Earlier in November, the California Court of Appeal revived a proposed overtime class action brought by Joe’s Crab Shack managers against their employer, reversing the trial court’s denial of class certification. Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings, No. B242807 (Second Dist. Div. 7 Nov. 10, 2014) (slip op. available here). The court initially had remanded the case back to the lower court to reconsider issues regarding the commonality of the managers. Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings, No. B242807 (Second Dist. Div. 7 Nov. 12, 2013). The prior decision was issued while Duran v. U.S. Bank National Assn. (59 Cal.4th 1 (2014)) was pending before the California Supreme Court; following the Duran decision, the Martinez matter was transferred back to the court of appeal for reconsideration in light of the case.
The court of appeal again remanded because it found the trial court had erred in denying certification because it had failed to adequately analyze the adequacy and typicality of the plaintiffs, as well as the commonality and predominance prongs under Brinker Rest. Corp. v. Superior Court (273 P.3d 513 (2012)), Duran, and Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc. (59 Cal. 4th 522 (2014)). It reaffirmed that classwide relief remains “the preferred method” for resolving wage-and-hour claims, even in cases with difficult issues of proof, such as misclassification. Slip op. at 23. The court concluded, “[b]y refocusing its analysis on the policies and practices of the employer and the effect those policies and practices have on the putative class, as well as narrowing the class if appropriate, the trial court may in fact find class analysis a more efficient and effective means of resolving plaintiffs’ overtime claim.” Id.
The employees alleged that they worked overtime, were denied uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, and were misclassified as exempt despite having spent a majority of their time performing non-exempt “utility” tasks. The trial court had denied class certification, holding that, because the employees were unable to accurately estimate how much time they had spent doing exempt versus non-exempt tasks, individual inquiries were necessary. This finding meant that common issues did not “predominate” over individual issues, and that class treatment would not be the superior method for resolving the claims. Slip op. at 2.
The court of appeal’s second opinion in this case followed the California Supreme Court’s decision in Duran, a class action filed by former bank salespersons who alleged they had been misclassified. The Duran opinion addressed issues of class action manageability, ruling that individual issues do not necessarily overwhelm common issues when a case involves overtime exemptions premised on how employees spend the workday. Citing Duran, the Martinez court found that “courts in overtime exemption cases must proceed through analysis of the employer’s realistic expectations and classification of tasks rather than asking the employee to identify in retrospect whether, at a particular time, he or she was engaged in an exempt or nonexempt task.” Slip op. at 21.