The Ninth Circuit Asks the California Supreme Court to Weigh in on Bag Checks

By Philippe A. Lebel

On August 16, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order certifying a question regarding an important wage and hour issue to the California Supreme Court: Is time spent on an employer’s premises waiting for and undergoing required exit searches of bags or packages voluntarily brought to work for purely personal convenience by employees compensable as “hours worked” under California law?

The question arose in Frlekin v. Apple, Inc., an appeal in a wage and hour class action brought against Apple, Inc., by current and former nonexempt California retail store employees. In the suit, the plaintiffs sought compensation for time that they spent waiting for and undergoing exit searches whenever they left Apple’s retail store locations, pursuant to the company’s Employee Package and Bag Searches policy. The at-issue policy, which is similar to ones in place at many other large retailers, required that employees undergo unpaid, manager-performed bag/package checks before leaving the stores—at breaks or at the end of their shifts.

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California Supreme Court Ruling on Right to Statewide Discovery in PAGA Actions Is Not as Bad for Employers as It Looks

By Ramon A. Miyar & Jaime D. Walter

In a blow to the defense bar—and, in particular, retail employers—the California Supreme Court, in Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls of CA, LLC), S227228 (July 13, 2017), held that there is nothing unique about claims filed under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) that would justify restricting the scope of discovery under California law.  The Supreme Court reversed a decision of the California Court of Appeal that would have precluded PAGA plaintiffs from obtaining the contact information of other potentially aggrieved employees beyond the discrete location at which they work(ed) without first making a threshold evidentiary showing that (a) they were aggrieved employees and (b) they had knowledge of systemic statewide Labor Code violations.  Rather, to justify disclosure of the contact information of all employees in California, the Supreme Court found that it is sufficient for a named plaintiff to allege that the at-issue violations occurred, that plaintiff himself or herself was aggrieved, and that the defendant employer had a systemic, statewide policy that caused injury to other employees across California.
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Department of Labor to Begin Issuing Opinion Letters, Again

By Mark J. Foley and Vik C. Jaitly

Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, recently announced that the Department of Labor (DOL) will resume issuing opinion letters to provide employers with direction on compliance issues. Opinion letters are an official response from the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division that provide employers with detailed explanations regarding how certain laws apply to the specific facts.  Opinions are available to an employer for issues arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA).  In a DOL press release, Secretary Acosta stated that issuing opinion letters will help employers and employees develop a better understanding of the laws and allow employers to “concentrate on doing what they do best:  growing their businesses and creating jobs.”
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The Unanswered Question: Do “Call-In” Schedules Trigger California Reporting Time Pay Obligations?

By Cheryl D. Orr, Philippe A. Lebel and Irene M. Rizzi

On June 8, 2017, plaintiffs Mayra Casas and Julio Fernandez (“Plaintiffs”) filed an unopposed motion seeking approval of a $12 million settlement reached against defendant Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC (“Victoria’s Secret”) in a closely watched case challenging the legality of Victoria’s Secret’s “call-in” scheduling practices. The case, Casas v. Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC, was pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals at the time the parties’ settled the case, and was one of many currently pending class action lawsuits challenging similar practices by retailers. As a result of the parties’ settlement, the ultimate question in Casas remains unanswered: Are employees who are required to call their employer to determine if they are required to show up for call-in shifts entitled to reporting time pay?

Retail Industry Reporting Time Pay Requirements

In addition to the Labor Code, employers in California must adhere to the requirements of industry-specific Wage Orders, promulgated by the now-defunct Industrial Welfare Commission. Wage Order 7, which applies to the “mercantile” industry (i.e., retailers), requires employers to pay non-exempt employees for certain unworked but regularly scheduled time. Such compensation is known as reporting time pay. Under Wage Order 7, retailers are required to pay reporting time pay if an employee “is required to report for work and does report, but is not put to work or is furnished less than half …[of his or her] usual or scheduled day’s work.” When this occurs, the employee must be paid the greater of (1) half his or her usual or scheduled day’s work (up to four hours), or (2) two hours at his or her regular rate of pay.

In the past, most reporting time pay litigation concerned situations where non-exempt employees were called in to work for special meetings or were sent home early on regularly scheduled days of work.

Casas v. Victoria’s Secret Stores, LLC

Filed in 2014, Casas called into question the legality of call-in scheduling, a common practice among retailers. Victoria’s Secret’s call-in policy required employees to call their managers two hours before the start of certain scheduled call-in shifts to determine if the employees needed to show up for work. When employees were required to come in to work, they were paid for their work time. However, when employees were told that they did not need to report to work, they were not paid. Plaintiffs argued that this policy violated Wage Order 7 because employees “reported to work” by calling their manager and were thus entitled to reporting time pay when Victoria’s Secret failed to furnish or cut short their call-in shifts.

