Search This Blog

Monday, November 24, 2014

Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings: Court Reverses Order Denying Class Certification in Misclassification Action

In Martinez v. Joe's Crab Shack (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 1148 (discussed here) the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants misclassified its salaried managers and assistant managers as exempt from California’s overtime requirements. The trial court denied certification, finding that the plaintiffs failed to establish typicality, adequacy of representation, predominance of common questions, and superiority of the class action mechanism. After the Court of Appeal reversed, the California Supreme Court granted review and remanded in light of its opinion in Duran v. US Bank N.A. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 1 (2014). On remand, the Court of Appeal once again reversed the trial court's decision, holding as follows: 

The trial court erred in finding that the plaintiffs’ claims were not typical of the class and that the plaintiffs would not be adequate class representatives because the plaintiffs' claims would be "vulnerable to the defense that each of them performed exempt tasks more than 50% of their work time." Slip op. at 12-13. Nor did the antagonism "voiced by general managers, who overwhelmingly opposed the litigation," necessarily indicate inadequacy of representation. On remand, the trial court could exercise its discretion to  create a general managers subclass or to exclude general managers entirely from the class. Slip op. at 13-14. 

"The theory of liability in this litigation—that, by classifying all managerial employees as exempt, [defendant] violated mandatory overtime wage laws—is, to paraphrase Brinker, 'by nature a common question eminently suited for class treatment.'" Slip op. at 18. Although such a theory of liability "has the potential to generate individual issues," considerations such as the employer's realistic expectations and the actual overall requirements of the job are "likely to prove susceptible of common proof." Slip op. at 20. Courts in such actions must analyze these common questions, rather than focusing on whether a particular employee was engaged in an exempt or non-exempt task at a given time. Slip op. at 21. Statistical sampling may prove helpful in analyzing these common questions, provided that the use of such sampling "accords the employer an opportunity to prove its affirmative defenses." Slip op. at 22. 

The Court concluded by recognizing that a number of appellate decisions have affirmed trial court decisions denying certification in misclassification actions. 
However, we understand from Brinker, Duran and Ayala that classwide relief remains the preferred method of resolving wage and hour claims, even those in which the facts appear to present difficult issues of proof. By refocusing its analysis on the policies and practices of the employer and the effect those policies and practices have on the putative class, as well as narrowing the class if appropriate, the trial court may in fact find class analysis a more efficient and effective means of resolving plaintiffs’ overtime claim.
Slip op. at 23. 

The opinion is available here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.