Godfrey v. Oakland Port Services: CA Ct. of App. Affirms Judgment for Driver Class

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Last month, the California Court of Appeal affirmed an order by the Alameda County Superior Court certifying a class of drivers for various wage-and-hour violations against their employer, Oakland Port Services Corp, d/b/a AB Trucking. Godfrey v. Oakland Port Services Corp., No. A139274 (First Dist. Div. 2 Oct. 28, 2014) (slip op. available here). The drivers claimed that that they had not been paid for missed meal and rest periods, among other violations. The appellate court also upheld the lower court’s judgment for the plaintiffs after a bench trial in which the plaintiffs had been awarded nearly $1 million, in addition to attorney fees, litigation expenses, and class representative enhancement awards. It also found that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) did not preempt California’s meal and rest break requirements.

The plaintiffs had alleged that the defendant had failed to pay its drivers for all hours worked, misclassified some drivers as non-employee trainees, and failed to provide meal and rest breaks. Finding for the plaintiffs, the trial court’s statement of decision and judgment held that: (1) AB Trucking failed to pay for all hours worked because its records showed that “it deducted one hour per day from each employee . . . , even though the driver did not receive a one hour meal period”; (2) “AB misclassified drivers who were suffered or permitted to work as non- employees, or unpaid ‘trainees.’”; and (3) plaintiffs had “presented substantial and persuasive evidence that class members were routinely and consistently precluded by AB from taking meal periods and rest breaks.” Slip op. at 3-4.

AB Trucking argued, on appeal, that the trial court had found erroneously that the FAAAA did not preempt state law with regard to meal and rest breaks. The FAAAA provides for federal regulation of commercial carriers and preempts state law “related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.” 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1). The court disagreed with the defendant, finding that the FAAA does not preempt claims for missed meal and rest periods by the drivers and that the defendant failed to offer any evidence that the state’s break laws had any actual impact on its prices, routes, or services. Citing recent federal and California precedents such as Dilts v. Penske Logistics, LLC, No. 12-55705 (9th Cir. July 9, 2014), and People ex rel. Harris v. PAC Anchor Transportation, Inc., No. S194388 (July 28, 2014), which have limited the preemptive reach of the FAAAA, the court concluded that compliance with the state’s meal and rest break laws does not conflict with federal law.