Class Action

Fool’s Gold: Second Circuit Vacates Order Affirming Arbitrator’s Certification of Class of Jewelry Store Workers Including Absent Class Members

On July 24, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a federal district court’s approval for a class of roughly 69,000 women claiming that Sterling Jewelers, Inc. (“Sterling”) discriminated against them based on sex. The decision overturned a district court ruling that affirmed an arbitrator’s decision to let the women proceed to trial as a class in an arbitration.

Plaintiffs initially filed a class action lawsuit in March 2008, alleging that Sterling’s practices and policies led to women being deliberately passed over for promotions and paid them less than their male cohorts. The case was sent to arbitration several months later under Sterling’s arbitration clause.

In 2009, an arbitrator ruled that Sterling’s dispute resolution program did not specifically bar class actions and allowed claimants to seek class status. From there, the case took a number of twists and turns, which we reported on more fully at the time here.

In June 2013, the employees moved for class certification. In February 2015, the arbitrator ruled that that the employees could proceed as a class in the arbitration.  In November 2015, the district court affirmed the arbitrator’s decision concluding that the arbitrator did not exceed her authority by certifying a class that included absent class members i.e., employees other than the named plaintiffs and those who have opted into the class.  Sterling appealed. READ MORE

Allegations of Misclassification Are Insufficient to Demonstrate Commonality and Typicality According to California Court of Appeal Decision

The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District held that misclassification alone does not establish liability for overtime violations, and, thus, the fact that members of a putative class were classified as exempt was not sufficient to demonstrate the required commonality and typicality for a misclassification class action to proceed. The court in Kizer v. Tristar Risk Management held that in addition to alleging misclassification, the plaintiffs needed to prove that the misclassification caused harm. The standard announced by the Kizer Court augments the burden on plaintiffs in misclassification wage and hour class actions to establish commonality and typicality. On July 26, the decision was certified for publication. READ MORE

Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument in October on Enforceability of Employment Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

In January, we reported that the Supreme Court granted review of three conflicting Court of Appeal decisions to settle the question of whether an agreement requiring that employees resolve employment-related disputes through individual arbitration violates the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).

Last week, the Supreme Court set oral argument for October 2, 2017 to resolve the circuit split on whether mandatory class action waivers violate the NLRA. The Fifth, Second and Eight Circuits rejected the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers unlawfully interfere with employees’ NLRA rights to engage in concerted activity. See Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, 808 F.3d. 1013 (5th Cir. 2015); Cellular Sales of Missouri, LLC v. NLRB, 824 F.3d 772 (8th Cir. 2016); Patterson v. Raymours Furniture Co., Inc., 2016 WL 4598542 (2d Cir. Sept. 2, 2016).  The Ninth and Seventh Circuits however, held that an arbitration agreement precluding class actions violates the NLRA and is not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). See Morris v. Ernst & Young, 834 F. 3d 975 (9th Cit. 2016) Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016).  The Ninth Circuit’s opinion distinguishes mandatory class action waivers from those agreements that permit employees to opt-out.

In June, Ernst & Young, Murphy Oil and Epic Systems filed their opening briefs with the Supreme Court, requesting that the Court affirm the Fifth Circuit’s decision and reject the Seventh Circuit’s decision. The companies argued that the FAA requires enforcement of class action waivers because it requires enforcement of agreements to arbitrate according to their terms and the NLRA’s provisions protecting employees’ right to act in concert do not override the FAA. The U.S. Department of Justice filed one of 17 amicus curiae briefs last month in support of the enforceability of class action waivers.  The Department of Justice’s argument that the NLRB’s position contradicts the FAA is especially significant given its previous contrary position under the Obama administration.

Flagged Down: Second Circuit Finds NYC “Black Car” Drivers Are Independent Contractors

The Second Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of a class action of New York City “black car” drivers who alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors by their dispatchers. In reaching its ruling, the Court found that multiple factors of the economic realities test weighed against employee status for the drivers.

Black car drivers provide rides to high-end clientele, such as business executives, celebrities, and dignitaries. In 2012, a class of drivers sued Corporate Transportation Group Ltd. and a number of its affiliates (collectively, the “dispatchers”) alleging they were misclassified as independent contractors in violation of the FLSA and New York Labor Law.  After originally granting conditional class certification, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted the dispatchers’ motion for summary judgment, concluding the drivers were properly classified as independent contractors under both statutes. READ MORE

BREAKING DEVELOPMENT: Supreme Court to Rule on Enforceability of Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

In August of 2016, we reported that the Ninth Circuit created a deeper circuit-split on whether class action waivers in arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) with its decision in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.

As expected, the Supreme Court granted review today of three of the conflicting Court of Appeals decisions. It granted review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, 808 F.3d 1013 (5th Cir. 2015). The Fifth Circuit rejected the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers unlawfully interfere with employees’ NLRA rights to engage in concerted activity, agreeing with the Second and Eighth Circuits. The Ninth and Seventh Circuits, on the other hand, adopted the NLRB’s position that class action waivers violate the NLRA.

The Supreme Court also granted review in Morris v. Ernst & Young, 834 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2016) and Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016). The Seventh Circuit held that an arbitration agreement precluding collective arbitration or collective action violates section 7 of the NLRA and is unenforceable under the FAA. The Ninth Circuit agreed and concluded that compulsory class action waivers violate sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA by limiting workers’ rights to act collectively, noting in footnote 4 that agreements containing an “opt-out” clause for pursuing class claims do not violate the NLRA.

All three cases have been consolidated and will be argued together.

