Articles from September 2014

J.C. Penney Denied Arb in Seating Action Following Iskanian

In one of the first appellate decisions to apply the California Supreme Court’s landmark Iskanian decision, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision to deny J.C. Penney’s motion to compel an ex-employee’s suitable seating action to arbitration. Jones v. J.C. Penney Corp., Inc., No. B246674 (2nd Dist. Div. 4 Sept. 5, 2014) (slip op. available here). 

The plaintiff in Jones was a sales associate/cashier at J.C. Penney from November 2007 to January 2008, and then again from November 2009 to December 2009.  Jones’ complaint alleged failure to provide suitable seating, in violation of Labor Code section 1198 and California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 11070, because J.C. Penny did not allow cashiers to sit in chairs while working.  Jones also sought civil penalties under PAGA for the seating violations.  As a condition of her employment, Jones signed an arbitration agreement that covered disputes “arising from, relating to, or asserted after the termination of . . . employment.”  Slip op. at 2 (quoting the arbitration agreement). The agreement contained a class and representative actions waiver.

In a unanimous, unpublished decision authored by Justice Lee Ann Edmon, the Second Appellate District denied the defendant’s petition to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s seating claims under PAGA. Applying Iskanian, the court held that agreements such as J.C. Penney’s that waive an employee’s right to bring a representative PAGA action are unenforceable. The court also rejected J.C. Penney’s request to stay the appeal until after the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the Iskanian defendant’s petition for a writ of certiorari. J.C. Penney argued that Iskanian conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, but the court found that the defendant had already conceded in its brief that “[u]nless employers were to ask the LWDA [Labor and Workforce Development Agency] to sign arbitration agreements, and the LWDA was to sign them, there can be no circumstances under which an aggrieved employee could arbitrate any action for PAGA penalties.” Slip op. at 12 (internal citations omitted). “Without considering whether an arbitration agreement could ever be crafted that would permit arbitration of PAGA claims, we conclude that no such arbitration agreement was crafted here.” Id. at 12-13.

9th Cir.: Affirms Order Certifying Claims Adjusters Class in Jimenez v. Allstate

Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the California district court’s order certifying a class of approximately 800 claims adjusters who alleged that Allstate denied them overtime pay, ruling the class met the commonality requirement. Jimenez v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. 12-56112 (9th Cir. Sept. 3, 2014) (slip op. available here). Stating that the use of statistical sampling testimony to show classwide liability did not contradict the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), the court found that it and its sister circuit courts have regularly found that statistical sampling and representative testimony are acceptable ways to show liability. Moreover, the lower court had preserved the defendant’s ability to raise any individualized defenses it might have at the damages stage, and thus the certification order did not violate its due process rights.

Claims adjuster Jimenez filed this putative class action in 2010, on behalf of all Allstate claims adjusters in California working since Sept. 29, 2006. After Allstate reclassified its California claims adjusters from exempt positions to hourly status in 2005, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant did not pay them overtime wages or for missing meal breaks. In April 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Kronstadt certified the overtime class, ruling that if Allstate had a common practice of disregarding its own written policies and discouraging employees from reporting overtime, then the employees meet the requirements for commonality. Meal and rest break claims were denied, however, because they were too individualized.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with the lower court’s order finding that the plaintiffs had raised at least three common questions: whether the class was forced to work unpaid overtime due to the defendant’s unofficial policy of deterring employees from reporting overtime (among other reasons), whether the defendants knew or should have known that the class members were working unpaid overtime, and whether the defendants “stood idly by.” Citing Dukes, the court opined that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in determining that these three common questions contained the ‘glue’ necessary to say that ‘examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question[s]’ raised in the plaintiffs’ complaint. Slip op. at 11 (internal citations omitted). The panel also rejected Allstate’s argument that statistical sampling violates due process during the liability phase of class action proceedings. “[S]tatistical sampling and representative testimony are acceptable ways to determine liability so long as the use of these techniques is not expanded into the realm of damages.” Id. at 12.

9th Cir.: FedEx Misclassified Drivers as Independent Contractors in Alexander v. FedEx Ground

On August 27, 2014, the Ninth Circuit ruled in a pair of cases (filed in California and Oregon) against FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., that FedEx had misclassified delivery truck drivers as independent contractors, when they were in fact employees. The panel reversed a multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of FedEx as to whether the drivers were employees. U.S. Circuit Judges Alfred T. Goodwin, Stephen S. Trott, and William A. Fletcher sat on the panels that considered both cases; Judge Fletcher wrote opinions for both panels. The California case is Alexander et al. v. FedEx Ground Package System Inc., Nos. 12-17458 and 12-17509 (slip opinion available here). The Oregon case is Slayman et al. v. FedEx Ground Package System Inc., case numbers 12-35525 and 12-35559 (slip opinion available here).

