Co-authored by Kristen Peters and Simon L. Yang

Seyfarth Synopsis: Last month in Mendoza v. Nordstrom, Inc., the California Supreme Court addressed three questions about California’s “day of rest” statutes that prohibit employers from causing employees “to work more than six days in seven.” California employers can now rest assured that (1) employees are entitled to one day of rest during each workweek, not one day of rest in every rolling seven days; (2) an exception permits employers to require work each day of a workweek if every daily shift in that workweek is no more than six hours; and (3) while employers cannot require employees to forgo a day of rest, employees remain free to choose to work all seven days in a workweek.

California’s “Day of Rest” Provisions

In the beginning (or 80 years ago), the California legislature created the Labor Code. Sections 551 and 552 codified 19th century laws—the “day of rest” provisions—that entitle all in employment to “one day’s rest therefrom in seven” and prohibit an employer to “cause his employees to work more than six days in seven.” Later, the lawmakers said, let there be a six-hour exception, and Section 556 made the day of rest provisions inapplicable “when the total hours of employment do not exceed 30 hours in any week or six hours in any day thereof.”

The Alleged Violations in Mendoza

Two former Nordstrom employees, Chris Mendoza and Megan Gordon, occasionally were asked to fill in for other employees. As a result, they sometimes worked more than six consecutive days. During those weeks, some of their shifts were six hours or less.

Though the day of rest provisions historically lacked a private right of action, Mendoza and Gordon—enabled by California’s private attorneys general statute—sued in federal district court for alleged violations of Sections 551 and 552.

The district court initially rejected the former barista and sales associates’ claims—both because they were not required to work the fill-in shifts and because they had worked some less than six hour shifts during the at-issue weeks. The plaintiffs appealed.

Interpreting the Day of Rest Provisions

Uncertain how California courts would interpret the statutes, the Ninth Circuit asked for the California Supreme Court’s assistance. The Justices addressed and resolved three questions:

  1. Is the “day of rest” calculated by the seven-day workweek, or does it apply on a rolling basis to any seven-consecutive-day period?

A day of rest is guaranteed for each seven-day, employer-established workweek, not for any “rolling” seven-day period.

In reaching this result, the Mendoza court concluded that “the Legislature intended to ensure employees … a day of rest each week, not to prevent them from ever working more than six consecutive days at any one time.” Thus, periods of more than six consecutive days of work that stretch across more than one workweek are not per se prohibited.

Of more general interest, in adopting the workweek as the framework for counting the seven days the California Supreme Court made an observation that could be welcome to employers in future cases by indicating that this interpretation would be the one most congenial to an employer’s administration of time records.

  1. Does the Section 556 exception apply so long as an employee works six hours or less on at least one day of the applicable workweek, or does it apply only when an employee works no more than six hours on each and every day of the workweek?

The “six hour” exception applies only when an employee works no more than 30 hours in the workweek and no more than six hours on each day of the workweek.

  1. What does it mean for an employer to “cause” an employee to go without a day of rest?

“[A]n employer’s obligation is to apprise employees of their entitlement to a day of rest and thereafter to maintain absolute neutrality as to the exercise of that right.” The Court explained that an employer is not liable simply because an employee chooses to work a seventh day; rather, an employer “causes” an employee to go without a day of rest when it induces the employee to forgo an entitled day of rest. In other words, employers cannot coerce employees to forgo a day of rest, but they will not face liability if an employee, who is aware of the rest-day requirements, nonetheless chooses to work seven days in a row.

Again, employers likely appreciate the Justices’ rejection of the plaintiffs’ ambitious argument that the Labor Code should always be interpreted in such a way as to maximize liability. The Court recognized that an expansive interpretation is improper when the legislative intent indicates a narrower reading of the statute.

Moreover, the decision does protect employees and their right to choose. So on the seventh day, let them rest—or work. It’s up to them.

