Tag Archives: California Labor Code

Eastern District Finds Class-Wide Arbitration Agreement Unenforceable

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United States District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected defendant’s argument that Stolt-Nielson preempted Gentry, and the court held that a class-wide arbitration agreement was unenforceable as against an unpaid wage and overtime plaintiff.  Mathias v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., Civ. No. S-10-1476 LKK/KJM, 2010 WL 3715059 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 15, 2010) (slip op.).

Background

Ryan Mathias (“Mathias” or “plaintiff”) was employed by Rent-A-Center, Inc. (“RAC” or “defendant”) as an Assistant Manager, a position that was classified as a non-exempt or hourly position. Id. *1. As a condition of employment, plaintiff executed an arbitration agreement (“Agreement”), which Agreement contained a class action waiver and excluded arbitration private attorney general actions.  Id. Plaintiff filed a class action alleging eight claims arising from his employment with defendant, including claims for unpaid wages and overtime, unpaid rest and meal period premiums, and penalties arising from non-compliant wage statements under the California Labor Code and California Business and Professions Code. Id. Continue reading

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Northern District Awards $618,812.82 in Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages in Case Involving Labor Code and Human Trafficking Allegations

The Northern District granted a default judgment in a human trafficking and Labor Code case.  Canal v. Dann, No. 09-03366 CW, 2010 WL 3491136 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 2, 2010) (slip op.).

Plaintiff Zoraida Peña Cenal alleged that from July, 2006 to April, 2008, Peña Canal worked for Defendant Dann for fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, caring for Defendant’s three young children and cooking and cleaning for the household. Id. For all of this work, plaintiff alleged that Defendant paid Peña Canal only once: on Christmas day in 2006, Defendant gave Peña Canal $100. Id. *1

After Peña Canal escaped from Defendant, the U.S. Attorney charged Dann with five counts: forced labor, unlawful use of documents in furtherance of servitude, harboring an illegal alien for private financial gain, visa fraud and conspiracy to commit visa fraud.  Id. *2.  A jury convicted Dann on all counts, and the criminal court sentenced her to sixty months in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay $123,740.34 in restitution. Id. The restitution amount was based upon the government’s calculation, which was derived from data submitted from the federal government’s Foreign Labor Certification Program, as evidence of the value of Peña Canal’s labor during the period at issue. Id. Continue reading

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Collective Bargaining Agreement That Mentions “Breaks” Does Not Clearly and Unmistakably Waive Right to Sue

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In Martinez v. J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc., 2010 WL 3359372 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 13, 2010), the court held that a collective bargaining agreement that mentions “breaks” did not clearly and unmistakably waive plaintiff’s right to sue.

Plaintiff Antonio Martinez  (“Plaintiff”) worked for Defendant J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc. (“Defendant”) as a construction worker. Id. *1. Plaintiff’s terms of employment were governed by a CBA, which provides for a grievance procedure for “enforcing all the terms and provisions contained in this Agreement .” Id. If an employee has “a grievance or dispute,” he must first raise the issue with Defendant. The CBA outlined the terms of employment relating to holidays, payment of wages, meal periods, and breaks, and in a section entitled “Breaks,” the CBA stated: Continue reading

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Northern District Approves 28.9% Fee Award in Wage and Hour Class Action Settlement

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Judge Jeffrey S. White approved a wage and hour class action settlement of a non-reversionary $1.8 million, inclusive of $520,000 in attorneys fees, in Ozga v. U.S. Remodelers, Inc., No. C 09-05112 JSW, 2010 WL 3186971 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

Plaintiff filed a class action in the Alameda Superior Court on February 17, 2009, alleging that Defendant U.S. Remodelers Inc. violated the California Labor Code and violated California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders by: (1) requiring its Installer employees to work substantial amounts of time without compensation; (2) regularly failing to provide Installers with meal and rest periods; and (3) refusing to reimburse expenses that Installers incurred in the performance of their work duties, including travel expenses and equipment costs.

Defendant removed the action to this Court, and Plaintiff subsequently moved to remand.  But before the hearing on the motion to remand, the parties reached a settlement, which was facilitated, in part, by a mediation that occurred on October 1, 2009, before Michael Loeb.  The parties also engaged in some discovery, and Class Counsel interviewed a number of Settlement Class members.

