In a major decision with wide-ranging implications, the California Supreme Court handed down a decision on April 30, 2018, substantially restricting the ability of California businesses to lawfully use independent contractors in their core business operations. Dynamex Operations, Inc. v. Superior Court (Lee), Case No. S22732.
Under pressure from government tax and employment law enforcement agencies, as well as labor representatives, the Court announced a new independent contractor test. The decision is widely viewed as a potential blow to the gig economy, and a significant restriction on employer flexibility in determining the most cost-effective configurations between contractors and employees.
Facts and Analysis
Dynamex is a nationwide package and documents delivery service. In recent years it classified its drivers and delivery personnel as independent contractors. The Supreme Court, citing arguments that such classification denied workers various employment benefits and resulted in significant loss of tax revenue, held these contractors were improperly classified, and must be treated as employees. The determination of class-wide damages awaits.
Under prior law, the test for determining contractor status relied upon a number of factors, and thus allowed employers some flexibility in classifying certain workers as contractors, especially if they could demonstrate that one, but not all, of the definitions were met. No more. Now to establish an exemption the employer must prove that all factors point to independent contractor status under a new test. Here’s how it works:
First, the courts will presume that anyone whom the employer “suffers or permits” to work for them is presumed to be an employee. This definition presumes that “all workers who would ordinarily be viewed as working in the hiring business” are employees. (Emphasis is the Court’s.) The only examples of exclusions given by the Court would be workers – like plumbers or electricians – who the Court called “genuine independent contractors” – who do not perform services that are part of the employer’s scope of operations or line(s) of business.
Second, the Court adopted what in other states has been called the “ABC” test. Under this test, a worker is properly considered an independent contractor only if the employer establishes all of the following:
A. The worker is free from control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract and in fact; and
B. The worker performs tasks that are outside the usual course of the hiring party’s business; and
C. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring business. This normally means the worker will have established and promotes his or her own business; is licensed; does advertising; has other clients or potential customers; and the like.
What This Means
Although this test is new, the Court ruled that its decision was merely explaining existing law, which means it can and will be applied retroactively. In light of this, all California employers are well-advised to conduct a prompt audit of their use of contractors in light of the new standards. The expectation and intention of the decision is that large numbers of current contractors may not qualify for that status under the new test.
It remains to be seen how this ruling will affect joint employer or subcontractor relationships, in which a true contractor entity (such as a staffing company) is engaged but whose employees are subject to detailed direction by the retaining company. It is clear, however, that this ruling is intended to expand the populations of persons for whom tax deduction, statutory employee benefits, leave and discrimination benefits, and the like, are available, and that hiring companies could be exposed to statutory liability to the subcontractor’s employee, since it “suffered or permitted” them to work on its premises. It is not clear whether the rules on indemnification and reimbursement of expenses will be interpreted in the same fashion as the new rules on classification and taxation, but caution suggests these practices, and subcontractor indemnities, be examined as well.
California Supreme Court Clarifies Required Method for Calculating Overtime On Flat-Rate Bonuses (and it isn’t the FLSA method)
Earlier this week, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in Alvarado v. Dart Container Corporation of California, holding that when an employee has earned a flat sum bonus during a single pay period, the employer must calculate the employee’s overtime pay rate using only the regular non-overtime hours worked by the employee during the pay period, not the total hours worked.
In California, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s Enforcement Policies and Interpretations Manual (the “DLSE Manual”) sets forth a formula for calculating overtime due on non-discretionary bonus payments. (Whether a bonus is “non-discretionary” is the subject of detailed FLSA regulations, which California generally follows.) The DLSE overtime formula requires dividing the bonus by only the regular non-overtime hours worked in the pay period (i.e., not both the non-overtime and overtime hours), and using a multiplier of 1.5 to calculate the overtime premium due on the bonus. In Tidewater Marine Western, Inc. v. Bradshaw, however, the California Supreme Court held that certain portions of the DLSE Manual were void as “underground regulations.” Tidewater (1996) 14 Cal.4th 557, 571.
