Federal Court Dramatically Reduces Attorney-Fee Award to Plaintiffs in FLSA Collective Action Against Chipotle

The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota has dramatically cut an attorney-fee request in a wage-and-hour collective action against Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. from $3.2 million to $600,000, finding the original amount “excessive” in light of the relatively small $62,000 recovery and straightforward nature of the case. Harris et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., No. 13-CV-1719 (SRN/SER), 2018 WL 617972 (D. Minn. Jan. 29, 2018).

The 81 percent fee reduction marks the end of an almost five-year saga, which began in 2013 as a nationwide putative collective action by employees Marcus Harris and Julius Caldwell. Through the action, Harris and other named plaintiffs, who were employed as hourly workers at Chipotle’s Crystal, Minnesota, restaurant sought unpaid straight time and overtime wages based on allegations that Chipotle forced its non-exempt employees to perform off-the-clock work, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, and the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 177.21-177.35.

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California at Work: New Labor Laws for 2018

*Originally published by CalCPA in the January/February 2018 issue of California CPA — the original article can be found here.

You may not have expected that the California Legislature in 2017 designated an official state dinosaur (Augustynolophus morrisi) and four state nuts (almond, pecan, walnut and pistachio), which are technically seeds, but that’s a separate article. Less surprising is that employer regulation and employee rights continue to expand in our state, the sixth-largest economy of the world. The rate of expansion, however, seems to have taken another pendulum swing: 304 bills introduced in 2017 mention “employer,” compared to 569 bills in 2016 and 224 in 2015. Most of those bills did not pass, and of the ones that did, most were not signed into law by Gov. Brown. Essential elements of several bills that became law affecting private employers, effective Jan. 1, 2018, unless noted otherwise, follow.

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Key New California Laws for 2018: What Employers Should Know

Governor Jerry Brown signed several laws in 2017 that will impact California employers next year. A summary of some of the key new laws follows, in numerical order by Assembly Bill (AB) and/or Senate Bill (SB). All of the laws outlined below are effective beginning January 1, 2018.

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Individual Liability for California Wage-and-Hour Violations: Developments on California Authority in 2017

Can employees sue individuals for wage-and-hour violations? That is the question numerous trial courts have been asked since the enactment of California Labor Code section 558.1 (“Section 558.1”) in 2016. Unfortunately, no binding authority on the question exists yet, but several trial courts have concluded that employees can.

Under Section 558.1(a), “[a]ny employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer who violates, or causes to be violated,” several labor code provisions, “may be held liable as the employer for such violation.” The term “other person acting on behalf of an employer” means any person who is an owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer. Lab. Code § 558.1(b). Generally speaking, managing agents are corporate employees who exercise substantial independent authority and judgment so that their decisions ultimately determine corporate policy; in other words, “managing agents” aren’t necessarily just company executives.

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

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

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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