Tag Archives: Superior court

Press Quotes About Analysis of Compton v. Superior Court

Armendariz: Besta Berri 2009 4906

Armendariz: Besta Berri 2009 4906 (Photo credit: dantzan)

The author’s analysis of the Compton v. Superior Court, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013), was quoted in legal press today:

“In both cases, the First and Second districts applied Armendariz and invalidated arbitration agreements for lack of mutuality,” said Charles Jung, a Nassiri & Jung LLP attorney. “At least as far as California courts are concerned, Armendariz is alive and well, and it appears that this is going to continue to be the case until the California Supreme Court overrules it.”

In light of the latest ruling, plaintiffs and their attorneys looking to defeat mandatory arbitration agreements will keep an eagle eye out for any type of one-sidedness, according to Jung.

“The Compton ruling creates an avenue for employees to argue that mandatory agreements are unlawfully one-sided and that under Armendariz, they should be stricken,” he said. “For employers, it suggests the way to make arbitration agreements enforceable is by making them simple and even-handed. Employers can’t have their cake and eat it too.”

“The California Supreme Court really has its work cut out for it,” Jung said. “The challenge for the California Supreme Court is to try to preserve what it can of California’s public policy, yet not fall afoul of and directly contradict or simply ignore the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s a very tricky position for the court to be in.”

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California Court of Appeal Reverses Arbitration Order in Wage Case, Citing Viability of Armendariz Bilateriality Rule

English: own work

English: own work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District reversed the lower court’s order granting a petition to compel arbitration in a putative wage & hour class action.  Compton v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. B236669, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2013 WL 1120619 (2d Dist. Mar 19, 2013).  Plaintiff was a property manager who was required to sign an arbitration agreement that also barred arbitration of class claims.  The trial court granted defendants’ petition to compel arbitration.

Normally an order compelling arbitration is not appealable.  But the Court of Appeal determined it had jurisdiction, citing the “death knell” doctrine:

An order compelling arbitration is not appealable. (Elijahjuan v. Superior Court (2012) 210 Cal.App.4th 15, 19.) The parties argue over whether this matter is appealable under the “death knell” doctrine, which applies when an order effectively terminates a class action. Rather than parse the case law on that issue, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to treat this nonappealable order as a petition for writ of mandate in this unusual case because: (1) the unconscionability issue is one of law based on undisputed facts and has been fully briefed; (2) the record is sufficient to consider the issue and it appears that the trial court would be only a nominal party; (3) if we were to dismiss the appeal, and the ultimate reversal of the order is inevitable, it would come in a post-arbitration award after the substantial time and expense of arbitrating the dispute; and (4) as a result, dismissing the appeal would require the parties to arbitrate nonarbitrable claims and would be costly and dilatory.

The Court concluded that the arbitration agreement was unconscionably one-sided because (1) it exempted from arbitration claims the employer would more likely bring, such as claims for injunctive or equitable relief from trade secret disclosures; (2) it limited the time to demand arbitration to a period shorter than the relevant statutes of limitation; (3) it retained the statute of limitations period for itself  and (4) it suggested that the arbitrator had the discretion not to award mandatory attorney’s fees under the Labor Code.

The Court determined that it was not violating Concepcion by enforcing Armendariz’s bilaterality rule: Continue reading

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Central District Rejects Opt-Out Procedure and Orders Disclosure of Name and Contact Information for Members of an Unpaid Commission Wages Class Action

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The Central District granted plaintiff’s motion to compel disclosure of the name and contact information (full name, last known addresses and telephone numbers) for class members of a putative class action for unpaid commission wages.  Celia Alvarez, et al. v. The Hyatt Regency Long Beach, et al., CV 09-04791-GAF (VBKx).  According to the court, the class was defined as all non-exempt employees for the period commencing May 7, 2005.  (Thank you to Radhika Sainath for alerting me to the decision.)

