Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Northern District Certifies Unpaid Wage Claims on Behalf of Technicians Alleging Required Commute Time in Company-Issued Vehicles Was Not Compensated: Gonzales v. Simplexgrinnell LP

On February 12, 2013, Northern District Court Judge Richard Seeborg granted certification of unpaid wage claims in Gonzales v. Simplexgrinnell LP, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31627 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 12, 2013) on behalf of a class comprised of “Field Technicians” which plaintiff alleged were not paid for commute time in company-issued vehicles. 

Specifically, plaintiff pursued certification on a “control-based” theory of liability, alleging that defendant maintained a standardized company policy “requiring its ‘Field Technicians’ to drive company-supplied vehicles to and from work, but then declining to compensate them for the time they spend driving those vehicles at the beginning and end of the work day.”  See id., at 1.  Defendant maintained that certification was improper under standards set forth in Dukes, claiming that “plaintiffs cannot show there is any uniform policy regarding travel time, and that therefore individual inquiries would be necessary to determine whether any class members might have viable claims for unpaid wages and overtime.”  See id., at 1-2.  The Court disagreed, concluding that plaintiff had framed a singular “rifle-shot” issue wherein Defendant’s liability would turn exclusively on proving or disproving the existence of the alleged policy:
Here, while SimplexGrinnell has pointed to substantial hurdles plaintiffs will face in showing there to be uniform policies and practices regarding FTs use of company cars and compensation for travel time, the issue is significantly different than that presented in Dukes. There are no questions here as to whether individual managers acted with improper motive, as intent is not an element of plaintiffs' claims. This is, at core, primarily a legal dispute as to whether California law requires compensation for travel time under these general facts.  If SimplexGrinnell is correct that plaintiffs will be unable to show the policies and practices they allege even exist, the claims will fail, on a class-wide basis.
Even if plaintiffs' characterization as to the uniformity of SimplexGrinnell's policies and practices is supported, the question will still remain as to whether California law requires compensation for travel time in such circumstances. In their briefing on this motion, the parties dispute whether Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th 575, 94 Cal. Rptr. 2d 3, 995 P.2d 139 (2000) and Rutti v. LoJack Corp., Inc., 596 F.3d 1046 (9th Cir. 2010) on the one hand, or Overton v. Walt Disney Co., 136 Cal.App.4th 263, 38 Cal. Rptr. 3d 693 (2006) on the other hand, will govern the result on the merits of this case. In both Morillion and Rutti the facts were found to support a claim for travel time compensation; under the facts in Overton the employer was found not liable to pay such compensation. Overton and Rutti were both decided on summary judgment, Morillion on demurrer. None of the cases addressed class certification standards.[] The dispute as to whether the facts here are more like those in Morillion and Rutti, or more akin to the circumstances of Overton, is one that can be resolved on a class-basis.
See Gonzales, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31627, at 7-8.

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