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Class Certification Decision Overruled In Part And Affirmed In Part As To Truck Driver’s Claim For Unpaid Overtime And Meal Breaks.
August 26, 2007
The court held that class certification should have been granted on an overtime claim and on whether a vacation policy violated California law. However, the court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny certification on a meal and rest break claim. Where it was undisputed that employee truck drivers often worked more than eight hours per day and/or more than 40 hours per week but received no overtime pay, and primary issue in case was whether drivers were engaged in interstate commerce and thus exempt from overtime pay requirements of California law, with plaintiffs’ evidence showing that they were required to work only in California and that defendant’s claim that drivers could be assigned to out-of-state hauls was a sham because only drivers who drove across state lines were those who volunteered for the assignment, trial court erred in finding that individual issues predominated over classwide ones and abused its discretion by denying class certification with regard to plaintiffs’ overtime claim.
Trial court did not abuse discretion in denying class certification with respect to claim that employees were required to work “off the clock” where there was no way to determine which members of the proposed class had actually worked off the clock. Trial court did not abuse discretion in denying class certification with respect to claim for compensation for denial of meal and rest breaks where evidence indicated that some employees were permitted to take and did take meal and rest breaks while others did not, there was no way of determining which drivers were permitted to take breaks and which were not, and there was no evidence of a company wide policy denying breaks.
Trial court abused discretion in denying class certification with regard to claims for vacation pay where a common legal question—the legality of employer’s policy of paying all employees a specific amount of weekly vacation pay without regard to their usual wage or the number of hours worked during the year—predominated over any individual issues, and the class was readily ascertainable since it would consist of all current drivers and all former drivers with timely claims. Trial court erred in ruling that class certification was not a superior means of adjudicating disputes regarding overtime pay and vacation pay where ruling was based solely on the amount of money potentially recoverable in individual actions and the availability of an administrative remedy through the Labor Commissioner.
The opinion is interesting because the overtime claim appears to involve a lot of individual issues regarding whether each truck driver was exempt under federal or state exemptions for truckers. But the court found no substantial evidence of individual issues.
The vacation claim is interesting because the plaintiffs should not win on the merits, because the trucking company’s policy of paying a flat sum of vacation pay (rather than basing it on the plaintiffs’ actual pay, is probably quite legal. So, class certification may be a hollow victory, since the defendant can bring a motion for summary judgment.
The meal period claim should warm the hearts of defense attorneys. The court had no trouble finding there substantial evidence of individual issues regarding whether and to what extent employees took meal breaks. There was no argument over whether they must be affirmatively “provided” or forced.
There was also a claim for off-the-clock work, for which certification was denied. Again, the court of appeal found substantial evidence that individual issues predominate.