Defendants contended that the information was not relevant for class certification and invaded the privacy rights of the putative class.  Plaintiffs offered to enter into a protective order and offer that the information be given to a third party who would send the class members an opt-out letter.  Defendant rejected these proposal. Continue reading

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Los Angeles Jury Awards $157,000 After Trial in Trade Secrets Case

Money, it's a crime
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A Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded plaintiff an aggregate $157,000 verdict in Hong vs. Life University, an employment and trade secrets case.  37 Trials Digest 13th 12,  2010 WL 3454121 (Verdict Date June 28, 2010).

Plaintiff allegedly entered into an employment contract with defendant university for a five-year term to begin October 1, 2006.  Plaintiff alleged that defendants breached the agreement by firing him on June 15, 2007. Continue reading

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Northern District Strikes Jury Demand in Wage & Hour Class Action for Failure to Timely Plead

Becker jury going to luncheon (LOC)
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The Northern District struck a jury trial demand in a putative wage and hour class action.  Rodriguez v. Sears Holding Corporation, No. 10-1268 SC, 2010 WL 3341656 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2010).  Plaintiff originally filed his complaint in Alameda Superior Court.  Id. *1.  Plaintiff was an employee of Defendants, and brought a putative class action on behalf of himself and others similarly situated for violations of various provisions of California’s Labor Code and Business and Professions Code, including failure to pay overtime wages, failure to allow and pay for meal and rest periods, failure to pay compensation upon discharge, and failure to provide proper wage statements. Id. Continue reading

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Waiting Time Penalty Under Labor Code Section 203(a) Should Be Calculated Based on Actual Hours Worked

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The Fourth District issued an unpublished opinion discussing the proper means of calculating the waiting time penalty under Labor Code section 203.  In Riley v. Valencia, 2010 WL 3195816 (Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist. Aug. 13, 2010), the trial court utilized the actual hours the employee worked to calculate the penalty.  The employee, Ashley Riley, contended the trial court improperly calculated the section 203 waiting time penalty, arguing that the court should have multiplied her hourly rate ($6.75) for 30 days at eight hours per day for a total penalty of $1,620, as opposed to multiplying her hourly rate ($6.75) by her average daily hours worked (3.5 hours) for 30 days for a total penalty of $708.75.  Riley contends that section 203 required the trial court to use eight hours per day in its calculations, even though Riley actually worked only three to four hours per day.

The Fourth District concluded the trial court properly calculated the penalty and affirmed the judgment.

Facts

Riley bused tables for employer Valencia (doing business as La Carreta Mexican Restaurant). Eventually, Riley left or was discharged from her employment and filed suit against Valencia for waiting time penalties for unpaid wages due, among other employment-related causes of action. The trial court found in favor of Riley pursuant to section 203 and made the following calculations: “a. Penalty for failure to pay all wages due upon discharge: 6.75 x 3.5 = 23.625 x 30 = $708.75.”

Issue

The sole issue facing the Fourth District was whether the trial court properly calculated the waiting time penalty pursuant to section 203 where it used Riley’s actual hours worked, instead of a generic eight-hour work day, to calculate the “wages” of the employee at the “same rate” pursuant to Labor Code § 203(a).

Because section 203 does not explicitly define “same rate,” Riley contends the waiting time penalty calculus should rely on section 510, subdivision (a)’s definition of a day’s work: “Eight hours of labor constitutes a day’s work.” We conclude the trial court properly calculated the waiting time penalty because the trial court averaged Riley’s daily pay rate ($6.75 x 3.5 hours) and applied that number ($23.625) to reach the correct penalty result of $708.75.

Section 203(a) states:

If an employer willfully fails to pay, without abatement or reduction, in accordance with Sections 201, 201.3, 201.5, 202, and 205.5, any wages of an employee who is discharged or who quits, the wages of the employee shall continue as a penalty from the due date thereof at the same rate until paid or until an action therefor is commenced; but the wages shall not continue for more than 30 days. An employee who secretes or absents himself or herself to avoid payment to him or her, or who refuses to receive the payment when fully tendered to him or her, including any penalty then accrued under this section, is not entitled to any benefit under this section for the time during which he or she so avoids payment.”

