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In another case involving an employer’s attempt to contract around a putative employer/employee relationship, the Southern District of California certified a 23(b)(3) class of newspaper home delivery carriers. Dalton v. Lee Publications, Inc., 2010 WL 2985130 (S.D. Cal. July 27, 2010) (slip op.).
Defendant Lee Publications, doing business as North County Times (“NCT”), operates the North County Times, a newspaper of general circulation in the San Diego area. Plaintiffs are current and former home-delivery newspaper carriers for NCT.
The class was defined as “[a]ll persons presently and formerly engaged as newspaper home delivery carriers by LEE PUBLICATIONS, INC. and for the North County Times newspaper in the State of California during the period from and including April 18, 2004, through and including the date of trial set for this action, and who, as a condition of such engagement, signed a written agreement for the home delivery of newspapers, which categorized them as independent contractors and not employees.” Id. at *1, n.1.
Each class member has signed contracts with NCT that contained provisions regarding the carriers’ primary duties, rate of pay, liabilities, penalties, and expense reimbursement, among other things. All the contracts stated that the carrier “is an independent contractor, is not an employee or agent of the Company, and is not subject to the Company’s direction or control.” And either party may terminate the contract without cause with thirty-days notice, or for cause without notice. The Court examines the contracts in more detail below.
The Court described the Plaintiff’s Tasks as follows:
Plaintiffs deliver the North County Times to the homes of subscribers. Each morning, the newspaper carriers arrive at one of several distribution centers in San Diego County. The carriers arrive at different times. Although they generally arrive between 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., some arrive earlier or later. The arrival time varies depending on the day of the week.
The carriers are contractually obligated to deliver the assembled newspapers by 6:00 a.m. each weekday and 7:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Upon arrival, the carriers are responsible for assembling the newspapers. Some assemble the papers at the distribution center-those that use the distribution center pay a rental fee-and others assemble the papers elsewhere. Assembling the newspapers may involve folding or inserting the following: newspaper inserts, sections, pre-prints, samples, supplements and other products at NCT’s direction. The carriers pay for their own rubber bands and plastic bags used to assemble the papers. Some carriers buy the rubber bands and bags from Defendant, and others purchase them elsewhere. The carriers also pay for their own gas and automobile expenses they incur delivering the newspapers.
In analyzing whether the primary factor in determining the employee-employer relationship, the right to control, is susceptible to common proof, the court found that the class members are all home-delivery newspaper carriers who work, or used to work, for Defendant. They all did the same job. Although there are differences between them, which Defendant lists in detail, whether they are independent contractors or employees is still susceptible to common proof. Thus, the Court found that common questions predominate on this issue.
Defendant argued that calculating damages on each of Plaintiffs’ causes of action would require individualized proof. The court rejected this argument stating that “although calculating damages is generally an individualized task, the Court finds that calculating them here would not require so much individualized analysis to defeat certification. That is mainly because Defendant has kept extensive records.” Id. at *7. The Court concluded that the “calculation of the [damages] for each individual [carrier], if necessary, will likely be fairly mechanical.” Id. at *8.
Thus, the Court certified the Rule 23(b)(3) class.
By CHARLES H. JUNG