 

Pulling the Seat From Under PAGA Plaintiffs

From the time of its enactment, the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) has been a thorn in the side of employers.  For example, the California Supreme Court insists PAGA actions are not class actions, but that hasn’t stopped aggrieved employees from seeking class-wide discovery.  And because PAGA permits employees to seek penalties for unconventional causes of action previously off-limits to private plaintiffs (such as the California Wage Order’s suitable seating requirement), employers must grapple with new uncertainties. 

But one aspect of PAGA that provides some relief to employers is the requirement that plaintiffs exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit.  To satisfy this this requirement, a plaintiff is required to send a notice to her employer and the Labor Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) setting forth the “specific provisions” of the Labor Code allegedly violated and explaining the “facts and theories to support the alleged violation” and then wait 65 days before filing suit.  This notice requirement has two purposes: (1) to give the LWDA sufficient information to determine whether the alleged violation justifies an investigation and/ or citation and (2) to put the employer on notice so that it may voluntarily cure the alleged violation. Oftentimes, however, plaintiffs’ notice letters are deficient because they fail to include sufficient facts and theories to inform the employer or the LWDA of the nature of the claims.  In such cases, plaintiffs have failed to exhaust administrative remedies. 

Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s recent decision in Gunn v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., Case No.: 3:14-cv-1916-GPC-BGS (S.D. Cal. Dec. 2, 2016), reminds us of the standard that notice letters must meet.  Plaintiff Gunn’s notice letter advised the LWDA of his intent to file a PAGA action for violations of Wage Order 7-2001, Section 14, and “[s]pecifically . . . allege[d] that Family Dollar failed to provide suitable seats to Plaintiff and other current and former employees when the nature of their work reasonably permits the use of seats, in violation of California Labor Code section 1198 and Wage Order 7-2001, section 14.”  Judge Curiel held that such an allegation was insufficient to meet PAGA’s standards.  As he noted, plaintiffs must detail the “facts and theories” supporting their alleged violations. But here, the plaintiff’s allegations simply parroted the language of the underlying regulation, amounting to nothing more than a “string of legal conclusions” devoid of any of the facts or theories required by the Labor Code.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that facts could be implied by his allegations (i.e., that the class of employees at issue would not include office employees because they have seats). 

The most notable aspect of Judge Curiel’s opinion, however, was his denial of the plaintiff’s request for leave to amend.  Although the court recognized leave to amend tends to be granted freely, he disagreed that applied to defective PAGA notices.  The court stated that “courts have granted PAGA claimants leave to amend only when the plaintiff’s complaint failed to adequately plead exhaustion, not when Plaintiff provided defective notice to the LWDA” (emphasis added).  Indeed, granting the plaintiff leave here would tacitly endorse a strategy that precludes the LWDA from receiving the information necessary “to intelligently assess the seriousness of the alleged violation,” thereby frustrating the purpose of PAGA’s statutory notice requirement.

While the unpublished opinion in Gunn will not likely mark a sea change in how courts treat PAGA actions, it is nevertheless a victory for California employers.  Those facing suitable seats claims, which are based on a notoriously ambiguous statute, may have the most to gain. 

 

Post-Tyson Foods: No, The Sky Is Not Falling

This past March, we blogged about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bouaphakeo v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 136 S. Ct. 1036 (2016), a case in which the plaintiffs alleged that Tyson Foods improperly denied compensation for time spent putting on and taking off required protective gear at a pork processing facility.  At trial, the plaintiffs presented experts who, based on sample data, determined the average number of minutes employees likely spent donning and doffing and the aggregate damages that would be owed to the class as a result.

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Arbitration in Employment Sea Change?: Ninth Circuit Holds Mandatory Class Action Waivers Unlawful

Can employers still require employees to sign arbitration agreements with class action waivers as a condition of employment?  Last week, the Ninth Circuit became the second appellate court to adopt the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.

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California Supreme Court Holds “No Universal Rule” Exists When Deciding Who Should Determine Availability of Classwide Arbitration

On July 28, 2016, the California Supreme Court added to the ever-changing body of case law regarding classwide arbitration when it held that “no universal rule” exists regarding who (the court or the arbitrator) should decide whether classwide arbitration is permissible under an arbitration agreement, and that this issue must be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

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California Enacts New PAGA Amendments as Part of Governor’s Budget Bill

The Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees and the state of California for Labor Code violations. In January, Governor Brown submitted a budget proposal that sought greater oversight of PAGA claims and amendments to the PAGA statute. On June 15, 2016, the California Legislature approved Governor Brown’s budget proposal which included significant amendments to PAGA (Labor Sections 2698-2699.5). SB 836 went into effect on June 27, 2016 and provides:

  • The Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”), the agency which coordinates workforce programs by overseeing seven major departments that serve California businesses and workers now has 60 days to review a notice under Labor Code § 2699.3(a). Prior to the amendments, the LWDA had 30 days to review. Additionally, the time for the LWDA to investigate a claim is extended to 180 days (it was 120 days);
  • A Plaintiff cannot file a civil action until 65 days after sending notice to the LWDA (previously 33 days);
  • The LWDA must be provided with a copy of any proposed settlement of a PAGA action at the time it is submitted to the court;
  • A copy of the court’s judgment and any other order that awards or denies PAGA penalties must be provided to LWDA;
  • All items that are required to be provided to the LWDA must be submitted online, including PAGA claim notices and employer cure notices or other responses;
  • A $75 filing fee is required for a new PAGA claim notice and also for any initial employer response to a new PAGA claim notice. The filing fee may be waived if the party on whose behalf the notice or response is filed is entitled to in forma pauperis status; and
  • When a plaintiff files a new PAGA lawsuit in court, a filed-stamped copy of the complaint must be provided to LWDA. This requirement only applies to cases in which the initial PAGA claim notice was filed on or after July 1, 2016.

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