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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Guerrero v. Superior Court: Court of Appeal Reverses Order Sustaining Demurrer on Joint Employment Issues

In Guerrero v. Superior Court (Weber) (2/11/13) --- Cal.App.4th ---, the plaintiff, Guerrero, was employed to provide in-home support services (IHSS) to eligible recipients in Sonoma County (County) under the In-Home Support Services Act. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 12300 et seq. She sued the County and its In-Home Support Services Public Authority (the Authority) for violation of federal and state wage law, alleging that they jointly employed her along with the individual to whom she rendered services.

The trial court sustained without leave to amend the demurrer of the County and the Authority. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding:

Although providing IHSS-funded care does not constitute employment for all purposes, the County and the Authority were Guerrero's joint employers for FLSA purposes because: (1) "their power over the employment relationship by virtue of their control over the purse strings was substantial"; (2) her wages were determined and paid by the state and its agents, the County and the Authority; (3) the County and the Authority maintained employment records on Guerrero; and (4) the County had an inherent role in in supervising the provision of services by IHSS providers such as Guerrero. Slip op. at 12-30. The Court relied heavily on Bonnette v. California Health and Welfare Agency (9th Cir. 1983) 704 F.2d 1465 (state and counties were employers under California's IHSS program) and distinguished Moreau v. Air France (9th Cir. 2003) 356 F.3d 942 (airline was not joint employer of service workers hired by outside entities for purposes of FMLA and CFRA).

Because Guerrero alleged that she "performed general household work exceeding twenty percent of her total weekly hours worked," the trial court erred in sustaining the demurrer on grounds that her job was exempt from FLSA minimum wage and overtime protections pursuant to the domestic service companionship exception. 29 U.S.C. section 213. "Determining whether or not all of the elements of the exemption have been established is a fact-intensive inquiry. The appropriateness of any employee's classification as exempt must be based on a review of the actual job duties performed by that employee." Slip op. at 30-34.

The Court rejected the concern that allowing such wage claims on a joint employment basis make the County and the Authority "liable for wages that they have no power to control."  
The IHSS program pays for specified services delivered to qualified recipients up to a maximum number of hours. Where a qualified provider delivers services other than those authorized and covered by the program or for a greater number of hours than authorized and real parties have no knowledge that such is occurring and are realistically unable to inform themselves of such, we agree it would be inappropriate to impute the recipient's knowledge to real parties so as to require real parties to pay for such services. 
However, this was a factual issue not ripe for adjudication on demurrer.  Slip op. at 34-36.

The County and the Authority were Guerrero's employers for purposes of California wage law because: (1) California's protections cannot be any less protective of employees than federal law; (2) while they did not directly hire, fire or supervise providers, through their "power of the purse" and quality control authority, the County and the Authority had "the ability to prevent recipients and providers from abusing IHSS authorizations both as to the type of services performed and the hours worked." The trial court thus erred in finding that they did not suffer or permit Guerrero to work and were not her employers.  Slip op. at 36-45. 

Public agencies are not exempt from the provisions of Wage Order No. 15-2001.  Slip op. at 45-50. 

The trial court erred in holding that the personal attendant exemption barred Guerrero's claims because whether she rendered services as a personal attendant was a question of fact. Guerrero's allegation that she spent more than 20 percent of her time performing "general household work" raised an issue of fact as to her personal attendant status under the wage order.  Slip op. at 50-52.  

The opinion is available here.  

The County and the Authority just last week filed their petition for review in the California Supreme Court. The Court last year granted review in Patterson v. Domino's Pizza (discussed here), in which the Court of Appeal held that a franshisor may be liable for a franchisee's alleged violations of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, but denied review in Aleksick v. 7-Eleven (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 1176, in which the Court of Appeal held that 7-Eleven is not liable for allegedly failing to pay its franchisees' employees their earned wages. If I had to wager, I would say that the Court will deny review, particularly because Guerrero arises on the defendants' demurrer.  

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