Dart Container paid a $15 “attendance bonus” to employees who worked on a Saturday or Sunday. For employees who worked overtime during a pay period in which they received an attendance bonus, the company calculated overtime on the bonus by dividing the bonus by the total number of hours worked in the pay period (both non-overtime and overtime hours). The company then used a multiplier of 0.5 to determine the amount the bonus added to the employee’s hourly overtime pay.
Employee-plaintiff Hector Alvarado contended Dart Container’s method of calculating overtime pay was illegal because it did not comply with the DLSE Manual. Alvarado argued the company should have divided the bonus only by the number of non-overtime hours worked during the pay period, and should have applied a multiplier of 1.5.
Dart Container argued that because the DLSE’s method was void as an underground regulation, its method of calculating the overtime rate was proper because it complied with the FLSA, which permits an employer to divide a bonus by total hours worked and apply a 0.5 multiplier. The Court of Appeal agreed with Dart Container, and held its method of calculating overtime was permitted under California law.
The California Supreme Court reversed, holding that even though the DLSE’s method is void as an underground regulation, it nevertheless is the proper method for calculating overtime on flat-rate bonuses. The court reasoned that because California’s state policy is to discourage overtime, the method used by an employer must not encourage the use of overtime. The FLSA formula does just that, because every hour of overtime worked incrementally decreases the regular rate, thereby incentivizing employers to require their employees to work more overtime.
Based on this reasoning, the court further held that only the non-overtime hours the employee actually works in a pay period should be the divisor, rather than all the potential full-time non-overtime hours in a pay period, and that the proper multiplier for the bonus premium is 1.5, not 0.5: “We conclude that the flat sum bonus at issue here should be factored into an employee’s regular rate of pay by dividing the amount of the bonus by the total number of non-overtime hours actually worked during the relevant pay period and using 1.5, not 0.5, as the multiplier for determining the employee’s overtime pay rate.”
This decision firmly establishes the method employers must use to calculate a California employee’s overtime pay rate when the employee has earned a non-discretionary flat sum bonus during a single pay period. Additionally, because the same policy consideration of discouraging overtime applies to other types of bonuses, the California Supreme Court’s reasoning very likely applies to bonuses that cover multiple pay periods, such as annual non-discretionary bonuses. Employers should immediately review their payroll policies and practices to ensure their California employees receive overtime pay calculated in a manner consistent with this opinion. In particular, multi-state employers that use centralized payroll systems must now ensure overtime pay for California employees is calculated using a different method than overtime pay for employees who work outside California.
One final note: Dart Container argued that if the California Supreme Court adopted the DLSE calculation method, its decision should be applied only prospectively because, up to now, no California statute, regulation or wage order clearly required that method. The court declined the request, which effectively means the court’s decision applies retroactively. Look for overtime litigation in California to spike in the near future.
Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP
San Diego, CA
California Agency Issues New Guidance Stating Employers May Not Require Employees to Remain On-Site During Rest Breaks
California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) recently updated its guidance on paid 10-minute rest breaks. In its new guidance the DLSE maintains, for the first time, that an employer may not require its employees to remain on the employer’s premises during rest breaks.
In November 2017 the DLSE posted on its website new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) addressing requirements for rest breaks and lactation accommodation. That new guidance includes the following:
5. Q. Can my employer require that I stay on the work premises during my rest period?
A: No, your employer cannot impose any restraints not inherent in the rest period requirement itself. In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., (2016) 5 [sic] Cal.5th 257, 269, the California Supreme Court held that the rest period requirement “obligates employers to permit—and authorizes employees to take—off-duty rest periods. That is, during rest periods employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time.” (citation omitted) As a practical matter, however, if an employee is provided a ten minute rest period, the employee can only travel five minutes from a work post before heading back to return in time.