The Court finds that the terms of the Settlement are fair, adequate and reasonable. As noted, the settlement was reached after the parties engaged in discovery, conducted a meditation, and continued to engage in arms-length negotiations. The parties agreed to a Settlement payment of $1,800,000.00, none of which will revert to the Defendant. The overall reaction to the settlement has been positive. The Claims Administrator has received 156 claim forms from the 270 Class Members. (Id., ¶¶ 20-21.) Neither the Claims Administrator nor the Court received any objections to the Settlement. No Class Member appeared at the final approval hearing to object. According to the Claims Administrator, assuming the Court were to grant in full Plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs and service awards, approximately $1,108,917.72 would be available to distribute Class Members who submitted timely claim forms, for an average award of just over $7,000. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)

The Court approved costs to be paid to the Claims Administrator of $10,000.00 from the Settlement Fund.

Attorneys Fees, Costs, and Service Awards

Plaintiff brought an unopposed fee application, seeking $600,000.00 in attorneys’ fees, $11,274.89 in costs, and $10,000.00 in service awards to him and to class member Boris Moskovich.

Plaintiff’s counsel sought an award of attorneys’ fees based on the percentage method, asking for 33 1/3% of the Settlement Fund.  The court agreed to depart from the 25% benchmark.  See Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043, 1047 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that 25% is benchmark and “usual” range of awards is 20-30%); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1029 (9th Cir. 1998) (stating that 25% is benchmark).  But the court would not vary from the benchmark to the degree requested by counsel.

The Court concludes that counsel did achieve an excellent result for the class, that the reaction to the settlement has been overwhelmingly positive, and that Plaintiff faced significant risk in prosecuting this case given the uncertain state of California law in similar wage and hour cases. The Court also recognizes that other courts have awarded settlement fees of up to 33 1/3% in such cases. However, the parties reached this settlement quickly and did not engage in any motion practice. Seee.g.Navarro v. Servisair, 2010 WL 1729538 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 27, 2010) (finding that proposed award of 30% of settlement fund unjustifiably departed from benchmark based in part on speed with which parties reached a settlement). Moreover, the requested percentage would amount to award that is more than double the fees actually incurred by counsel. Compare Vasquez v. Coast Valley Roofing, Inc., 266 F.R.D. 482, 491 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (awarding 33 1/3% of settlement fund which was “significantly less” than asserted lodestar).

Thus the court found that an award of  $520,000.00 was reasonable.

The court found counsels’ requests for costs in the amount of $11,274.89 reasonable.

The court also approved service awards in the amount of $10,000.00 for the lead plaintiff and for a class member.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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In an Involuntary Servitude Case, Northern District Dismisses FLSA and California Labor Code Claims

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The Northern District dismissed plaintiffs’ FLSA and California Labor Code claims in an involuntary servitude case.  Shuvalova v. Cunningham, No. C 10-02159 RS, 2010 WL 5387770 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 22, 2010).  The case involved the “unusual scenario of one spouse bringing claims against the other for alleged violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).” Id. *1.  Natalya Shuvalova and her daughter Elizabeth Shuvalova claimed that defendant and his adult son fraudulently lured them from Russia to the United States, induced Natalya to marry one defendant, and then forced plaintiffs into involuntary servitude at defendant’s rural property in Clearlake, California.  Id. Plaintiffs claimed that for seven months, they were forced by defendants’ alleged verbal and physical threats to perform heavy, outdoor labor on the property. Id. Plaintiffs raised eighteen claims for violations of the TVPRA, federal and state labor law, and state contract and tort law.  Id. Defendants moved to dismiss the entire complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).  Id.

Background

The court presented the allegations of the complaint as follows:

Natalya and Joe met through a computer dating service in October 2005. At the time, Natalya lived in Russia and Joe lived then and now in Clearlake, California. They began a two-year relationship involving frequent emails and phone calls, as well as two vacations together each lasting two weeks. In October 2005, [FN1] Joe proposed to Natalya and promised to provide a loving home to her and her daughter Liza. Natalya and Liza arrived in the United States in February 2008 and began living with Joe at the Clearlake property. Joe’s thirty-five-year-old son, Dan, also lived at the house on the weekends. Natalya and Joe married on May 3, 2008. . . . Continue reading

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