Lessons Learned for Employers 

Employers nonetheless should review their scheduling practices to assess whether employees (exempt and non-exempt) work all seven days in any employer-defined workweek. Employers should also ensure that their employment policies notify employees of their right to a “day of rest” so they can establish that an employee made an informed decision to forgo a day of rest. Finally, employers should consider obtaining a written waiver from an employee before agreeing to allow the employee to forgo a day of rest in a given workweek.

Opportunity AheadAuthored by Alex Passantino

During his Wednesday hearing before a House Appropriations Subcommittee, in which he addressed the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for DOL, Secretary Alexander Acosta informed the committee that the Department planned to issue a Request for Information (RFI) regarding the currently enjoined overtime rules. The anticipated timetable is 2-3 weeks, but it is unclear whether that represents the timetable before the RFI is submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review and approval or actual publication.

An RFI is a “pre-rulemaking” procedure during which an administrative agency, such as DOL, asks the regulated community for input on a topic or topics. For example, in 2006, the Wage and Hour Division published an RFI on the Family and Medical Leave Act. The results of the employer and employee responses were published in a report in 2007. The responses also were used to inform the Department’s proposed regulation in 2008, which became effective in 2009.

An RFI on the overtime rule likely would ask questions about the economic (or anticipated) impact of the Department’s increase to the minimum salary level required for exemption. Although it undoubtedly will solicit input from all affected employers and employees, it may ask specific questions about the rule’s impact on not-for profits, state and local governments, and small businesses (or at least the impact it was expected to have). The responses to the Department’s RFI will provide it with real-world data points regarding the actual impact of the rule, which will allow it to better determine how to proceed—in the pending litigation as well as in any rulemaking efforts.

It will, therefore, be critical for employer voices to be heard. We will provide additional information on the RFI—including how best to respond—as it becomes available.

Authored by Alex Passantino

On June 7, Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced the withdrawal of the DOLs 2015 and 2016 Administrator Interpretations (AIs) on joint employment and independent contractors. These documents were statements of the Wage & Hour Division’s interpretations of the FLSAs (and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act’s) definitions of employ, employer, and employee. The withdrawal does not change the law; it simply removes as the DOLs position those statements made in the AIs.

The withdrawal likely indicates a changing focus in the Department’s enforcement efforts away from the “fissured” industry initiative of the Obama Administration. We may get additional insight when Secretary Acosta testifies before the House Labor appropriations subcommittee to discuss the Trump Administration budget.

Supreme-Court-seaslCo-authored by Kara Goodwin and Noah Finkel

Pending before the United States Supreme Court is a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Court to determine whether an employer may use payments for bona fide meal periods as an offset/credit against compensable work time. If the Supreme Court accepts the case, it would also provide an excellent opportunity for the Court to address repeat questions regarding the level of deference owed to statutory interpretations by agencies advanced for the first time in litigation and whether pay practices not expressly prohibited by the FLSA are permissible.

Case Background and Circuit Split

In Smiley v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Company, the plaintiffs filed an FLSA collective action seeking compensation for unpaid time spent donning and doffing uniforms and safety gear and performing other activities before and after shifts. This unpaid time averaged approximately 30 to 60 minutes per day. The plaintiffs worked 12-hour shifts and were paid for three 30-minute breaks per shift. The company counted the paid break time as hours worked for overtime purposes, even though the FLSA did not require it to do so, and included the payments in the calculation of the employees’ regular rate of pay. The paid break time always exceeded the amount of unpaid pre-shift and post-shift off-the-clock work (i.e., it was undisputed that the plaintiffs were paid for more hours than they actually worked—the employees had a total of 11 to 11.5 hours worked per day, including pre- and post-shift activities and excluding the paid break time, and were paid for 12 hours worked per day). The district court held that the employer could “completely offset the plaintiffs’ unpaid donning and doffing and shift relief activities with plaintiffs’ paid meal periods,” and granted summary judgment for the employer.

On appeal, the Third Circuit rejected the offset argument and overturned the dismissal. Giving deference to an amicus curiae brief submitted by the DOL, the Third Circuit held that the company’s pay practice violated the FLSA because “[n]othing in the FLSA authorizes the type of offsetting [the company] advances here.”  Although acknowledging that the FLSA is silent and does not “expressly prohibit offsetting,” the Third Circuit nonetheless determined that the company’s pay practice was contrary to the goals and broad remedial purpose of the FLSA.

