Employee Class Certified in Tian v. Ma Laboratories

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The trial judge in the Santa Clara Superior court, Judge Peter H. Kirwan, certified a class of employees who alleged that Ma Laboratories Inc. failed to pay for all “hours worked” pursuant to 8 Cal. Code Regs., § 11070(2)(G). The wage-and-hour lawsuit claimed that the defendant was shaving time off employees’ actual hours worked; the judge found that time-shaving is a “one-way” practice and that workers are under their employers’ control as soon as they are on the clock, even if they are not performing any actual work. Tian v. Ma Laboratories Inc., No. 1-11-cv-195373 (Cal. Super. Ct. Oct. 9, 2014) (slip op. available here).

The court certified the time-shaving class and several subclasses, finding that even workers who are sitting around before their shifts smoking cigarettes and waiting for instructions are considered on the clock and working and thus must be paid. The class consisted of approximately 550 employees who worked at Ma Labs’ headquarters in San Jose or in its facility in Los Angeles. Stating, “even those who are waiting for instructions in the morning are clocked in and subject to Ma Labs’ control/suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so,” the court held that, per the plaintiffs’ theory, “this still constitutes ‘hours worked’ for purposes of compensation, and the necessary findings can be made from the timekeeping alone.” Slip op. at 7.

Ma Labs allegedly had a strict start and end time for each employee, so that if and when workers clocked in before that set time starts or clocked out after it ends, the extra time needed to be approved and manually revised by a system administrator. The plaintiffs also alleged that this time-shaving practice allowed Ma Labs to not always pay for the extra time when workers arrived early or stayed late, but consistently docked their pay if they came in late or clocked out early. Approval for pre-shift time was “rarely if ever” granted, and post-shift time was not typically approved unless it was less than ten minutes. Slip op. at 6. The defendant argued that the plaintiffs were unable demonstrate that each particular employee was not incorrectly reporting his or her time or individual reasons for each individual’s denial of overtime or time card adjustment. Ma Labs also contended that workers would sometimes swipe their cards to clock in, then eat breakfast or perform personal tasks, rather than begin work right away. However, the court declined to address the merits of the plaintiffs’ time-shaving theory and stated that “[defendant’s] evidence that some employees occasionally engaged in personal activities after clocking in does not defeat certification because the record does not suggest that such instances would predominate over common ones.” Slip op. at 7 (emphasis added).

The court granted certification as to the time-shaving subclass, the auto-deduct lunch policy subclass consisting of employees from March 1, 2007 to February 15, 2010, the second meal period policy subclass, the rest period policy subclass from March 1, 2007 to February 15, 2010, the derivative wage statement class, and derivative waiting time penalty subclass. However, it denied the certification motion as to a drivers subclass within the auto-deduct lunch policy theory and a broader rest period policy subclass after February 15, 2010.