The new DLSE FAQs in their entirety can be found here. In the Augustus v. ABM Security Services case cited by the DLSE, the California Supreme Court held that employees cannot be required to remain on-call during rest breaks, but did not expressly say employers must allow their employees to leave the employer’s premises during rest breaks. For more information on the Augustus case see our December 27, 2016 blog post.
Prior to the DLSE’s new FAQs, it was widely understood that employers may require their employees to remain on-site during rest breaks. While the DLSE has no authority to make law, it is empowered to enforce California wage orders and labor statutes, and courts often find the DLSE’s opinions on enforcement issues persuasive. For this reason California employers should take the DLSE’s new guidance seriously.
As the DLSE pointed out in its new FAQs, the realities of time and distance are likely to discourage many employees from leaving their employer’s premises during 10-minute rest breaks, even when allowed to do so. However, an employer’s policy that purports to prohibit employees from leaving the employer’s premises during rest breaks could, under the DLSE’s new interpretation, potentially support a conclusion that the employer failed to relieve its employees of all duty during rest breaks, and subject the employer to liability. California employers should therefore review their policies and practices to ensure they are not requiring employees to remain on the employer’s premises during rest breaks.
On October 14, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1701, which will make general contractors on private construction projects liable for their subcontractors’ failure to pay wages due to the subcontractors’ employees. The new law applies to contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2018.
Assembly Bill 1701 adds Section 218.7 to the California Labor Code. Subdivision (a)(1) provides:
For contracts entered into on or after January 1, 2018, a direct contractor making or taking a contract in the state for the erection, construction, alteration, or repair of a building, structure, or other private work, shall assume, and is liable for, any debt owed to a wage claimant or third party on the wage claimant’s behalf, incurred by a subcontractor at any tier acting under, by, or for the direct contractor for the wage claimant’s performance of labor included in the subject of the contract between the direct contractor and the owner.
The direct contractor’s liability under Section 218.7 will extend only to any unpaid wages, fringe or other benefit payments or contributions, including interest, but will not extend to penalties or liquidated damages.
Employees will not have standing to enforce the new law. Only the California Labor Commissioner, a third party owed fringe or other benefit payments or contributions on a wage claimant’s behalf (such as a union trust fund), or a joint labor-management cooperation committee may bring a civil action against a direct contractor for the unpaid wages. A joint labor-management committee must provide the direct contractor with at least 30 days’ notice by first-class mail before filing the action.
A prevailing plaintiff in any such action is entitled to recover its reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, including expert witness fees. The property of a direct contractor that has a judgment entered against it may be attached to satisfy the judgment.
The new law authorizes a direct contractor to request from its subcontractors their employees’ wage statements and payroll records required to be maintained under Labor Code section 1174. The payroll records must contain information “sufficient to apprise the requesting party of the subcontractor’s payment status in making fringe or other benefit payments or contributions to a third party on the employee’s behalf.” Direct contractors and subcontractors also have the right to request from any lower tier subcontractors “award information that includes the project name, name and address of the subcontractor, contractor with whom the subcontractor is under contract, anticipated start date, duration, and estimated journeymen and apprentice hours, and contact information for its subcontractors on the project.” A direct contractor may withhold as “disputed” all sums owed if a subcontractor does not timely provide the requested information, until such time as that information is provided.
Given this new law, general contractors operating in California should be even more careful than before about the subcontractors they hire, and pay particular attention to the subcontractors’ ability and willingness to comply with all applicable wage and hour laws. This includes requirements to provide timely meal and rest periods, because meal and rest period premiums qualify as wages. General contractors should also ensure their subcontractor agreements require the subcontractors to indemnify the general contractor for any liability arising from the new law. Once a project is underway, general contractors should closely monitor their subcontractors’ compliance with wage and hour laws and fringe benefit payments, and where necessary exercise their right to request payroll records from subcontractors to ensure they are timely paying all required wages and fringe benefits.
