State Wage and Hour Laws

The question whether an individual may be held liable for alleged wage-hour violations is one that occasionally arises in class action litigation – and, for obvious reasons, it is one that is particularly important to individuals who own entities or who are responsible for overseeing wage-hour compliance.

In Atempa v. Pedrazzani, the California Court of Appeal held that persons responsible for overtime and/or minimum wage violations in fact can be held personally liable for civil penalties, regardless of whether they were the employer or the employer is a limited liability entity. And the Court concluded that private plaintiffs may pursue and collect these penalties for “aggrieved employees” on behalf of the state of California through the Private Attorneys’ General Act (“PAGA”).

Defendant Paolo Pedrazzani was the owner, president, director, and secretary of Pama, Inc.. Two former employees filed a variety of wage-hour claims against Pedrazzani and Pama in July 2013, including claims for civil penalties on the basis of unpaid minimum wages (Cal. Lab. Code 1197.1) and unpaid overtime (Cal. Lab. Code 558). Following a judgment in favor of the employees that Pedrazzani and Pama were jointly and severally liable for the civil penalties, Pedrazzani appealed and Pama filed for bankruptcy.

The Court of Appeal held that Pedrazzani was personally liable for the civil penalties because “the Legislature has decided that both the employer and any ‘other person’ who causes a violation of the overtime pay or minimum wage laws are subject to specified civil penalties.” (italics original). And because neither statute mentions corporate structure, corporate form, or suggests that the same has any bearing on liability, it concluded that “the business structure of the employer is irrelevant.”

The Court also held that personal liability can attach even if a person has no formal relationship with the corporate employer (e.g., employee, manager, officer). Rather, for overtime violations, it is sufficient that that the “other person” was “acting on behalf of the employer”; and for minimum wage violations, it is sufficient that the “other person” “pays or causes to be paid less than the prescribed minimum wage.” Summarizing, the Court held that the statutes at issue “provide for an award of civil penalties against the person who committed the underlying statutory violations.”

After establishing the basis for Pedrazzani’s personal liability, the Court went onto explain that the former employees had standing to seek and collect the penalties under PAGA, and that such penalties are subject to the standard division between the aggrieved employees and the State (25% to the former; 75% to the latter).

Unfortunately, the Court did not address the standard or evidentiary showing needed to establish that someone is an “other person” who can be held personally liable for the civil penalties.

On August 13, 2018, in Ehret v. WinCo Foods, the California Court of Appeal held that a provision in a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) regarding employees’ meal periods during shifts lasting between five and six hours effectively waived employees’ rights under California Labor Code section 512. In so holding, the Court held that the waiver in question passed the “clear and unmistakable” standard used to determine whether a provision in a CBA is intended to waive a statutorily protected right. Although WinCo argued that the “clear and unmistakable” standard only applies to waivers of “non-negotiable” rights, not “negotiable” rights like a meal break for shifts between five and six hours, the Court avoided that question and found that, even assuming that the standard applies to waivers of any statutory right, negotiable or non-negotiable, the waiver in the WinCo CBA was “clear and unmistakable.”

California Labor Code section 512(a) states, in part: “An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.” (Emphasis added.)

The WinCo CBA in question provided: “Employees who work shifts of more than 5 hours will be provided a meal period of at least 30 minutes, except that when a work period of not more than 6 hours will complete a day[‘]s work, a meal period is not required…. It is WinCo Foods policy not to mutually agree with employees to waive their lunch period.” (Emphasis in original.)

The Court held that the agreement effectively waived employees’ meal periods because it explicitly stated that no meal period is required for shifts of under six hours. Because that provision was “flatly irreconcilable” with Labor Code section 512, the Court held that it was a “clear and unmistakable” waiver of that statutory provision. Importantly, the Court distinguished cases that concern arbitration clauses in CBAs, which have held that statutory rights must be clearly stated in the agreement before they can be waived. The Court also rejected the employees’ contention that, under Choate v. Celite Corporation, 215 Cal. App. 4th 1460 (2013), to be valid, the waiver must either cite to the applicable statute explicitly or “specify the content of the statutory right.” Rather, the Court interpreted Choate to hold that the waiver need only “mention” the statutory protection.

The Court found of no import that the CBA also stated: “It is WinCo Foods policy to not mutually agree with employees to waive their lunch periods.” The Court held that that section of the agreement referred to waivers by individual employees, and had no effect on the collective waiver in question. The Court also flatly rejected the employees’ argument that a waiver must explicitly use the words “waiver,” “waived” or “waiving.”