The Third Circuit’s decision conflicts with decisions by the Seventh Circuit Barefield v. Village of Winnetka and the Eleventh Circuit in Avery v. City of Talladega, which both upheld the use of compensation paid for non-work time as a credit against overtime compensation owed for pre- and post-shift work time. More specifically, in Barefield, the employer required its employees to attend a 15-minute roll call before the scheduled start of their shifts but also paid employees for a 30-minute bona fide meal break each day. The Seventh Circuit held that “the meal periods are not compensable [hours worked] under the FLSA and [defendant] may properly offset the meal break against the compensable roll call time worked by plaintiffs.”

Similarly, in Avery, the Eleventh Circuit held that an offset/credit is appropriate when an employer pays for bona fide meal breaks under the FLSA: “If the meal break is not compensable time under the FLSA, then the [employer] should be allowed to offset the amount it pays for the meal break against any amount it owes the plaintiffs for pre- and post-shift time at work.” Thus, under the current state of the law, an employer who compensates employees for bona fide meal breaks (even though the FLSA does not require it) may properly offset that meal break against alleged off-the-clock work for an employee who works in Illinois or Florida, but the same pay practice, if used for an employee in New Jersey, would violate the FLSA. The Supreme Court has been asked to resolve this Circuit split to “restore uniformity to this important area of federal law.”

Other Important Questions To Be Resolved

The Supreme Court also has an opportunity to resolve an important question (and one causing division among courts of appeals and federal district courts) regarding the level of deference owed to statutory interpretations by agencies advanced for the first time in litigation, such as in amicus briefs. Here, the DOL’s amicus curiae briefs were its first statement on the offset pay practice at issue—the DOL has never promulgated a regulation prohibiting the use of compensation for non-work time included in the regular rate as an offset/credit; has not issued any opinion letters, published statements of policy, or guidance on this subject; has not taken any enforcement actions with respect to this issue; and before this case, has never submitted an amicus curiae brief on this issue. Nonetheless, and even though it did not find the statute at issue to be ambiguous, the Third Circuit accorded Skidmore deference to the DOL’s position that the employer’s pay practices ran afoul of the FLSA. Although the Supreme Court recently has criticized attempts by the DOL to offer guidance or positions not subject to notice and comment rulemaking or that reverse long-standing practice, the Supreme Court has not squarely addressed whether Skidmore deference is owed to an agency’s statutory interpretation expressed for the first time in litigation. The answer to this question is especially important given that amicus positions can flip-flop quickly with a change in administration and, as another appellate court has noted, “[t]he Secretary of Labor has been particularly aggressive in attempt[ing] to mold statutory interpretation and establish policy by filing ‘friend of the court’ briefs in private litigation.”

Finally, if the Supreme Court accepts this case, it would provide an opportunity to confirm that only practices Congress has prohibited in the FLSA can constitute violations of that Act. Put another way, if there is no express prohibition of a practice in the FLSA (i.e., the FLSA is silent concerning whether compensation paid for breaks that is included in the regular rate may be used as an offset/credit against compensable work time), the practice is permissible.

Co-authored by Christopher M. Cascino and Jennifer A. Riley

Seyfarth Synopsis: A federal district court last week decertified and effectively grounded a collective action of O’Hare Airport janitorial staff who claimed that their employer forced them to work off-the-clock without compensation. This decision, Solsol v. Scrub, Inc., stands out as a significant victory for employers because, even though all of the workers who joined the suit worked in one location and alleged off-the-clock work, the Court found their circumstances not similar enough to proceed to trial on a representative basis.

Case Background

Since at least October 2010, Scrub provided janitorial services at O’Hare airport. It did so pursuant to three types of contracts: (1) a contract with the City of Chicago to clean the domestic terminals; (2) contracts with airlines to clean gates; and (3) contracts with airlines to clean airplanes.