California Supreme Court Rules PAGA Plaintiffs Are Presumptively Entitled to Contact Information of Defendant’s Employees Statewide
Last week in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that representative plaintiffs in Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) cases are presumptively entitled to discover the names and contact information of other allegedly “aggrieved employees” statewide at the outset of litigation, without the need to show good cause.
Enacted in 2004, PAGA allows allegedly “aggrieved employees” to sue employers on behalf of the state of California to recover civil penalties on behalf of the state for violations of the state Labor Code, and to keep for themselves and other aggrieved employees 25 percent of any civil penalties recovered, with the remaining 75 percent going to the state. PAGA also provides for the recovery of attorneys’ fees.
Michael Williams was employed by Marshalls of CA, LLC, at the company’s store in Costa Mesa, California. He sued Marshalls under PAGA, asserting various wage and hour violations. Early in the case, Williams sought to discover the names and contact information of fellow Marshalls employees throughout California, and offered to use a so-called “Belaire-West notice,” a discovery mechanism whereby non-party employees are notified of a plaintiff’s request to discover their names and contact information, and are given an opportunity to opt out of having their information produced. Marshalls objected on several grounds, including burdensomeness and the privacy rights of its employees. The trial court granted Williams’ motion to compel Marshalls to produce employee contact information, but only as to employees who worked at the Costa Mesa store where Williams worked.
The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding discovery of contact information for employees statewide was premature, and that Williams had failed to show good cause for the production of contact information statewide, given that he had not shown knowledge of unlawful practices at any store other than the Costa Mesa location, or facts putting any uniform statewide practice at issue.
The California Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court abused its discretion in denying Williams’ motion to discover statewide contact information because the California Code of Civil Procedure does not include a “good cause” standard for discovery, and discovery rules for PAGA actions are no different from the rules governing discovery in putative class actions. Although defendants may object to discovery requests on various grounds (as did Marshalls) and trial courts retain broad discretion to manage discovery, when it opposed the motion the company presented no evidence showing the production of statewide contact information would be unduly burdensome, and the well-established Belaire-West notice procedure provided sufficient privacy protections.
This decision confirms that in a class, collective or PAGA action litigated in a California state court, the names and contact information of non-party employees are presumptively discoverable simply upon the filing of a complaint. Instead of placing the burden on plaintiffs to show good cause for the discovery, the burden is on defendants to show why discovery should be limited. The court found Marshalls failed to do so, but the opinion leaves open the possibility that other employers may be able to limit discovery under the right circumstances.
Last week the California Court of Appeal issued a decision holding that employers must separately compensate commissioned (“inside sales”) employees for legally required rest breaks.
Under California law most employees are entitled to a paid 10-minute rest break for every work period of four hours, or major fraction thereof. California law also provides an overtime exemption for commissioned salespeople, but this “inside sales” exemption does not exempt those employees from minimum wage or meal and rest break requirements. (So-called “outside” salespeople are not subject to minimum wage, overtime, or meal/rest break requirements.)
Stoneledge Furniture compensated its retail sales associates according to a standard commission agreement. The agreement provided for sales associates to be compensated on a commission-only basis, but also guaranteed the associates a minimum income of $12.01 per hour. The minimum income was paid to sales associates as a “draw” against future commissions. If an associate earned commissions that met or exceeded the draw, the associate would be paid the commissions actually earned. But if an associate’s earned commissions were less than the draw, the associate would receive the minimum draw. The agreement did not provide separate compensation for any non-selling time, such as time spent for meetings, training, or rest breaks.
Two sales associates filed a class action against Stoneledge alleging the company failed to provide paid rest breaks. The trial court certified a class but later granted summary judgment to Stoneledge, finding that by guaranteeing sales associates a minimum income of $12.01 per hour, Stoneledge ensured they would be paid for all hours worked, including rest breaks.