The court concluded that “same rate” as used in Section 203(a) means the “employee’s actual daily wage and does not refer to an arbitrary daily wage based on a standard eight-hour workday.”  Id. *2.

Following the plain meaning of section 203, California courts have consistently construed the “same rate” variable of the waiting time penalty calculus to consist of the ratio of dollars per hours actually worked. (Mamika v. Barca (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 487, 490; Barnhill v. Robert Saunders & Co. (1981) 125 Cal.App.3d 1, 7-8; Oppenheimer v. Sunkist Growers, Inc. (1957) 153 Cal.App.2d Supp. 897, 898-899.) Courts take this “daily wage” and multiply it by up to 30 days, thereby yielding the waiting time penalty. (Mamika, at p. 490; Barnhill, at pp. 7-8; Oppenheimer, at pp. Supp. 898-899.)

Following this authority, we also conclude that section 203, subdivision  (a) means exactly what it says that “the wages of the employee shall continue … at the same rate” for up to 30 days. Here, the trial court correctly calculated the waiting time penalty because the employee’s “same rate” plainly refers to the employee’s actual daily wage and does not refer to an arbitrary daily wage based on a standard eight-hour workday. (Mamika v. Barca, supra, 68 Cal.App.4th at pp. 492-493.) This interpretation has been utilized by California courts since at least 1957, and as early as 1909 in other state courts interpreting similar statutes. (Oppenheimer v. Sunkist Growers, Inc., supra, 153 Cal.App.2d at pp. Supp. 898-899; St. Louis, I.M. & S.R. Co. v. Bryant (1909) 92 Ark. 425 [122 S.W. 996].) Riley does not cite, nor have we found, any case law supporting her contention that section 203 requires trial courts to calculate the waiting time penalty with a fixed eight-hour workday.

Plaintiff contended that the court should import section 510(a) statement that eight hours of labor constitutes a “day’s work” into section 203’s waiting time penalty calculation.  But the court concluded that section 510(a) “applies to overtime pay rates and thus is not applicable to section 203’s waiting time penalty calculation”.  The court noted that “neither a ‘day’s work,’ nor ‘an 8 hour workday,’ nor any reference to section 510 appears in section 203.”  Id. *2.  The court found that section 203(a) requires “employee-specific calculations because it refers to ‘the wages of an employee’ or the employee’s wage per the employee’s hours worked.”

Judges and Attorneys

The appeal was taken from a judgment of Hon. Eddie C. Sturgeon, the Superior Court of San Diego County.

Justice Gilbert Nares wrote the opinion, with Justices Patricia D. Benke and Cynthia Aaron concurring.

Scott A. McMillan of The McMillan Law Firm, APC in La Mesa, CA represented Plaintiff and Appellant.

Marc Howard Mandelblatt of the Law Offices of Marc Mandelblatt in San Diego, CA represented Defendant and Respondent.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Third District Holds that Employer May Recover Fees for Defense Against Allegation of Wrongly Denied Rest Periods

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In a case with serious implications for Plaintiff’s wage & hour attorneys, the Third District Court of Appeal held that an employer may recover its attorneys fees in a case alleging wrongful denial of rest breaks.  In Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc., 2010 WL 2910075 (Cal. Ct. App. 3 Dist. July 27,2010) two former employees challenged an award of attorney’s fees to an employer who successfully defended against allegations of labor law violations. Plaintiff-Appellants Anthony Kirby and Rick Leech, Jr. sued Respondent-Defendant Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. as well as 750 Doe defendants for violating various labor laws as well as the unfair competition law (Bus. & Prof.Code, § 17200 et seq.). Plaintiff dismissed the case after the trial court denied class certification.