Plaintiffs, who worked for Scrub as janitors at O’Hare, sued Scrub, claiming that Scrub violated the FLSA in several ways. First, Plaintiffs claimed that Scrub only paid them for their scheduled, rather than actual, working hours. Second, Plaintiffs alleged that Scrub rounded their time in a way that undercompensated them. Third, Plaintiffs claimed that Scrub automatically deducted 30 minutes for meal breaks even when Plaintiffs worked during their breaks.

Plaintiffs alleged that Scrub did this to all its employees at O’Hare Airport, and the Court conditionally certified a collective action of Scrub employees who worked as janitorial staff at that airport. After discovery was complete, Scrub moved to decertify the collective action.

The Decision

In deciding that Plaintiffs’ collective action would not fly, the Court considered three factors. First, it considered whether the Plaintiffs and opt-ins had similar factual and employment settings. It found that, even though all opt-ins worked at O’Hare, it was at least questionable that all opt-ins worked in the same location given the size of O’Hare. The Court found that the opt-ins worked on different shifts for more than 40 different supervisors, weighing in favor of decertification.

The Court found that the claims of the opt-ins varied. Some claimed they were required to start work 15 minutes before their scheduled shift time every day; others claimed they worked only a few minutes before the start of their shift; still others claimed they did not work prior to the start of their shift. Some claimed their lunch breaks were interrupted for work about once per week; others claimed their lunch breaks were interrupted every day; others claimed they never took a lunch break; and others claimed they took full lunch breaks every day. Finally, the Court found that each supervisor had his or her own rounding policy. Given this, the Court found that Plaintiffs and the opt-ins had different factual and employment settings.

Second, the Court considered whether Scrub had individualized affirmative defenses. It found that Scrub could claim that it overpaid some opt-ins and that the unpaid time for some opt-ins was so minimal that it did not support a claim.

Third, the Court considered whether allowing the opt-ins’ claims to be decided in one proceeding would be fair. The court found that the only way to determine the number of hours that each opt-in worked without pay would be through individualized inquiries. Whereas Plaintiffs argued that the Court could determine the amount of off-the-clock work by comparing each employees’ time card with the time for which they were compensated, the Court found that this was, by necessity, individualized.

Finally, the Court found that the claims of the opt-ins could not be decided on the basis of “representative” testimony, especially in light of their different factual and employment settings. The Court, therefore, concluded that the collective action was not clear for trial and decertified the case.

Implications For Employers

The Court’s decision in Solsol provides a practical illustration of the fate that awaits many conditionally certified off-the-clock cases. Whereas employers facing conditionally certified collective actions have cause for concern, employers should remember that the standard at conditional certification is low and that plaintiffs often have a difficult time meeting the standard at decertification and showing that the claims of all opt-ins can be decided in one trial. This case provides a practical illustration of the shifting leverage that begins shortly after decertification as discovery shows that opt-ins assert different claims for different alleged violations at the hands of different supervisors.

iStock-513046321Authored by John P. Phillips

Seyfarth Synopsis: Recently the Ninth Circuit doubled down on its decision that service advisers at car dealerships are not exempt from the FLSA, despite being overturned once by the U.S. Supreme Court. This case gives the Supreme Court an excellent opportunity to address the proper construction of FLSA exemptions and allow the plain and common sense reading of the statute to govern.

A pending petition for writ of certiorari gives the U.S. Supreme Court a second opportunity to establish two important Fair Labor Standards Act issues: first, administrative agencies and courts should not lightly disregard decades of established practice when interpreting the FLSA, and second, the old canard that “exemptions should be narrowly construed against employers” should finally be put to bed. Employers across the country are hoping that the Supreme Court takes up Navarro, et al. v. Encino Motorcars, LLC  for the second time. And with the addition of Justice Gorsuch to the Court, the time may be ripe to address these issues.

Just as this case gives the Supreme Court a second chance to resolve important FLSA-related issues, this is our second opportunity to write about this case. In early 2016, we explained how the Supreme Court had the chance to address far-reaching implications on the interpretation of FLSA exemptions. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not do so, instead deciding only that the Ninth Circuit had improperly relied on faulty Department of Labor regulations, and remanding the case to the Ninth Circuit.

