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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Morgan v. Wet Seal, Inc.: Court of Appeal Affirms Denial of Class Certification in Expense Reimbursement Action

A somewhat belated note on this case. In Morgan v. Wet Seal, Inc. (10/12/12, pub. 11/7/12), --- Cal.App.4th ---, the plaintiffs sued their employer for requiring them (1) to purchase Wet Seal clothing and merchandise as a condition of employment (Labor Code section 2802 and 450) and (2) to travel between Wet Seal business locations without mileage reimbursement (Labor Code section 2802). The trial court denied certification, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding, inter alia:

The plaintiffs could offer "no class-wide method of proving Wet Seal's liability" because: (1) Wet Seal's written policies did not require employees to purchase Wet Seal clothing as a condition of employment; (2) the policies did not specify what employees were required to wear, but used vague, general descriptions; and (3) individualized inquiries would predominate. Slip op. at 14-16.

Wet Seal's mileage reimbursement policy complied with the law, and the plaintiffs' best argument was that Wet Seal's actual practices varied, which would not allow for class certification. Slip op. at 16-17.

The trial court did not base its decision on the merits of the plaintiffs' claims. Slip op. at 17-20. Nor did the trial court abuse its discretion in referring to a district court case as "instructive" or following its reasoning, or by refusing to follow State or federal cases relied on by the plaintiffs. Slip op. at 20-25.

A class action was not the superior method of resolving the case because individual factual inquiries "would pose overwhelming case management difficulties," and the plaintiffs had not proposed a "manageable trial plan." Slip op. at 30-31.

The opinion is available here.

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