This decision is welcome news to employers that have similar provisions in their CBAs. However, it is not binding upon other Courts of Appeal, and should the California Supreme Court decide to review the issue, it may well reach a different conclusion.

On July 18, 2018, the Ninth Circuit issued a published opinion in Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp., approving Taco Bell’s on-premises meal periods for employees who choose to purchase discounted food.

Like many food services employers, Taco Bell offers discounts on its food to its employees. And it requires that employees consume such food on premises.

In Rodriguez, employees contended that requiring employees to consume discounted meals on premises results in a meal period or unpaid wage violation, arguing that employees must be relieved of all duty and must be permitted to leave the premises during a statutory meal period. The Ninth Circuit rejected those arguments.

As the Court explained, Taco Bell employees were not required to purchase meals – “[t]he purchase of the meal is entirely voluntary.” And the “requirement that [a discounted] meal be eaten on the premises was to ensure that the benefit was utilized only by employees and that the food did not leave the premises to be given to friends and family.” That is, “employees had to consume the discounted food in the restaurant to prevent theft.” As the Court noted, Taco Bell “employees are free to purchase meals at full price and eat them wherever the employees wish.”

The Ninth Circuit concluded that Taco Bell satisfied its meal period and wage obligations by relieving employees of all duties during their meal periods and exercising no control over how or where they spent their meal periods. That is, “employees were free to use the meal break time as they wished, and that a requirement to remain on the premises was imposed only if an employee voluntarily chose to purchase a discounted meal.” And there was no evidence that Taco Bell “required or pressured [employees] to conduct work activities while on premises during the meal period.” The policy actually prohibited that, requiring employees who purchased discounted meals to eat them away from the food production and cash register area.

The Ninth Circuit’s Rodriguez opinion confirms that employers that relieve employees of all duty during meal periods do not violate California law merely by imposing certain requirements to benefits (e.g., discounted food) that an employee may voluntarily accept.

In our June 28, 2018 post on District of Columbia voters approving Initiative 77, which would incrementally increase the minimum cash wage for tipped workers to $15.00 per hour by July 1, 2025, and effectively eliminate the tip credit staring July 1, 2026, we noted the possibility of action by the D.C. Council to amend or overturn it. Consistent with the opposition to the initiative previously expressed by a majority of the Council, on July 9, 2018, a seven-member majority of the Council introduced a bill (Tipped Wage Workers Fairness Amendment Act of 2018) to repeal Initiative 77. As the Council is now on a two-month summer recess, no further formal action will occur until the fall. Furthermore, considerable publicly expressed opposition to repealing a voter-approved initiative may lead to a compromise that extends the phase-in period or otherwise modifies the terms of the initiative, rather than a complete repeal. Meanwhile, two federal Congressmen have sponsored a budget rider barring spending funds to implement the initiative, although such efforts often fail. In short, it appears the future effectiveness of the initiative will remain in doubt for some time.

Voters in the District of Columbia on June 19, 2018 approved an initiative (Initiative 77) that would incrementally increase the minimum cash wage for tipped workers to $15.00 per hour by July 1, 2025, and starting July 1, 2026 to the same amount as the then-minimum wage for all other workers, effectively eliminating the tip credit. If the initiative takes effect, the District would join seven states that do not have a separate minimum wage for tipped workers, i.e., Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

The D.C. Council previously enacted legislation raising the minimum cash wage for tipped workers to $3.33 on July 1, 2017; $3.89 on July 1, 2018; $4.45 on July 1, 2019; and $5.00 on July 1, 2020, consistent with increases in the general minimum wage to $12.50, $13.25, $14.00, and $15.00 that will take effect on the same dates. Each year thereafter, the minimum wage will increase in proportion to the annual average increase in the CPI-U for the Washington area. D.C. Code §32-10003.

The voter initiative would change the minimum cash wage for tipped workers to $4.50 on July 1, 2018; $6.00 on July 1, 2019; $7.50 on July 1, 2020; $9.00 on July 1, 2021; $10.50 on July 1, 2022; $12.00 on July 1, 2023; $13.50 on July 1, 2024; $15.00 on July 1, 2025; and to whatever the minimum wage then is for other workers on July 1, 2026. These provisions will not apply to employees of the District of Columbia, or employees performing services under contracts with the District of Columbia.