Case Background

In Navarro, et al. v. Encino Motorcars, LLC, a group of current and former car dealership employees who worked as service advisors brought a collective action under the FLSA in the Central District of California alleging that their dealership employer unlawfully failed to pay them overtime wages. As service advisors, the plaintiffs would meet and greet car owners as they entered the service area; evaluate customers’ service and repair needs; suggest services to be performed on the vehicle to address the customers’ complaints; solicit supplemental services to be performed (such as preventive maintenance); prepare price estimates for repairs and services; and inform the owner about the status of the vehicle. Service advisors did not receive an hourly wage or a salary but were instead paid by commission based on the services sold.

The district court dismissed the overtime claim and agreed with an unbroken line of authority from federal and state courts across the country. But the Ninth Circuit reversed, deferring to a DOL regulatory definition while acknowledging that its holding conflicted with every other court to have considered the question, and citing to the “rule” that FLSA “exemptions are narrowly construed against employers.”

The Supreme Court granted the dealership’s petition for a writ of certiorari and agreed to answer the question of “whether ‘service advisors’ at car dealerships are exempt.” Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not answer the question. Instead, the Court analyzed the DOL regulations, found them to have been issued without a reasoned or adequate explanation and, accordingly, ruled that the Ninth Circuit should not have relied upon them. Having decided this, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit rather than answer the ultimate question of whether the service advisers were exempt.

Predictably, the Ninth Circuit doubled down on its earlier opinion, ruling that the service advisers were not exempt under the FLSA. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit admitted that service advisers fit in the “literal” reading of the statute, but decided that the literal reading was not what Congress intended. In addition, the Ninth Circuit again cited to the “longstanding rule” that FLSA exemptions “are to be narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them.”

Recently, Encino Motorcars appealed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, filing a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to hear the case again. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will take the case, but employers and attorneys (not to mention car dealerships) around the country are hoping the Court takes this opportunity to address the important FLSA issues at stake in this case.

Potential Implications for FLSA Collective Actions

First, this case demonstrates the willingness of federal agencies and some courts to upend years of established industry practice. Here, car dealerships have relied on settled precedent and practice to treat service advisors as exempt since the 1970s. Every court to have examined the issue had found that service advisors were properly exempt from the FLSA. However, the DOL first departed from this precedent in 2011, and the Ninth Circuit followed suit.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has taken legal theories that would upend years of long-settled industry practice with a large grain of salt. As the Court recently noted, “while it may be ‘possible for an entire industry to be in violation of the [FLSA] for a long time without the Labor Department noticing,’ the ‘more plausible hypothesis’ is that the Department did not think the industry’s practice was unlawful.” Encino Motorcars pointed this out in their petition for writ of certiorari, and hopefully the Supreme Court will provide succinct guidance to agencies and courts that long-standing industry practice should be considered before any ruling that upends such reliance.

Second, the Ninth Circuit—in both of its opinions—relied on the doctrine that the FLSA’s exemptions should be narrowly construed against employers. This maxim has been increasingly questioned by the Supreme Court. In its petition, Encino Motorcars highlighted the late-Justice Scalia’s words, where he stated that the goal of a court interpreting a statute “should be neither liberally to expand nor strictly to constrict its meaning, but rather to get the meaning precisely right.” In fact, Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, even referred to it as a “made-up canon” in the Supreme Court’s decision, and stated that it rests on an “elemental misunderstanding of the legislative process.” Nor are Justices Thomas and Alito likely to be alone. Although it is still a little early to speculate on Justice Gorsuch’s views, the justice once famously stated that “when the statute is plain it simply isn’t our business to appeal to legislative intentions.”

If the Supreme Court accepts the case, it would provide the Court an excellent opportunity to address repeat problems in FLSA jurisprudence and help support a more just and statute-based approach to interpreting FLSA exemptions.

