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Monday, June 10, 2013

Bluford v. Safeway: Court Holds that Employer Must Separately Compensate Piece Rate Employees for Rest Period Time; Reverses Denial of Class Certification

In Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc. (5/8/13, pub. 5/24/13) --- Cal.App.4th ---, Kenneth Bluford worked as a truck driver out of a distribution center operated by Safeway. He filed a putative class action, alleging that Safeway violated California's meal period, rest period, and wage statement laws. The trial court denied the class certification motion, holding that class members' individual reasons for missing meal or rest periods predominated over common issues and that the class members did not suffer any common injury from the alleged wage statement violations.  

The Court of Appeal reversed, but published only the general discussion of certification standards and the rest period certification issue. 

As to certification of the rest period class, the Court held that the plaintiff's theory of recovery was based on Safeway's uniform policies and procedures, and the trial court's denial of certification was not supported by substantial evidence. Common proof demonstrated that Safeway paid its drivers based on the miles driven and other factors and did not separately compensate them for their rest periods, as required.  
[U]nder the rule of Armenta v. Osmose, Inc. (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 314, 323, rest periods must be separately compensated in a piece-rate system. Rest periods are considered hours worked and must be compensated. Under the California minimum wage law, employees must be compensated for each hour worked at either the legal minimum wage or the contractual hourly rate, and compliance cannot be determined by averaging hourly compensation.  
Thus, contrary to Safeway's argument, a piece-rate compensation formula that does not compensate separately for rest periods does not comply with California minimum wage law.  
There is no dispute that Safeway's activity based compensation system did not separately compensate drivers for their rest periods. Pay was calculated based on mileage rates applied according to the number of miles driven, the time when the trips were made, and the locations where the trips began and ended. None of these components directly compensated for rest periods. Driver pay was also based on fixed rates for certain tasks and hourly rates for other tasks and delays. There is no dispute that none of these fixed rates were applied to rest periods.
The only individual issue was damages, and the fact that damages would have to be calculated individually did not support denial of certification.  Slip op. at 7-10. 
The trial court's conclusion that individual issues will predominate is not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff's theory of recovery does not concern the drivers' subjective reasons for taking or not taking a rest period. Rather, it concerns Safeway's compensation system and its failure to separately compensate drivers for their rest periods. All of the disputes on the merits of this claim involve common evidence and argument, and individual damages. The rest period subclass must be certified. 
 Slip op. at 10. 

This case has an interesting link to Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 949, which has figured prominently in the meal and rest period certification debate. In Cicairos, truck drivers working out of the same distribution center at issue here sued their employer, Summit Logistics, for meal period, rest period, and itemized wage statement violations. The trial court granted summary judgment for Summit Logistics, and the Court of Appeal reversed. Safeway took over operation of the distribution center in 2003 and apparently continued some of the same compensation policies at issue in Cicairos

Bluford v. Safeway Stores, Inc. is available here

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