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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cruz v. Sun World: Trial Court Did Not Err in Denying Certification of a Class of Farm Workers

In Cruz v. Sun World International, LLC (Cal.App. 11/23/15, pub. 12/22/15), agricultural workers sued a grower, alleging a number of wage and hour violations. They sought to represent both those employed directly by the grower and those working through a farm labor contractor (FLC). They alleged that the grower required them to work off the clock without pay, failed to compensate them for idle time, failed to provide required meal and rest periods, and unlawfully required them to use their own hand tools. The trial court denied the motion for class certification, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, holding as follows (although not in this order):

The plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that a class of FLC workers was ascertainable. The grower did not maintain records identifying all of the FLC workers, and efforts to obtain the information from the FLCs did not appear to be effective. Thus, "there was ample evidence supporting a determination that the FLC worker portion of the class was not ascertainable because the members could not be readily identified without unreasonable expense or time."

The plaintiffs argued that the grower was the FLC workers' joint employer, that it had the legal obligation to maintain this information, and that it could not use its failure to meet this obligation to defeat certification. The plaintiffs "essentially conceded the issue of joint employment was enmeshed with the issue of ascertainability," and the trial court did not err in holding that the plaintiffs had to demonstrate joint employment at the certification stage. The plaintiffs failed to do so, and the trial court did not err in denying certification.

As to the putative class of the grower's direct employees, common issues did not predominate. The question of joint employment did not apply to the direct employees and could not satisfy the predominance requirement. The plaintiffs did not show that the grower maintained unlawful written policies during the relevant time periods. "Plaintiffs presented no evidence that defendant had a uniform policy or practice that violated the law and that affected employees anywhere other than Kern County, or working with any crop other than grapes."

As to that limited group of employees, "the evidence was conflicting regarding whether defendant had any uniform policy or practice that violated the law and that could be proven by common evidence." The trial court properly considered all of the evidence before it, and did not abuse its discretion in finding that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate predominance.

The opinion is available here.

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