Authored by Cheryl A. Luce

Seyfarth Synopsis: On May 25, 2017, Noah Finkel spoke at our full-day summit about what to expect from the DOL under the new administration. Noah’s forecast: “They say that the policy is the people, and we don’t yet have the people.” We have a Secretary of Labor and an interim Solicitor of Labor, but are still waiting for the President to fill the two most important wage and hour law positions: the Administrator and Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”). While we wait to see who will be at the WHD’s helm, we should not expect any policy changes from the WHD, but should continue to be vigilant about developments in the courts.

Enforcement Efforts Expected to Remain the Same

WHD, the enforcement arm of the DOL, is not very political and does not tend to change directions when new leaders take over. WHD investigators focus most of their efforts on individual complaints—not on targeted investigations that follow top-down DOL initiatives. This is likely to continue, and we can expect the number of investigations to remain stable. The Obama administration increased the investigator headcount of the WHD from 700 to 1,000, and there is no proposed budget cut that makes us suspect that the headcount will wane. One possible change on the enforcement front: the Trump administration is unlikely to continue the Obama administration’s focus on certain areas (e.g., the hospitality world and fissured industries).

The New Salary Rules Likely to Remain in Limbo for 2017

The new salary rules that would have increased the salary threshold for white collar exempt employees (sometimes referred to as the new overtime rules) are in limbo. The rules, which were set to go in effect December 1, 2016, remain enjoined by a Texas court while the DOL appeals to the Fifth Circuit. The DOL, through the Acting Solicitor of Labor, has requested several extensions on briefing the appeal. We can expect the DOL to continue seeking extensions until at least as long as it takes to fill the Solicitor of Labor position on a non-interim basis and the vacant WHD Administrator positions.

If the Fifth Circuit affirms the injunction, it could invalidate not only the minimum salary level, but the salary basis test as well. Elimination of that test would provide employers and exempt employees with more freedom around schedules and pay. The DOL could also withdraw the rule and retain the old salary rules. If the injunction is overturned and the new salary basis rules remain in place, we expect that WHD may propose a middle ground, g., something higher than the $455 per week set by the old rules, yet lower than $913 per week. For 2017, employers should not expect any new requirements.

Courts Will Drive Changes to Joint Employer and Independent Contractor Tests

We expect courts to be the primary drivers of change affecting joint employment and independent contractor standards. We’ve blogged about expectations of the new Secretary of Labor here, and while the DOL does not actually make the law, its guidance and interpretations can influence courts. The Obama DOL attempted to broaden the employment relationship with respect to both joint employment and independent contractor classification. For example, the Obama DOL changed the joint employment analysis from “actual control” to “right to control.” It also shifted the focus of whether a worker should be classified as an independent contractor away from the degree to which the business controls the work and instead focused on the economic realities of the relationship, while also stating that most workers should be employees (a position we do not believe the new administration will follow, but it remains to be seen).

In this area, most of the risk comes from the courts themselves. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued the broadest definition of joint employment that we’ve seen and held that unless two entities are completely disassociated with each other, they are joint employers under the FLSA. To minimize risks, we advise continuing to watch how the courts rule on this issue rather than waiting for new DOL guidance.

Opinion Letters Could Return

A glimmer of hope in the new administration is that WHD opinion letters could return. For decades, these opinion letters provided helpful guidance to both employers and employees in how to comply with the FLSA. The Obama administration stopped issuing WHD opinion letters in 2009. We hope to see a return of these. A return of opinion letters also may present employers an opportunity to receive guidance from a WHD that, when its positions are filled, may be more sympathetic to employers’ positions. This, or other forms of interpretive guidance, could be helpful on a number of technical issues—tip credit rules, the fee basis of payment, or interpretation of the fixed salary for fluctuating hours pay plan—on which the WHD under the Obama administration took unfriendly positions.

