The putative class members in Abdullah were security guards, the vast majority of whom worked alone, with no other guards on duty at the same time. The employer, USAA, required them to sign "on duty" meal period agreements as a condition of employment. Slip op. at 4-6. The district court certified a meal period class, USAA appealed, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
First, the Court found that there was a common legal question, the resolution of which was "apt to drive the resolution of the litigation." Slip op. at 9, citing Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. ___ (2011). The Court described this issue as whether USAA's "single guard post staffing model" satisfied the requirement found in Wage Order No. 4-2001 that an "on duty" meal period is permitted "only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty..."
After reviewing DLSE opinion letters regarding on-duty meal periods and the holdings in Brinker v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004 (discussed here), and Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc. (2013) --- Cal. App. 4th --- (discussed here), the Court concluded that USAA had not demonstrated that some class members would qualify for on duty meal periods, while others would not. Slip op. at 21-22.
[W]e conclude that the merits inquiry will turn on whether USSA is permitted to adopt a single-guard staffing model that does not allow for off-duty meal periods— namely, whether it can invoke a "nature of the work" defense on a class-wide basis, where the need for on-duty meal periods results from its own staffing decisions. Such an inquiry is permissible under Brinker and Faulkinbury; the latter clarified that an employer may be held liable under state law "upon a determination that [its] uniform on-duty meal break policy [is] unlawful," with the "nature of the work" defense being relevant only to damages. Thus, the legality of USSA's policy is a "significant question of law," that is "apt to drive the resolution of the litigation" in this case. We therefore hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Rule 23(a)(2) was satisfied.Slip op. at 23.
Second, the Court held that this common question predominated over any questions affecting only individual class members, satisfying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3). Slip op. at 23-30. USAA's "nature of the work" defense would be a common inquiry, "focused on the legality of a single-guard staffing model, 'rather than a site-by-site' inquiry," and the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that common issues of law or fact would predominate. Slip op. at 24-30.
The opinion is available here.