Bluford v. Safeway: California Appellate Court Reverses Denial of Class Certification

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In a win for employees seeking to remedy broad, systematic employer violations of workplace protections, California’s intermediate appellate court has reversed a trial court judge’s denial of class certification. Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc., No. C066074 (Cal. Ct. App. May 8, 2013) (slip opinion available here). Focusing on the often-decisive predominance requirement for class certification, the unanimous three-judge panel took issue with the trial court’s findings that individual issues predominated over common issues as to the plaintiff’s meal and rest break claims and that the plaintiff failed to allege a common injury resulting from the inadequate wage statements. Holding that “[i]nsufficient evidence supports the trial court’s ruling,” the Court of Appeal found that common issues predominated as to the meal, rest and wage statement claims, and directed the trial court to certify each claim. Slip op. at 2.

The issues around certification of the meal break claim were familiar, with the plaintiff presenting evidence of a systematic, de facto policy of the defendant not providing second meal breaks after the tenth hour of a shift. Slip op. at 11-12. The Court of Appeal deemed inadequate the defendant’s proffering of three declarations from supervisors, attesting to having provided the workers under them sufficient opportunity to take second meal breaks, notwithstanding the company’s lack of any written second meal policy comparable to its written policy governing first meal breaks. Slip op. at 12-13.

As to the rest break claim, the Court of Appeal extensively considered the defendant’s proffered defense, which seemingly entailed extensive individual questions. Slip op. at 7-9. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that determining whether Safeway’s rest break policy and purported practice of including payment for rest breaks in mileage reimbursements complied with California law could be accomplished in a single, common adjudication. Slip op. at 9-10.

Safeway offered a familiar defense to certification of a wage statement class by focusing on the California Labor Code requirement (under Cal. Lab. Code § 226(e)) that there must be an “injury” coincident with a wage statement violation. However, consistent with the California Legislature’s recent clarification of the wage statement statute, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s denial of certification as to the wage statement claim, noting that “‘a very modest showing will suffice.’” Slip op. at 15, citing Jaimez v. DAIOHS USA, Inc., 181 Cal. App. 4th 1286, 1306 (2010).

While this case is not currently designated as published, the Third Appellate District’s rigorously reasoned and detailed ruling as to some of the most frequently pleaded classwide claims would likely find considerable utility as a published case.