We’re Keeping Our Eyes on the Courts

Under the new administration, a lot is left up in the air, but as before, most of the risks come from the courts, and the cases plaintiffs’ counsel file in them. We’ve got our eyes on them and will continue to report on key decisions and other wage and hour developments.

iStock-649373572Authored by Katherine M. Smallwood

Seyfarth Synopsis: On May 8, 2017, Governor Nathan Deal signed a law expanding the reach of a pre-existing statute that prohibits Georgia localities from passing ordinances affecting worker pay in Georgia. The amendment is in line with a trend of states’ laws proactively limiting counties’ and cities’ abilities to promulgate ordinances that exceed worker protections that state and federal laws provide.

House Bill 243, authored by Representative Bill Werkheiser (R – Glennville), amends the Georgia Minimum Wage Law to preempt any local government rules requiring additional pay to employees based on schedule changes. The Georgia Minimum Wage Law already prohibited local governments, such as counties, municipal corporations, and consolidated governments, from adopting mandates requiring an employer to pay any employee a wage rate or provide employment benefits not otherwise required under state or federal law.

Prior to the adoption of House Bill 243, the Georgia Minimum Wage Law defined “employment benefits” to mean “anything of value that an employee may receive from an employer in addition to wages and salary,” including but not limited to, “any health benefits; disability benefits; death benefits; group accidental death and dismemberment benefits; paid days off for holidays, sick leave, vacation, and personal necessity; retirement benefits; and profit-sharing benefits.” House Bill 243 amends the definition of “employment benefits” to include “additional pay based on schedule changes.”

According to the National Federation of Independent Business, House Bill 243 benefits employers by protecting them from predictive scheduling requirements, which are intended to require employers to set employees’ work schedules in advance and pay an employee for lost or adjusted time if the schedule changes after the employer initially sets it. Proponents of the Bill argued that members of the food, service, and retail industries rely heavily on scheduling flexibility to serve their customers, and that these business realities justified the Bill’s protection from predictive scheduling requirements that localities might promulgate if it were not passed into law.

The Georgia Minimum Wage Law and this new amendment to it are part of the larger wave of so-called preemption bills, which seek to preclude localities from enacting ordinances that impose additional obligations on employers operating within their boundaries. Numerous states, including South Carolina, Minnesota, Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas, have either passed or considered similar preemption laws. While the laws in these several states (each of which is generally perceived to be business-friendly) should provide some solace to employers on the lookout for business-impacting local laws, they also highlight the need for caution in states whose legislatures are less willing to restrict cities’ and counties’ from passing worker protection laws.

Co-authored by Julie Yap and Michael Cross

Seyfarth Synopsis:  The California Court of Appeal affirmed a denial of class certification on the ground that the plaintiff’s expert report failed to establish claims could be determined on common evidence. The ruling highlights that trial courts are permitted to weigh conflicting evidence related to whether common or individual issues predominate. While expert reports often inform merits questions relating to damages, when those reports are the main source of support for certification, they equally inform issues of liability.

Plaintiff, a former Oracle technical analyst, filed suit alleging that Oracle’s employment practices violated various state wage and hour laws and constituted unfair business practices. Plaintiff’s case, both in the trial and appellate courts, turned largely on the reliability of his expert’s report.

Plaintiff’s expert’s opinion was based on a comparison of Oracle’s (1) payroll records, (2) internal time records, and (3) time cards. In comparing those data sets, Plaintiff’s expert purported to find a discrepancy between the number of overtime hours technical analysts worked and the number of overtime hours for which Oracle had paid them. In addition, by reviewing the time cards, the expert purported to uncover that many analysts took shortened or late meal breaks, or missed them altogether. Plaintiff moved to certify a class relying on a handful of putative class member declarations, but, in large part, through reference to a concurrently-filed expert report, arguing that his claims were subject to common proof through the expert’s comparison and analysis of Oracle’s records.

Oracle opposed Plaintiff’s motion to certify, relying on its own expert’s report and 42 declarations, 22 of which were from putative class members. Oracle’s rebuttal expert identified significant flaws in the methodology and care used by the Plaintiff’s expert. Among other flaws, Plaintiff’s expert included on-call, non-worked, and sick time in his time card numbers, which created significant discrepancies between the purported time worked and the time paid. In addition, the Plaintiff’s expert misread Oracle’s spreadsheets and ignored a $21 million overtime payment that Oracle had made. Finally, the expert made a number of assumptions about the data he analyzed, but failed to disclose those assumptions in his report.