The California and Oregon suits, along with suits from other states, were consolidated in multidistrict litigation involving similar claims that FedEx had misclassified its drivers as independent contractors, and certified as class actions. The Indiana federal court serving as the MDL court denied plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment alleging that FedEx drivers in California were employees rather than independent contractors and granted FedEx’s cross-motion for summary judgment. Additionally, the California plaintiffs had brought claims under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which the MDL court declined to certify as a class. The MDL court then remanded Alexander to the district court to resolve the plaintiffs’ claims under FMLA. After the FMLA claims were settled, the district court entered final judgment, which the plaintiffs appealed, challenging the MDL court’s grant of summary judgment to FedEx on the employment/independent contractor status issue.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that under FedEx’s operating agreement, FedEx had broad authority to prescribe how the drivers carried out their deliveries. Although the agreement allowed drivers to supply their own trucks and to pay for their own uniforms, the agreement also specified the size, color, shelving, and maintenance of those trucks; drivers’ personal grooming and appearance; and the condition of the uniforms. Additionally, although FedEx did not expressly specify working hours or delivery routes, FedEx dictated that drivers pick up and deliver packages within a certain geographic area and time window, required them to follow FedEx guidelines for “Safe Driving Standards,” and provided training for drivers on job performance and interacting with customers, in order to “[f]oster the professional image and good reputation of FedEx.” Id. at 6-11. Accounting for FedEx’s broad authority and weighing it against other factors, the appeals court said, in applying the Borello “necessary control” test, FedEx’s extensive right to control the manner in which its drivers performed their work was the most important factor, and strongly favored employee status. Id. at 31. The court held that the plaintiffs were, as a matter of law, employees under California’s right-to-control test. Id.

U.S. Circuit Judge Trott concurred in the California opinion, writing “Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked, ‘If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?’ His answer was, ‘Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.’” Id. at 34. He concluded that “[l]abeling the drivers ‘independent contractors’ in FedEx’s operating agreement does not conclusively make them so. . . . Although our decision substantially unravels FedEx’s business model, FedEx was not entitled to ‘write around’ the principles and mandates of California Labor Law.” Id. at 35.

Herrera v. CarMax: Defendant Cannot Block Employees’ PAGA Action

U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald refused to enjoin plaintiffs in a PAGA (Private Attorneys General Act) action filed in state court based on a prior ruling in the federal case ordering the plaintiffs’ wage-and-hour class action claims against CarMax to arbitration. Herrera, et al. v. CarMax Auto Superstores California, LLC, No. 5:14-cv-00776 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2014) (slip op. available here). The putative class action alleged that the used car retailer failed to sufficiently compensate non-exempt piece-rate employees, such as mechanics and detailers, for all hours worked. The court’s refusal was based in part on its finding that, by filing the state action, the plaintiffs were not attempting to circumvent the arbitration order in the federal case.

The first action was filed in state court in March 2014; CarMax removed the suit and defeated the plaintiffs’ efforts to remand the suit back to state court in June. CarMax then filed a motion to compel arbitration of the class claims, which the district court granted in July, and dismissed the case. The same plaintiffs then filed a second action in California state court in June, based on the same labor code violations as in the federal lawsuit, but only seeking civil penalties under the PAGA. The federal district court avoided rendering a decision on the merits of the res judicata issue, deferring it to the state court, and held that the injunction should not be issued under an exception to the Anti-Injunction Act. The Anti-Injunction Act (28 U.S.C. § 2283) permits a federal court to enjoin a state court action to “protect or effectuate its judgments” under the “relitigation exception.”

Although it largely deferred the res judicata issue to the state court, the federal district court noted that, because none of the substantive legal questions involved in the second action had been raised in the first action, the second lawsuit “presents the more difficult question, never considered by this Court, whether Plaintiffs’ PAGA claims may be compelled to arbitration . . . [and] never considered the merits of Plaintiffs’ underlying allegations of labor law violations.” Slip op. at 5. The district court also rejected CarMax’s argument that the plaintiffs were improperly attempting to circumvent the federal court’s arbitration ruling, finding instead that “Plaintiffs sought a state forum for their indisputably state-law PAGA claims . . . ” and acted properly to “reserve certain state law claims for resolution in the state courts.” Id. at 7 (emphasis added). Citing Iskanian v. CLS Transportation LLC (59 Cal. 4th 348 (2014)) and Arias v. Superior Court (46 Cal. 4th 969 (2009)), the court stated that “whether an order compelling arbitration of claims of labor law violations can preclude claims for PAGA remedies arising from the same violations is a particularly sensitive question of state law that has not been thoroughly addressed in the state courts. . . . [but g]iven the developments in California law on the precise contours of PAGA, these questions would be best answered by the state courts.” Id. at 6.