Bradley v. Networkers International LLC reverses denial of class certification after remand following Brinker decision

The Brinker-related news is still flowing today.  While the Supreme Court was busy depublishing decisions that affirmed certification denials purportedly based on Brinker, the Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) in Bradley v. Networkers International LLC (December 12, 2012) reversed the trial court's decision to deny class certification as to all but one cause of action (off-the-clock work).  The decision of the Court of Appeal follows an extended detour through the California Supreme Court.  The California Supreme Court granted plaintiffs' petition for review, and ordered the first Bradley decision (unpublished) held pending the high court's decision Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004 (2012). The court then remanded the first Bradley opinion to the Court "with directions to vacate its decision and to reconsider the cause in light of Brinker . . . ."

The Court took its instructions seriously.  The Court received extensive supplemental briefing on Brinker and other decisions from the parties.  The Court concluded that the trial court erred when it refused to certify every claim.

The Court carefully reviewed Brinker's approach for analyzing class claims based on policies applicable to the class:

In finding that common issues predominated on this rest break issue, the high court emphasized that "[c]laims alleging that a uniform policy consistently applied to a group of employees is in violation of the wage and hour laws are of the sort routinely, and properly, found suitable for class treatment," citing with approval three Court of Appeal decisions: Jaimez v. Daiohs USA, Inc. (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 1286 (Jaimez); Ghazaryan v. Diva Limousine, Ltd. (2008) 169 Cal.App.4th 1524 (Ghazaryan); and Bufil, supra, 162 Cal.App.4th 1193. (Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1033.) In each of these decisions, the Court of Appeal held the trial court abused its discretion in denying class certification based on the predominance issue. (Jaimez, supra, at pp. 1299-1307; Ghazaryan, supra, at pp. 1534-1538; Bufil, supra, at pp. 1205-1206.) These courts reasoned that the plaintiffs were challenging a uniform employment policy that allegedly violated California law and thus this violation could be proved (or disproved) through common facts and law. (Jaimez, supra, at pp. 1299-1300; Ghazaryan, supra, at pp. 1536-1538; Bufil, supra, at p. 1206.) The Jaimez and Ghazaryan courts further found that common issues predominated even if the policy did not affect each employee in the same way and damages would need to be proved individually. (See Jaimez, supra, at pp. 1301, 1303-1305; Ghazaryan, supra, at p. 1536.)

Slip op., at 17-18.  (Moment of self-aggrandizement: At this point, I'm feeling pretty good about my work on Ghazaryan.)   The Court continued with a thorough analysis of the clarified standards for meal and rest period claims.  Notably, the Court highlighted the guidance provided by Justice Werdegar on the questions of whether meal period claims are categorically uncertifiable if the defendant raises as an issue the reason for the missed meal period:

Justice Werdegar stated that if an employer's records show no meal period for a given shift, a rebuttable presumption arises that the employee was not relieved of duty and no meal period was provided, shifting the burden to the employer to show the meal period was waived. (Id. at p. 1053.) Justice Werdegar further stated that "[w]hile individual issues arising from an affirmative defense can in some cases support denial of certification, they pose no per se bar [citations]." (Ibid.)

Slip op., at 20.

Later in the opinion, the Court also concluded that the question of independent contractor status is generally one that turns on common issues:

Under both the Borello and Martinez standards, the evidence relevant to the factual question whether the class members were employees or independent contractors is common among all class members. Each of the class members signed a standard "Independent Contractor Agreement" that characterized the worker as an independent contractor; each class member was engaged in a similar occupation (skilled labor in installing or servicing cell sites); each class member was required to work full time and to be available on every working day and during assigned "on call" times; each class member was told how to prioritize each day's jobs; each class member received hourly pay, rather than pay by the job; each class member submitted timesheets to Networkers and Networkers' customers for approval; and each class member was required to use a specific set of tools on the job and to obtain those tools from Networkers. Additionally, although Networkers' standard contract stated that the workers had the right to control the manner and means of the work, including that the workers were permitted to subcontract the work, Networkers had specific time and place job requirements that all workers were required to follow, and the workers could not deviate from these rules or delegate the work.

Slip op., at 23.  The Court continued:

Networkers argued below that there would be a need for individualized proof because of differences among the workers pertaining to job titles, skill levels, pay grades, and the specific type of repair or installation work. However, with respect to the issues "likely to be presented" in the litigation (Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1025), these distinctions are not significant. The fact that some workers engaged in repair work and others engaged in installation work, or that workers had different pay grades or worked for different lengths of times on particular days, is not central to the issue whether the workers here were employees or independent contractors under the Borello or Martinez tests. (See Martinez, supra, 49 Cal.4th at p. 76; Borello, supra, 48 Cal.3d at pp. 350-351.) Under the analysis, the focus is not on the particular task performed by the employee, but the global nature of the relationship between the worker and the hirer, and whether the hirer or the worker had the right to control the work. The undisputed evidence showed Networkers had consistent companywide policies applicable to all employees regarding work scheduling, payments, and work requirements. Whether those policies created an employer-employee relationship, as opposed to an independent contractor relationship, is not before us. The critical fact is that the evidence likely to be relied upon by the parties would be largely uniform throughout the class.

Slip op., at 24-25.  Unequivocal.  Seems like that IC pendulum is swinging back towards a presumption that IC classification is customarily a question suitable for certification.

The Court then returned to the specific claims in the case before it, applying Brinker's standards to the claims and trial court record.  Rather than wade through that discussion, I will offer this observation.  The employer chose to classify installers and repair techs as independent contractors.  When it made that choice, it also chose not to provide meal periods and authorize rest breaks.  It had no policy for them.  Based on Brinker, the Court concluded that this arrangement raised common questions and let the employer live with the consequences of its choice.

And, while the Court distinguished Lamps Plus and Chipotle, it need not have worried about them; they were depublished today.