The Trial Court’s Denies Certification

In denying Plaintiff’s motion for certification, the Court concluded that Plaintiff’s expert report was unreliable based largely on the reasons set forth in Oracle’s opposition. Specifically, the court found that because Plaintiff relied on his expert’s report to establish that three of his claims could be determined by common proof, and because that report was unreliable, he could not establish commonality for those claims.

The Appellate Court Affirms The Denial of Certification

Plaintiff appealed the trial court ruling on two main grounds. He first argued that whether or not his expert’s calculations were accurate should not have been considered on his motion for certification. Accuracy of expert reports, he argued, is a merits question. Second, Plaintiff argued that the trial court improperly weighed the competing declarations submitted by the parties.

In evaluating the first question, the Court of Appeal noted that whether or not common issues predominate over individual ones is often closely tied to the ultimate merits of a claim. But the Court did not stop there. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that Plaintiff’s expert’s opinion went only to the merits of alleged damaged in the case, holding that when a party’s expert report serves as its sole support for establishing that common questions predominate, the party has transformed that report into evidence of liability, not damages. As the Court explained:

Plaintiff’s only evidence that uncompensated overtime and missed, late, or short meal breaks could be established classwide with common proof was [his expert’s] declaration and his comparison of [two of Oracle’s] databases. The issue here is whether Plaintiff can establish that class members worked overtime for which they were not paid or had late, short, or missed meal breaks on a classwide basis, and this is a question of entitlement to damages, not damages themselves.

The Court also found it was within the lower court’s discretion to weigh competing declarations from the parties in order to determine whether the requirements for class certification were satisfied, and that doing so was not an improper evaluation of the merits.

Employers defending against class certification motions that rely on expert opinions to establish liability can, and should, offer contrary evidence, and make clear to the court that they are arguing certification and liability issues, not simply damages issues.

Co-authored by Kyle A. Petersen and Molly C. Mooney

Seyfarth Synopsis:  The Second Circuit recently upheld a district court order denying a bid for class certification by personal bankers claiming their managers refused to approve timesheets with overtime hours, shaved reported overtime hours, and pressured them to work off the clock. Because the company’s policy governing (and limiting) overtime work was lawful on its face, the bankers’ claims hinged on the exercise of managerial discretion in applying those policies. The district court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate sufficient uniformity in the exercise of managerial discretion, and the Second Circuit affirmed.

As noted earlier, the trial court’s decision reflects reluctance by some trial courts to certify nationwide class actions based on local or even regionalized evidence of rogue managers deviating from company policy. The Court of Appeals has now given its seal of approval to that approach.

In Ruiz v. Citibank, N.A., personal bankers from several states alleged that Citibank had a strict policy limiting overtime hours while also setting rigorous sales goals and quotas for the bankers that could not be achieved in a forty-hour workweek. The bankers also alleged that branch managers refused to approve timesheets with overtime hours, or shaved overtime hours off of the bankers’ timesheets.

The bankers sought certification of a class consisting of bankers with claims under New York, Illinois, and District of Columbia law. Their attempt to establish commonality — primarily through anecdotal evidence of pressure to work off the clock and a not uncommon and entirely legal goal of reducing overtime work — fell short and was rebutted by putative class member testimony of variations across branches. For example, putative class members testified that individual branch managers had differing management styles for incentivizing and motivating employees to meet their sales goals — some plaintiffs were rewarded for positive sales performance, with no reference to overtime hours they worked in doing so, while others failed to achieve sales goals with no admonition. This, said the court, showed that the pressure to work off the clock was not uniformly felt and precluded the case from proceeding as a class. On appeal, the Second Circuit wholeheartedly agreed with the district court’s “lucid and accurate analysis” and affirmed denial of class certification.

While not a game changer, this decision reaffirms the need for plaintiffs to come up with more than anecdotal evidence of allegedly systemic problems, and highlights how employers can use class member depositions to defeat class certification.