It is not yet clear whether the initiative will become law, at least it its present form. It passed by only 55 percent in an election in which turnout was only 16.7 percent. Before it becomes law, it must clear review by the D.C. Council, which could amend or overturn it. So far, the measure has faced public opposition from Mayor Muriel Bowser and a majority (eight) of the D.C. Council, as well as many restaurant owners, wait staff and bartenders, who fear it will increase direct labor costs, force staffing reductions, and significantly reduce the amount of tips received. Both the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and the separate “Save our Tips” campaign already have stated that they will take their fight to the Council. If the Council approves the measure, it must then clear a thirty-legislative-day review period by the Congress. At best, the initiative is not likely to take effect until sometime in the fall of 2018.

In the meantime, employers currently taking the tip credit should note the increase in the minimum for tipped employees to $3.89 (and for all other employees to $13.25) taking effect on July 1, 2018. Notably, supporters of the initiative have stated that they will not seek retroactive effect of the initiative’s July 1, 2018 increase to $4.50.

[Read the update—July 16, 2018—“Proposed D.C. Council Legislation Puts Voter-Approved Elimination of Tip Credit Into Question.”]

A number of states and localities are about to implement mid-year hikes in the minimum wage. Below is a summary of the minimum wage increases (and related tipped minimum wage requirements, where applicable) that go into effect on July 1, 2018.

Current New
State Special Categories Minimum Wage Tipped Minimum Wage Minimum Wage Tipped Minimum Wage
Maryland $9.25 $3.63 $10.10 N/A
Nevada Employees with qualified

health benefits

$7.25 N/A
Employees without

health benefits

$8.25 N/A
Oregon General $10.25 $10.75
Urban (Portland Metro Urban Growth Area) $11.25 $12.00
Rural (Nonurban) $10.00 $10.50
Washington, D.C. $12.50 $3.33 $13.25 $3.89

 

Current New
Locality Categories Minimum Wage Tipped Minimum Wage Minimum Wage Tipped Minimum Wage
CA          
Belmont, CA N/A $12.50
Emeryville, CA 56 or more employees $15.20 $15.69
55 or fewer employees $14.00 $15.00
Los Angeles, CA (City) 26 or more employees $12.00 $13.25  
25 or fewer employees $10.50 $12.00  
Los Angeles, CA (County) Unincorporated areas of LA County, 26 or more employees $12.00 $13.25  
Unincorporated areas of LA County, 25 or fewer employees $10.50 $12.00  
Malibu, CA 26 or more employees $12.00 $13.25  
25 or fewer employees $10.50 $12.00  
Milpitas, CA $12.00 $13.50  
Pasadena, CA 26 or more employees $12.00 $13.25  
25 or fewer employees $10.50 $12.00  
San Francisco, CA Generally $14.00 $15.00  
Government-supported employees $12.87 $13.27  
San Leandro, CA $12.00 $13.00  
Santa Monica, CA 26 or more employees $12.00 $13.25  
25 or fewer employees $10.50 $12.00  
IL  
Chicago, IL $11.00 $6.10 $12.00 $6.25
Cook County, IL $10.00 $4.95 $11.00 $5.10
ME          
Portland, ME $10.68 $5.00 $10.90 N/A
MD
Montgomery County, MD 51 or more employees $11.50 $4.00 $12.25 N/A
11-50 employees, and provides certain home health services or is tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) $11.50 $4.00 $12.00 N/A
10 or fewer employees $11.50 $4.00 $12.00 N/A
MN
Minneapolis, MN 101 or more employees $10.00 $11.25
100 or fewer employees N/A N/A

This post was written with assistance from John W. Milani, a 2018 Summer Associate at Epstein Becker Green.

In most wage and hour cases, each workweek gives rise to a separate claim, at least for statute of limitations purposes. Thus, an employee seeking payment for alleged off-the-clock work or an independent contractor claiming misclassification and entitlement to overtime ordinarily may seek back wages and related recovery only for work performed within a set amount of time—usually two to six years preceding the filing of the complaint, depending on the jurisdiction—preceding the filing of the complaint. But what happens to the statute of limitations when a plaintiff tries to bring a class action under state law, the court denies class certification, and a new plaintiff seeks to bring a subsequent class action presenting the same claims?

On June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court provided the answer in China Agritech, Inc. v. Resh. In short, the Court held that although a class action suspends the running of the limitations period for individual potential class members who subsequently seek to join a suit or to file their own individual case, the class action does not permit the filing of subsequent time-barred class actions.

