A quick note on Gonzalez v. San Gabriel Transit, Inc.


In Gonzalez v. San Gabriel Transit, Inc. (October 10, 2019), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Four) reversed and remanded on an appeal from the denial of class certification. Most of the opinion is about the impact of Dynamex, which adopted the “ABC test” after the trial court denied certification. There is some important analysis about what claims are encompassed by the “ABC test,” and the retroactive application. But I’m posting now just to draw attention to a sliver of discussion at the end of the opinion regarding typicality:

Also, SGT maintains that Gonzales’ claims are atypical because, “unlike other class members, [he] never leased a taxi during the class period.” But the class allegations are not premised on having “leased” a vehicle. Rather, Gonzales seeks more generally to certify a class of plaintiffs who “were engaged by [SGT] to drive passengers for hire,” and who “drove” for SGT during the class period, i.e., all “drivers employed by, or formerly employed by [SGT] . . . [during the class period], who were or are classified as independent contractors.” The common allegations of harm suffered by Gonzales and other drivers is that all were misclassified as independent contractors. As such, they were required at their own expense to install equipment and provide tools to access SGT’s dispatch system, and to obtain insurance and perform maintenance, all expenses Gonzales contends should properly be borne by their employer and were denied the benefits of wage order protections.

On remand, SGT must show that the variations in class members’ factual situations are sufficiently wide to defeat class certification. For instance, regardless of a driver’s status as lessee or owner/operator, drivers were charged weekly “lease” fees to perform services under the SGT umbrella. If and to the extent it is important that a driver owned rather than leased a vehicle—which may cause a variation in weekly “lease” rates, insurance, equipment installation fees, or some other business expense—such a difference would likely be a function of the damages to which an individual driver was entitled. That a calculation of individual damages will, at some point, be required does not foreclose the possibility of taking common evidence on the issue of misclassification questions. (Collins v. Rocha (1972) 7 Cal.3d 232, 238.) The overarching inquiry is whether class members were misclassified during the class period. If so, as discussed in the overlapping analysis of commonality above, the class members are entitled to a determination as to whether SGT misclassified them as independent contractors. The fact that individual members of the class have different damages does not preclude class certification. (Sav–On, supra, 34 Cal.4th at pp. 329–330.)

The trial court also alluded to the fact that Gonzales could not demonstrate typicality for the entire class because he never drove LAX or school runs. However, as we have noted, typicality does not require that a class representative have suffered injuries identical to those of other class members. (Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings, supra, 231 Cal.App.4th at p. 375.) Accordingly, the trial court must reevaluate whether the requirements for typicality are satisfied, and whether, given time limitations, the complaint may be amended to add an additional representative plaintiff.

Slip op., at 37-38. This discussion pushes back against a common argument used to try and “thin” a class action down to a subset of the members alleged to be a part of the class. The argument is frequently along the lines of “the plaintiff didn’t work in all of the job positions,” or “the plaintiff didn’t work at all of the locations.” This discussion doesn’t entirely reject such arguments, but it certainly undermines them substantially with a fact pattern that is not particularly unique in wage and hour class actions.