In December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu rejected Plaintiffs’ argument and dismissed their call-in claims, reasoning that both the common meaning of “report” and legislative history held that “reporting for work” entailed physically appearing for work. Thereafter, Plaintiffs took an interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

During oral argument, the three-judge Ninth Circuit panel expressed concerns about rendering a decision on the legality of uncompensated call-in procedures, and suggested that the question might be better resolved by the California Supreme Court.

Following oral argument, but before the Ninth Circuit rendered any decision, the parties settled the case, depriving the appellate court of the ability to render an opinion. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Victoria’s Secret will pay $12 million to settle the claims of the 40,000 putative class members.

Questions Left Unanswered

While Casas was pending, numerous other retailers (including Club Monaco, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Zumiez) were hit with similar putative class action lawsuits challenging their respective call-in scheduling practices. Several of those cases were stayed pending resolution of Casas, and will now proceed without a definitive answer from the Ninth Circuit regarding the law.

Several large retailers, including Victoria’s Secret, have done away with call-in shifts. However, such practices remain commonplace in the retail industry. Whether employers—retailers in particular—are required to pay reporting time pay for unworked call-in shifts remains an open issue.1 We will continue to monitor case law and legislative developments in this area.


1 Several state attorneys general have put pressure on large retailers to abandon call-in scheduling and certain jurisdictions (e.g., San Francisco) have proposed and/or enacted legislation prohibiting employers from such practices. However, to date, California has not passed any state-wide legislation addressing the practice.

Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Revokes Obama-Era DOL Joint Employer and Independent Contractor Guidance

By Philippe A. Lebel

On June 7, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is withdrawing two major pieces of informal guidance issued during the Obama administration, pertaining to joint employment and independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq.

The two Administrator Interpretations Letters were issued by the former head of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, David Weil. The first guidance letter, Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1, took an aggressive position regarding misclassification of employees as independent contractors. It stressed that the “economic realities” of worker-employer relationships were paramount—i.e., whether, as a matter of economic reality, a worker was dependent on the putative employer—and suggested that most workers should be classified as employees. Although it relied on case law, the Administrator Letter provided additional refinements and, significantly, de-emphasized consideration of “control”—a major element under most common law tests.

The second letter, Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2016-1, pertained to joint employment relationships. It relied largely on regulations promulgated under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801 et seq., and also focused heavily on “economic realities.” The joint employer guidance took a very expansive approach to the entities that potentially could be held liable for wage and hour violations.

The DOL issues Administrator Interpretations Letters to provide cross-industry guidance on wage and hour laws and regulations. Administrator Interpretations Letters are not—strictly speaking—“binding” on courts, although they are generally entitled to deference. Although the two at-issue Administrator Interpretations Letters were in place for a relatively brief period, they were nonetheless influential. Notably, Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2015-1 was cited by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in the O’Connor v. Uber Technologies, Inc. class action pending in the Northern District of California.

In withdrawing the two Obama-era Administrator Interpretations Letters, Secretary Acosta did not indicate whether the DOL under the Trump administration would issue further guidance on joint employment or independent contractors, but this certainly sends a signal that the current administration may take a much narrower view of what constitutes an employer-employee relationship. In a news release, the DOL stated that withdrawal of these two letters “does not change the legal responsibilities of employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act, as reflected in the department’s long-standing regulations and case law.”

It remains unclear what the lasting implications of the withdrawal will be. We will continue to monitor developments on the federal and state levels regarding joint employment and independent contractor issues.

Suit Shopping: Deceptive Pricing Class Actions Persist

Kate Gold published an article, along with Kathryn Deal, Meredith Slawe, Kate Villanueva, Dan Brewer and Ashley Super titled, “Suit Shopping: Deceptive Pricing Class Actions Persist” for the California Retailers Association’s Golden State Report.

Recent years have seen a considerable increase in deceptive pricing litigation, with plaintiffs’ attorneys turning to untried theories to help advance their cases. As a result, retailers are facing more high-risk class action suits that could lead to significant exposure, reputational damage, and considerable litigation costs. The article details two potential sources of suits—compare-at pricing and shipping charges—and how courts and agencies have thus far responded to such matters.

Read “Suit Shopping: Deceptive Pricing Class Actions Persist.”