American Pipe Tolling

The Supreme Court first addressed the interplay of class actions and statutes of limitations more than four decades ago. In American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, the Court concluded that a timely-filed complaint seeking relief on behalf of a class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure suspends the running of the statute of limitations for potential class members, and that, upon the denial of class certification, members of the unsuccessful class may intervene in the original case without erosion of their claims to the statute of limitations. 414 U.S. 538, 544, 552-53 (1974).

Nine years later, the Court concluded that so-called American Pipe tolling applies not only when members of the pleaded class intervene in the original suit, but also when they file their own individual cases. Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 350, 353-54 (1983). An open question following American Pipe and Crown, Cork is whether these tolling principles also apply to subsequent class actions.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

In China Agritech, a company’s stock price dropped following public disclosure of allegedly fraudulent conduct by the company. Claims accrued on February 3, 2011, and on February 11, 2011, a plaintiff filed a putative class action under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which provides for a two-year statute of limitations. The court denied class certification in May of 2012, and the original case settled in September 2012, leading to dismissal.

The following month, the same counsel filed a second putative class action against the company alleging the same claims on behalf of a new named plaintiff. The court again denied class certification, leading to another settlement and dismissal.

On June 30, 2014—more than two years after the February 3, 2011 accrual of the claims—yet another plaintiff, represented by new counsel, commenced a third putative class action, which made its way to the Supreme Court. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely, holding that the first two class complaints did not toll the time to bring further class claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a three-way split among the federal appellate courts on the tolling issue. The Court framed the question presented as follows: “Upon denial of class certification, may a putative class member, in lieu of promptly joining an existing suit or promptly filing an individual action, commence a class action anew beyond the time allowed by the applicable statute of limitations?” (Slip Op. at 2.) Justice Ginsburg’s answer, in a decision joined by seven other justices, was that “American Pipe does not permit the maintenance of a follow-on class action past expiration of the statute of limitations.” (Id.)

The Court noted that the reason for American Pipe tolling for individual claims is that “economy of litigation favors delaying those claims until after a class-certification denial. If class certification is granted, the claims will proceed as a class and there would be no need for the assertion of any claim individually.” (Slip Op. at 6.) If a court denies class certification, “only then would it be necessary to pursue claims individually.” (Id.)

But when a case involves class claims, “efficiency favors early assertion of competing class representative claims. If class treatment is appropriate, and all would-be representatives have come forward, the district court can select the best plaintiff with knowledge of the full array of potential class representatives and class counsel.” (Slip Op. at 7.) In cases in which “the class mechanism is not a viable option for the claims, the decision denying certification will be made at the outset of the case, litigated once for all would-be class representatives.” (Id.)

The Court cautioned that the plaintiffs’ “proposed reading would allow the statute of limitations to be extended time and again; as each class is denied certification, a new named plaintiff could file a class complaint that resuscitates the litigation.” (Slip Op. at 10.) The Court observed that although “[t]he Federal Rules [of Civil Procedure] provide a range of options to aid courts” in managing complex litigation, “[w]hat the Rules do not offer is a reason to permit plaintiffs to exhume failed class actions by filing new, untimely class actions.” (Id. at 14-15.)

The Concurrence

Concurring in the judgment only, Justice Sotomayor took issue with the Court’s holding as applied to cases outside the securities context. She addressed several differences between the procedures required by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, including publication of notice of the filing of a putative securities class action, designed to encourage active participation early in the case by other potential lead plaintiffs and counsel, not required for other class actions under Rule 23. (Concurrence at 2-4.) Justice Sotomayor agreed with the denial of tolling in the case before the Court, but she would have limited the ruling to cases subject to these additional procedural requirements and would not have issued a decision applicable to all Rule 23 cases. (Id. at 1, 7.)

What the Decision Means for Employers

In light of China Agritech, employers should expect courts to reject the use of American Pipe tolling to allow plaintiffs in wage and hour putative class actions to seek relief for workweeks that are outside the applicable limitations period. Courts will likely continue to allow individual claims for those otherwise time-barred workweeks when supported by American Pipe tolling. In addition, courts may continue to allow subsequent class actions by members of previously denied classes, but without the benefit of tolling. As always, employers faced with a wage and hour putative class action should carefully consider all available defenses, including the statute of limitations as to individual and class claims.

More than 7 months after hearing oral argument on an issue that will affect countless employers across the country – whether employers may implement arbitration agreements with class action waivers — the United States Supreme Court has issued what is bound to be considered a landmark decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (a companion case to National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA and Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris), approving the use of such agreements.