The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Stoneledge violated California law by not separately compensating sales associates for rest breaks. The court relied on the applicable wage order, which provides, “authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.” The court reasoned that since the minimum pay guarantee was a draw against commissions, it was simply an advance subject to clawback, or deduction, from future commissions. As a result, when a sales associate earned commissions that exceeded the draw, the only pay the associate received consisted of commissions, which did not account for rest breaks. The court held that to comply with California law, commission-based compensation plans must provide for separate pay for legally required rest breaks. In reaching its conclusion, the court relied on previous cases holding that piece-rate employees must be separately compensated for rest breaks, a requirement the state legislature later codified at California Labor Code section 226.2, which took effect in 2016.
Although this decision focused on rest breaks, its reasoning applies equally to other compensable yet “non-productive” time that is not accounted for and compensated under commission or piece-rate compensation plans. Employers with California-based commissioned (inside) salespeople, or employees paid on a piece-rate basis, should review their compensation plans to ensure those employees are separately paid at least the minimum wage for rest breaks and other non-productive yet compensable time, and that this pay does not operate as a “draw” subject to deduction. In other words, pay for all non-productive compensable time must be guaranteed and independent from compensation tied to sales commissions or piece-rate production.
Last week the California Supreme Court issued a decision holding that employers cannot require employees to remain “on-call” during legally required rest breaks. The ruling reversed a January 2015 appellate court decision.
California law has long required employers to provide most employees with a paid, uninterrupted 10-minute rest break for every work period of four hours or major fraction thereof, during which employees may not be required to work. California also requires employers to provide most employees with unpaid, uninterrupted 30-minute meal periods for work periods exceeding five hours, during which employees must be relieved of all duty.
Three security guards filed putative class actions against their employer, ABM Security Services, Inc., claiming the rest breaks provided to them were rendered invalid by ABM’s requirement that they keep their radios and pagers on, remain vigilant, and respond to calls if necessary. ABM argued that the mere requirement to stay “on-call” did not render the rest breaks invalid. The trial court agreed with the security guards and awarded $89.7 million in damages to a class of more than 14,000 security guards. ABM appealed.
The Court of Appeal analyzed the issue by turning to Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order 4, which governs the working conditions of ABM’s security guards. Although Wage Order 4 requires employees to be “relieved of all duty” during meal periods, it contains no similar language as to rest periods. The absence of any explicit language requiring employees to be relieved of all duty during rest periods led the Court of Appeal to conclude that no such requirement was intended.
A divided California Supreme Court disagreed, holding that a “rest period” means just that―a period of rest in which an employee must be relieved of all duties. The court noted its interpretation is consistent with Labor Code section 226.7, which prohibits employers from requiring “any employee to work during any meal or rest period . . . .” In other words, the court determined an employer’s responsibilities are the same for meal and rest periods: to relieve employees of all work. Therefore, the court held that state law requires employers to relieve employees of all work-related duties during a required rest break, including the duty to remain on-call.
The practical effect of the decision is that employees must be allowed to turn off radios and mobile phones during rest breaks because requiring an employee to leave them on would mean the employee is on-call and available for work.
Keep in mind the court did not hold that rest periods may never be interrupted; it simply said employees cannot be required to remain on-call or readily available for interruption. If a rest break is interrupted or not provided, the employer must either provide a new, uninterrupted rest period within the required time frame, or pay the employee a penalty equal to one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate.
The court did not disturb the longstanding rule that employees may be required to remain onsite or nearby during rest breaks.
Employers should immediately review their policies and practices to ensure they are not requiring California employees to remain on-call or in contact during rest breaks. This means employees must be allowed to turn off radios, mobile phones and other communication devices.
Aaron Buckley – Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP – San Diego, CA
Today Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 3, which will gradually increase the state’s minimum wage from its current level of $10 per hour to $15 per hour by 2022. Both houses of California’s legislature passed the bill on March 31 to great fanfare, but the Governor waited until today to give formal approval, presumably to avoid signing the bill into law on April Fool’s Day.
