell refinery

United States District Court Judge Claudia Wilken (Northern District of California) granted a motion for class certification in a suit alleging failure to comply with California's meal period requirements and pay an additional hour of pay for each instance of a violation.  Gardner v. Shell Oil Co., 2011 WL 1522377 (N.D.Cal. Apr 21, 2011).  The particularly interesting aspect of this case is the Court's decision to permit certification under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(2):

"Claims for money relief may be certified as part of a Rule 23(b)(2) class, but the rule ‘does not extend to cases in which the appropriate final relief relates exclusively or predominantly to money damages.’ "  Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., 623 F.3d 743, 753 (9th Cir.2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Dukes, 603 F.3d at 615 n. 38).

Citing Allison v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., 151 F.3d 402, 412–16 (5th Cir.1998), Defendants contend that monetary relief in this case predominates because Plaintiffs seek damages for alleged unpaid wages and waiting-time penalties. However, the Ninth Circuit has expressly rejected the Allison approach to determining whether monetary relief in a given case disqualifies the class from certification under Rule 23(b)(2). In Wang, the Ninth Circuit explained, “In Dukes, we rejected as ‘deficient’ ... the Allison ‘incidental damages standard’ that permits certification of claims for monetary relief under Rule 23(b)(2) only when they are ‘incidental to requested injunctive or declaratory relief,’ because it is unduly restrictive.” 623 F.3d at 753–54. In this circuit, Rule 23(b)(2) is interpreted to require “only that claims for monetary relief not predominate over claims for injunctive relief” and certification is acceptable when the claims are on “equal footing.” Id. at 754.

Plaintiffs in the present case, like those in Wang, have a substantial claim for injunctive relief because they seek to end long-standing employment policies. Id. The claims for injunctive and monetary relief are closely related because back wages are sought for those who were deprived of lawful meal periods due to the policies Plaintiffs seek to enjoin. As a result of this close relationship, the request for monetary relief does not introduce “new and significant legal and factual issues,” nor raise particular due process or case management concerns. Id. Furthermore, courts have held that back wages are a form of relief that may be permitted in a Rule 23(b)(2) action. Dukes, 603 F.3d at 618–19 (holding that back pay in a Title VII case is fully consistent with certification of a Rule 23(b)(2) class action and noting that “every circuit to have addressed the issue has acknowledged that Rule 23(b)(2) does allow for some claims for monetary relief.”). In Dukes, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that back pay in the Title VII context generally involves relatively uncomplicated factual determinations and few individualized issues, and is an integral component of Title VII's “make whole” remedial scheme. Id. at 619. Nor are waiting-time penalties so significant or complex that they render Plaintiffs' monetary claim predominant over their request for injunctive relief. Accordingly, class certification under Rule 23(b)(2) is warranted.

Slip op., at 6.  The balance of the opinion discusses predominance, and the Court concluded that common issues predominate and certified a Rule 23(b)(3) class as well.

The slip opinion on Westlaw does not identify the counsel involved in this uncommon attempt at 23(b)(2) certification in the wage & hour context, and I don't have time to track that down.  Thus, I don't know who to applaud.  If you do, given them a pat on the back.