The decision will certainly have a tremendous impact upon pending wage-hour class and collective actions, many of which had been stayed while the courts and parties awaited the Supreme Court’s decision.  And it is likely to lead many more employers to implement arbitration agreements with class action waivers going forward, if only to avoid the in terrorem effect of those types actions.

In a 5-4 vote along the very lines that many commentators had predicted, with newest Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch penning the majority opinion, the Supreme Court determined that the law is “clear” that class action waivers are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) – and that they are not prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), as several Circuit Courts had concluded following the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) DL Horton decision.

In reaching this decision, the Court took great pains to address – and reject – the various arguments presented by the former NLRB General Counsel, the related labor union and various amicus briefs submitted by the plaintiffs’ bar.  In so doing, the Court noted that for the first 77 years of the NLRA, the NLRB had never argued that class action waivers violated the Act; instead, the FAA and the NLRA had coexisted peacefully.  In fact, as the Court pointed out, as recently as 2010 the NLRB’s General Counsel had asserted that class action waivers did not violate the NLRA.

The decision is an unqualified victory for employers, particularly those who already have such arbitration agreements in place.  Given the prevalence of wage-hour class and collective actions, and the potential exposure in even the most baseless of suits, other employers would be wise to consider whether they, too, wish to implement such agreements.

Not unimportantly, the decision might give employers new grounds to argue that employees who sign such agreements are prohibited from pursuing representative claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”).  Even if those new arguments prove to be unavailing – to date, the California state courts have held that such claims cannot be compelled to arbitration because they belong to the state, not the employee –the Supreme Court’s decision could be used to require that an individual arbitrate his or her individual claims first such that he or she would not have standing to pursue the PAGA claims if the employer prevailed in arbitration.

And employers should be mindful that in some states (California again), an employer must pay virtually all of the costs of the arbitration process, a reality that has led more than a few plaintiffs’ lawyers to file multiple individual arbitrations in order to drive up employers’ costs to try to force them to the settlement table.

Our colleagues Jeffrey H. Ruzal, Adriana S. Kosovych, and Judah L. Rosenblatt, attorneys at Epstein Becker Green, co-authored an article in Club Director, titled “Recent Trends in State and Local Wage and Hour Laws.”

Following is an excerpt:

As the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) appears to have relaxed its employee protective policy-making and enforcement efforts that grew during the Obama administration, increasingly states and localities have enacted their own, often more protective, employee-protective laws, rules and regulations. To ensure full wage and hour compliance, private clubs should consult their HR specialists and employment counsel and be mindful of all state and local requirements in each jurisdiction in which they operate and employ workers. Here are just some of the recent wage and hour requirements that have gained popularity among multiple jurisdictions.

Click here to download the full version in PDF format.

When California employees bring lawsuits alleging minimum wage, overtime, meal period or rest period violations, they typically bring additional claims that are purportedly “derivative” of these substantive claims.  One of these derivative claims is for wage statement (i.e., paystub) violations, alleging that because the employee was paid not all wages he or she allegedly earned, the wage statements he or she was provided were not accurate.

The maximum penalty for a wage statement violation under the California Labor Code is $4,000 per employee.  With such a significant potential penalty, it is no wonder that plaintiffs’ attorneys typically tack on these types of claims, especially in proposed class actions, driving up the potential value of a case.

On May 8, 2018, however, the California Court of Appeal published an employer-friendly decision that could operate to defeat these claims in many cases – if it is not reversed by the California Supreme Court.

In Maldonado v. Epsilon Plastics, Inc., ___ Cal.App.5th ___ (B278022, Apr. 18, 2018), the Court of Appeal confirmed that a wage statement claim fails as a matter of law when it is based on the alleged failure to show all wages purportedly “earned” but the wage statements accurately reflect the wages paid to the employee.  The Court agreed with the employer’s “commonsense position that the pay stubs were accurate in that they correctly reflected . . . the pay received” and held that a failure to pay wages “does not mandate that [employees] also receive penalties for the wage statements which accurately reflected the[] compensation” they were paid.

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Maldonado is a welcome one for employers that have had to face wage statement claims that are tacked on by plaintiffs’ lawyers for the purpose of increasing potential exposure.  Because this is the first published opinion directly deciding this issue, employers now have the tool necessary to seek to strike these claims.

Of course, it is possible that the California Supreme Court will review Maldonado.  If it were to do so, it would not be entirely surprising for the Court to reverse the decision, as the Supreme Court has done in other employment cases in recent years where the Court of Appeal had issued employer-friendly interpretations of the California Labor Code.