The new law will increase the state’s minimum wage from $10 per hour according to the following schedule:
For employers with 26 or more employees:
January 1, 2017: $10.50 per hour
January 1, 2018: $11.00 per hour
January 1, 2019: $12.00 per hour
January 1, 2020: $13.00 per hour
January 1, 2021: $14.00 per hour
January 1, 2022: $15.00 per hour
For employers with 25 or fewer employees, each increase will be delayed by one year as follows:
January 1, 2018: $10.50 per hour
January 1, 2019: $11.00 per hour
January 1, 2020: $12.00 per hour
January 1, 2021: $13.00 per hour
January 1, 2022: $14.00 per hour
January 1, 2023: $15.00 per hour
Beginning in 2024, the minimum wage will increase annually up to 3.5 percent based on the United States Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, rounded to the nearest ten cents. The new law does not preempt local minimum wage ordinances that have been adopted by several cities in California in recent years, so local governments remain free to enact minimum wages higher than the state minimum.
Beginning July 1, 2018, the new law will also phase in paid sick leave for in-home supportive care workers, who were excluded from the state’s paid sick leave law that took effect in 2015.
The new law will also gradually increase California’s minimum salary for so-called “white collar” (executive, administrative, and professional) exempt employees, which is set at twice the state minimum wage for a 40-hour work week. Under the current $10 state minimum wage, California’s minimum salary is $800 per week or $41,600 per year. Unless the legislature acts to de-couple the minimum exempt salary from the minimum hourly wage, the minimum salary for white collar exempt employees in California will rise according to the following schedule:
January 1, 2017: $840 per week / $43,680 per year
January 1, 2018: $880 per week / $45,760 per year
January 1, 2019: $960 per week / $49,920 per year
January 1, 2020: $1,040 per week / $54,080 per year
January 1, 2021: $1,120 per week / $58,240 per year
January 1, 2022: $1,200 per week / $62,400 per year
The minimum salary for white collar exempt employees under the FLSA is currently just $455 per week ($23,660 per year). However, the Obama administration’s plan to change the FLSA regulations to raise that minimum to at least $970 per week ($50,440 per year), and then annually adjust the minimum to keep pace with inflation, is likely to take effect in the summer or fall of 2016. Any white collar employee in California must be paid a salary high enough to satisfy both the state and federal minimums to be exempt from overtime for hours worked in excess of eight per day or 40 per week.
Employers should immediately begin planning to adjust to the new law, which critics describe as a “job-killer.” The economic impact of a $15 minimum wage remains to be seen, and given the implementation schedule the new law’s effects will be gradual. But at a minimum we know this much is true: (1) Minimum wage workers who remain employed will see a wage increase; and (2) Those who are laid off or cannot find employment under the new law will have an effective minimum wage of zero.
Aaron Buckley – Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP – San Diego, CA
Last week a federal district judge in California granted summary judgment to Apple Inc. in a class action brought by employees who claimed they were owed unpaid wages under California law for post-shift security screenings, commonly referred to as “bag checks.” In an effort to deter employee theft of merchandise, Apple applied its bag check policy to employees who chose to bring bags, packages or Apple products to work. The court held the time was not compensable because employees could easily avoid bag checks by not bringing to work bags or other items included within the policy. The case is Frlekin v. Apple Inc., No. C 13-03451 WHA (lead) (USDC, N.D. Cal., Nov. 7, 2015).
The employees filed separate class actions (later consolidated) in July 2013, asserting claims for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the laws of various states, including California. All claims other than those brought under California law were dismissed after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 135 S. Ct. 513 (2014), which held that time spent during mandatory security screenings was not compensable under the FLSA. The other state laws at issue in the case all mirrored the FLSA, so the case proceeded solely under California law. Earlier this year the district court certified a class consisting of employees who worked at Apple retail stores in California.