Judge Loren McMaster of the Sacramento Superior Court subsequently awarded $49,846.05 in attorney’s fees to Defendant for its defense of the first, sixth and seventh causes of action.  The first cause of action sought recover for violations of the UCL.  The third cause of action alleged that Immoos failed to pay overtime compensation, as required by sections 204.3, 510, and Industrial Wage Commission Order No. 16-2001 (Order No. 16-2001).  The sixth cause of action alleged that Immoos failed to provide Kirby with rest periods as required by Order No. 16-2001.  The Third District Court of Appeal reversed, allowing reasonable fees for the sixth cause of action only.

Defendant moved to recover attorney’s fees from Plaintiff pursuant to Labor Code section 218.5. Plaintiff opposed the motion arguing, in part, that the unilateral fee-shifting provision in favor of plaintiffs provided by Labor Code section 1194 barred an award of fees to Immoos.

Section 218.5 provides in pertinent part: “In any action brought for the nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or health and welfare or pension fund contributions, the court shall award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to the prevailing party if any party to the action requests attorney’s fees and costs upon the initiation of the action…. [¶] This section does not apply to any action for which attorney’s fees are recoverable under Section 1194.”

Section 1194 provides in relevant part: “Notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage, any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to the employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of this minimum wage or overtime compensation, including interest thereon, reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs of suit.”

The trial court concluded that it is “apparent from the express language of … section 218.5, that only section 1194 can defeat a prevailing party employer’s entitlement to attorneys’ fees under that statute, under the rule of statutory construction, expressio unius est exclusio alterius-the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another.”  “As only [section] 1194 is named as an exception to 218.5, no other Labor Code sections may be implied to defeat a prevailing party employer’s entitlement to attorneys’ fees under that section.”

In addition to the fees allowed for defense against the complaint, the trial court awarded Immoos fees for bringing the motion for attorney’s fees.  Altogether, attorney’s fees were awarded to Immoos in the amount of $49,846.05.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in awarding fees to Defendant for the sixth cause of action.  However, the court erred in awarding attorney’s fees for defense against claimed violations of section 2810 as set forth in the first and seventh causes of action.

Plaintiff argued that fees should not be awarded since section 218.5 includes an express exception to its bilateral fee-shifting provision, which states: “This section does not apply to any action for which attorney’s fees are recoverable under Section 1194.” Arguing that an “action” refers to an entire case, Kirby concluded that the inclusion of causes of action subject to section 1194 bars Immoos’s recovery of any attorney’s fees in this case.  The Court rejected the argument.

The Court construes the “section 1194 exception as applying only to causes of action for unpaid minimum and overtime wages.”  Id. at *6. “To adopt Kirby’s statutory construction would allow the exception of section 1194 ‘s unilateral fee shifting to eviscerate the rule of section 218.5.”  Id.

We harmonize sections 218.5 and 1194 by holding that section 218.5 applies to causes of action alleging nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or contributions to health, welfare and pension funds. If, in the same case, a plaintiff adds a cause of action for nonpayment of minimum wages or overtime, a defendant cannot recover attorney’s fees for work in defending against the minimum wage or overtime claims. Nonetheless, the addition of a claim for unpaid minimum wages or overtime does not preclude recovery by a prevailing defendant for a cause of action unrelated to the minimum wage or overtime claim so long as a statute or contract provides for fee shifting in favor of the defendant.

Id.

Since Plaintiff’s sixth cause of action alleged that Plaintiff was “owed an additional one hour of wages per day per missed rest period” the court concluded that it was a claim seeking additional wages.  Therefore section 218.5’s provision of attorney’s fees for “any action brought for the nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or health and welfare or pension fund contributions…” applied.  Id. **7-8.

It is now common practice to include a rest break claim in wage & hour complaints.  Plaintiffs attorneys will need to seriously reconsider whether they will continue this practice or risk bearing defendant’s fees in an unsuccessful claim.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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