Monday, September 27, 2010

Ninth Circuit Upholds Rule 23(b)(2) Certification of Wage Claims, Weighs in On Pressure-Based Meal Break Violations: Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc.

On September 27, 2010, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Inc., __ F.3d. __ (2010), addressing numerous challenges by the employer to a judgment entered in favor of classes certified under Rule 23(b)(2).  The opinion addresses numerous issues that are noteworthy.

Perhaps most significant, the Court upheld the district court’s certification of wage related claims under Rule 23(b)(2). The Court concluded that certification of wage claims under this subpart is appropriate under the framework set forth in Dukes v. Wal-Mart when claims for monetary relief are on equal footing with the claims for injunctive relief. See id., at 16402-03. As reasoned by the Court, the record supported the district court’s finding that monetary relief claims did not predominate, as the injunctive/monetary claims were closely related and did not introduce new and significant legal/factual issues:
Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in holding that plaintiffs’ claims for monetary relief did not, in fact, predominate. There were substantial claims for injunctive relief in this case. Plaintiffs sought to enjoin a longstanding set of employment policies and sought monetary relief for current and past employees allegedly injured by those policies. Because the claims for monetary and injunctive relief were closely related, the request for monetary relief neither “introduce[d] new and significant legal and factual issues,” nor raised particular due process or manageability concerns. See Dukes, 603 F.3d at 617, 621-22. CDN’s current employees – who constitute the vast majority of the class – stood to benefit significantly from an award of injunctive relief. As the district court pointed out in its certification ruling, “[d]efendant’s future compliance with the law may be more valuable to the class than the present claims for back pay.” Wang, 231 F.R.D. at 612.
Slip Opinion, at 16403-04.

Additionally, the Court also upheld the district court’s judgment on the class’ meal period claims. Significantly, the Court concluded that the California Supreme Court's pending decision in Brinker was largely irrelevant, reasoning that the evidence of a barrier to meal periods was sufficient to establish class member’s claims regardless of how the California Supreme Court rules on the meaning of the term “provide”:
We need not resolve this dispute or wait for the California Supreme Court to do so. Even if the California Supreme Court interprets California law to place only minimal obligations on employers, the evidence presented to the jury was sufficient to support a finding that CDN did not “provide” reporters with meal breaks. The evidence showed that reporters did not have time to take meal breaks because they worked long, harried hours and faced tight deadlines. There was testimony that reporters were required to carry pagers all the time and be on call from morning until night without ever getting a sustained off-duty period. The evidence showed that reporters did not keep time cards and that pay stubs did not reflect time actually worked. Several reporters also testified that they could rarely take uninterrupted 30 minute breaks. CDN never told reporters that meal breaks were available and never told them to keep track of meal breaks on a time card.
In short, reporters could not take daily, uninterrupted 30 minute breaks regardless of whether they desired to do so. Under either possible reading of California Labor Code § 512(a), CDN did not “provide” its reporters with meal breaks. Substantial evidence therefore supports the jury’s verdict.
Slip Opinion, at 16410-11.

In addition to the forgoing, the Court also upheld the district court’s finding that (1) reporters were non-exempt employees that did not qualify for the professional exemption (under either California law or the FLSA), and (2) that the district court did not abuse its discretion in entertaining a UCL claim predicated upon violation of the FLSA.

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