In last week’s decision, U.S. District Judge William Alsup denied the employees’ motion for summary judgment and granted Apple’s. Judge Alsup began his analysis by noting that California’s broad definition of “hours worked” includes both “the time during which an employer is subject to the control of an employer” and “the time an employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.”
Reviewing a line of cases interpreting the “control” theory, the court concluded “the activity must be mandatory and not optional at the discretion of the worker.” In the case of Apple workers, the mandatory element was not met because any Apple worker could avoid bag checks by choosing not to bring to work any bag or other item subject to Apple’s search policy.
The court also found the time the employees spent waiting for or undergoing bag checks was not time they were “suffered or permitted to work, because the bag checks bore no relationship to the employees’ job responsibilities; they were merely waiting while managers or security guards conducted the searches.
While this case is a welcome development for employers, it is not likely to be the last word on the subject of post-shift security screenings. The employees may appeal, and even if the court’s decision stands it will not be binding on other courts, including California state courts. The decision will not be helpful to employers that require all employees to undergo security screenings, regardless of whether they bring to work bags, packages, or other item subject to search. Still, the decision will likely dampen the enthusiasm of the plaintiffs’ bar for filing class actions based on the theory that any time employees spend in security screenings automatically constitutes “hours worked” under California law.
Ninth Circuit Adopts California Supreme Court’s Iskanian Rule Prohibiting Enforcement of PAGA Waivers
Last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that waivers of the right to bring representative actions under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) are unenforceable, essentially adopting the rule established in June 2014 by the California Supreme Court in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC. Prior to the Ninth Circuit’s decision, district courts in California had been divided on the issue, but most district courts deciding the issue had rejected the Iskanian rule.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision was in Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc., No. 13-55184 (9th Cir. Sep. 28, 2015). In that case, Shukri Sakkab filed a putative class action for unpaid overtime and inaccurate wage statements against his former employer, Luxottica Retail North America, Inc. After Luxottica answered and removed the case to federal court, Sakkab filed an amended complaint adding a representative claim for civil penalties under the PAGA. Luxottica then filed a motion to compel arbitration under the dispute resolution agreement contained in its Retail Associate Guide. The agreement purported to prohibit Sakkab from filing or participating in any “class-based” lawsuit or arbitration, “including any collective action” or “collective arbitration.” The district court granted the motion, holding Sakkab had waived his right to bring a class action or representative PAGA action, and ordering him to arbitrate his individual claims.
After the district court granted Luxottica’s motion and entered judgment, the California Supreme Court issued its Iskanian decision, ruling that PAGA waivers are unenforceable under California law.
On appeal, Luxottica argued the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts the Iskanian rule. In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit panel rejected the preemption argument. In reaching its decision, the panel majority explained that the Iskanian rule is a generally applicable contract defense that is not limited to arbitration agreements, and therefore falls within the FAA’s savings clause, which preserves generally applicable contract defenses providing they do not conflict with the FAA’s purposes. Next, the majority determined the rule does not conflict with the FAA’s purposes of (1) overcoming judicial hostility to arbitration and (2) ensuring enforcement of the terms of arbitration agreements, because PAGA claims can be arbitrated, and the Iskanian rule merely prohibits waivers of the right to bring representative PAGA claims in any forum.
In a lengthy dissent, Justice N. Randy Smith stated his view that the FAA does preempt the Iskanian rule, relying on a line of United States Supreme Court cases including AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, in which the nation’s high court held that class and representative action waivers in consumer contracts were enforceable, reversing a previous Ninth Circuit decision to the contrary.
For the time being, PAGA representative action waivers are not enforceable in either the state or federal district courts in California. But the issue isn’t entirely settled. Luxottica may seek en banc review in the Ninth Circuit, or seek review by the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, employers should review their arbitration agreements with counsel and make adjustments if necessary.
Aaron Buckley – Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP – San Diego, CA