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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service: Employer Must Reimburse Employees for Work-Related Use of Cell Phones; Individual Questions as to Damages Do Not Justify Denial of Class Certification

In Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. (8/12/14) --- Cal.App.4th ---, the plaintiff filed a putative class action alleging that the defendant failed to reimburse its employees for expenses arising out of the work-related use of their cell phones. 

On the plaintiff's motion for class certification, the defendant argued that common issues did not predominate because some employees had unlimited data plans and thus did not incur additional expense from the use of their personal cell phones. The trial court agreed, holding that common issues did not predominate and a class action was not a superior method of resolving the dispute: 
The showing of an actionable expenditure or loss by . . . class member[s] pertains to [defendant's] liability, not to class members’ damages as it is set forth in . . . section 2802. If the class member[s] did not incur . . . loss[es], there can be no liability.” 
Slip op. at 4-5. In addition, the trial court reasoned that there was a question as to “whether the cell phone charges [the plaintiff] allegedly incurred were incurred and paid for by him or by his live-in girlfriend.”  

The plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed, holding as follows:

When employees have to use their personal cell phones for work-related purposes, the employer must reimburse them for such use, whether the employees incurred an additional expense as a result of such use or not. "[T]o be in compliance with section 2802, the employer must pay some reasonable percentage of the employee’s cell phone bill. Because of the differences in cell phone plans and worked-related scenarios, the calculation of reimbursement must be left to the trial court and parties in each particular case." Slip op. at 6-7.

The trial court made erroneous legal assumptions when it denied certification based on its holding that section 2802 does not require reimbursement if the employee's cell phone charges were paid by a third person, or if the employee had an unlimited data plan. 
Slip op. at 7-8. 

The opinion is available here

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