Dynamex

California Appellate Court Rejects ABC Test for Non-Wage-Order Claims

Some positive news for those employers that retain independent contractors. On October 22, 2018, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, held that the Dynamex “ABC” test (which we previously discussed here) to determine whether an independent contractor is an employee, only applies to wage order claims. But the case is a mixed bag and is a reminder that post-Dynamex, hiring parties bear a heavier burden to overcome the presumption that all workers are employees.

The case is Jesus Cuitlahuac Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, LLC, et al., involving plaintiff Jesus Garcia (“Garcia”), a taxi driver, who brought a wage and hour lawsuit against Border Transportation Group (“BTG”), with whom he drove taxi for several years. The trial court granted summary judgment for BTG, applying the decades-old multifactor S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations, 48 Cal. 3d 341 (1989) test and finding Garcia was an independent contractor, not an employee entitled to wage order protection. The trial court’s reasoning included that Garcia controlled the means and manner of his work and “could and did market his business in his own name.”

Garcia appealed, during which time the California Supreme Court decided Dynamex, adopting the “ABC” test to determine whether a worker is an employee. Under this test, a hired individual is presumed an employee and the burden lays entirely on the hiring party to rebut that presumption by showing:

  • that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work and in fact;
  • that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business;
  • that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity.

Turning first to Garcia’s wage order claims, the court focused on the “C” prong and found that BTG failed to carry its burden to show Garcia actually “provided services for other entities ‘independently’ of his relationship with BTG.” The court rejected BTGs reliance on Sebago v. Bos. Cab Dispatch, Inc., which focused the inquiry on whether the worker is permitted to establish an independent business operation. The court noted that Dynamex requires an “existing, not potential showing of independent business operation.” The court reversed summary judgment on the wage order claims.

But in positive news for hiring parties, turning next to Garcia’s non-wage-order claims, the court held the ABC test did not apply, and upheld summary adjudication as to those claims.[1] The court explained that the Supreme Court did not reject the more flexible, multifactor Borello test in all instances, and that Borello applies when a cause of action is predicated solely on the Labor Code, while the ABC test is properly limited to wage-order claims. The court reasoned that the Supreme Court “recognized that different standards could apply to different statutory claims…” and emphasized that “primacy of statutory purpose” should resolve “the employee or independent contractor question.” The court found “no reason to apply the ABC test categorically to every working relationship, particularly when Borello…remains the standard for worker’s compensation.” And because the parties did not identify a “a basis to apply Dynamex to [the] non-wage-order claims,” the court concluded that Borello “furnished the proper standard as to those claims” without analyzing their primary statutory purposes.

Orrick will continue to track interpretations of the Dynamex case as they are published. For the latest employment law updates, subscribe to the Orrick Employment Law and Litigation Blog.

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[1] Garcia’s non-wage-order claims included wrongful termination in violation of public policy, failure to pay overtime, and waiting time penalties.