Campbell v. Vitran: Class Certified on Behalf of Truck Drivers

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In 2010, two truck drivers brought an action against their employer, Vitran Express, Inc., alleging that Vitran failed to provide its drivers legally-mandated meal and rest breaks. On November 12, 2015, Judge Klausner granted certification of the drivers’ claims. Campbell v. Vitran Express, Inc., No. CV 11-5029 RGK (SHx) (C.D. Cal. 2015) (slip op. available here). In the interim, the case had been appealed to the Ninth Circuit twice, the latter of which reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, remanding the case and holding that the plaintiffs’ claims were not preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) (previously covered on the ILJ here and here). The drivers pursued class certification on two theories: (1) the defendant implemented an unofficial policy of pressuring its drivers to forego their meal and rest breaks, and (2) the defendant’s written meal and rest break policies were facially invalid. The court granted the plaintiffs’ motion as to both theories.

First, the court found that the drivers could rely on the company’s unofficial policy of pressuring its drivers to forego their breaks, or a “policy-to-violate-the-policy” theory of liability, assuming the drivers supported the theory with enough evidence to demonstrate that such a policy existed and was applied uniformly to all class members. After reviewing the evidence submitted, the court held that the plaintiffs’ declarations, as well as declarations of thirteen fellow drivers and one dispatcher, constituted sufficient evidence that drivers were intimidated and threatened to forego meal and rest breaks for four of the five California locations. Furthermore, the defendant failed to provide any conflicting testimony that the meal and rest break practices differed among locations or supervisors. Thus, all of the evidence in the record supported a finding of a uniform, common policy of denying meal and rest breaks at each of the company’s locations.

Second, the court held that common questions predominated as to the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendant’s written meal and rest break policies were facially invalid. Vitran’s meal break policy provided that employees were entitled to a 30-minute lunch period when working five or more hours a day, but it failed to provide for a second 30-minute meal period for employees who worked 10 or more hours a day. Slip op. at 10. Similarly, Vitran’s rest break policy failed to provide a rest break for every “major fraction” of a four-hour period that drivers worked and failed to provide rest breaks in the middle of the workday “insofar as practicable.” Id. The court noted that California courts and federal courts are split on the issue of whether an allegation of a facially defective policy, without more, subjects an employer to liability—state appellate court decisions impose liability “solely on the basis of a facially defective policy,” whereas federal district courts require the employee to show that the employer “not only maintained a facially defective policy[,] but also implemented unlawful practices pursuant to the policy.” Id. Here, the court applied the recent Ninth Circuit decision, Abdullah v. U.S. Sec. Assocs., Inc., 731 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 2013), which acknowledged that while liability may flow from a facially defective policy, courts must consider the entire record before determining the predominance question. The Campbell court then assessed all of the evidence in the record as to the allegations of facially defective meal and rest break policies, and found that the plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to show a uniform policy that failed to comply with California’s meal and rest break requirements.

Holding that an allegation of facially defective policies was supported by substantial evidence of Vitran’s non-compliant meal and rest break practices, the court found that common questions predominated and granted class certification.

Authored By:
Bevin Allen Pike, Senior Counsel