The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District revived a class action lawsuit over Rite Aid’s failure to provide seating to its clerks and cashiers on May 16, 2014. Hall v. Rite Aid Corp., No. D062909 (4th Dist. Div. 1 May 16, 2014) (slip op. available here). In Hall, the Court of Appeal reversed a 2012 trial court order decertifying a class action of nearly 16,000 Rite Aid cashiers and clerks who alleged they were denied seating in violation of California’s Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order 7-2001, section 14.
The panel found that the San Diego Superior Court trial judge prematurely considered the merits of the case when she decertified the class, deciding that the plaintiff’s claims could not be decided on a classwide basis. The panel held that the trial court had failed to follow the approach laid out in the California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker Rest. Corp. v. Superior Court (273 P.3d 513 (2012)), because the trial court had assessed the merits of the plaintiff’s legal theory of liability, rather than whether that theory was amenable to class treatment. Finding that the plaintiff’s theory of recovery, i.e. “what is Rite Aid’s policy” and “whether the nature of the work involved in performing check-out functions would reasonably permit the use of seats,” were amenable to common proof, the court stated, “[w]e read Brinker to hold that, at the class certification stage, as long as the plaintiff’s posited theory of liability is amenable to resolution on a class-wide basis, the court should certify the action for class treatment even if the plaintiff’s theory is ultimately incorrect at its substantive level.” Slip op. at 19-20.
The case was remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings. The Rite Aid decision suggests that a plaintiff alleging that a common employer policy violates the law may be enough for a court to grant certification. In line with Brinker, Rite Aid states that reviewing the merits of a case at the class certification stage should be “closely circumscribed” and only should occur in limited circumstances. Slip op. at 21 (quoting Brinker, 273 P.3d 513 at 526 (2012)).