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Friday, May 23, 2014

Hall v. Rite Aid: Court of Appeal Reverses Decertification Order in Suitable Seating Action

In Hall v. Rite Aide Corporation (5/2/14, pub. 5/16/14) --- Cal.App.4th ---, the trial court granted certification of a suitable seating class, then granted the defendant's motion to decertify. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that, under Brinker (discussed here), the trial court erred "because its decertification order was based on assessment of the merits of Hall's theory rather than on whether the theory was amenable to class treatment." Slip op. at 2-3. 

Hall's proffered theory of recovery was that that the work of cashiers when stationed at their registered reasonably permitted the use of seats, and Rite Aid violated section 14 of the Wage Order by failing to provide seating. 

After discussing BrinkerBradley v. Networkers International, LLC (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 1129 (discussed here), Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 220 (discussed here), and Benton v. Telecom Network Specialists, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 701) (discussed here), the Court held that the trial court "erroneously based its decertification order on its assessment of the merits of Hall's claim rather than on the theory of liability advanced by Hall." Slip op. at 18. 
Here, as in Brinker and its progeny, Hall alleged (and Rite Aid did not dispute) that Rite Aid had a uniform policy of the type envisioned by Brinker: Rite Aid did not allow its Cashier/Clerks to sit (and therefore provided no suitable seats for its Cashier/Clerks) while they performed check-out functions at the register. Hall's theory of liability is that this uniform policy was unlawful because section 14 mandates the provision of suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats, and the nature of the work involved in performing check-out functions does reasonably permit the use of seats. Hall's proffered theory of liability is that, regardless of the amount of time any particular Cashier/Clerk might spend on duties other than check-out work, Rite Aid's uniform policy transgresses section 14 because suitable seats are not provided for that aspect of the employee's work that can be reasonably performed while seated. 
Slip op. at 18-19. The Court then noted that determining the merits of an action before certification actually results in prejudice to the defendant: 
We read Brinker to hold that, at the class certification stage, as long as the plaintiff's posited theory of liability is amenable to resolution on a class-wide basis, the court should certify the action for class treatment even if the plaintiff's theory is ultimately incorrect at its substantive level, because such an approach relieves the defendant of the jeopardy of serial class actions and, once the defendant demonstrates the posited theory is substantively flawed, the defendant "obtain[s] the preclusive benefits of such victories against an entire class and not just a named plaintiff." 
Slip op. at 20-21. 

Hall v. Rite Aid Corporation is available here

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