Yesterday, Federal District Court Judge John A. Kronstadt (Central District of California) denied certification to a proposed class of over 5,000 grocery employees at all WinCo Foods warehouse grocery stores in California. In Hughes v. WinCo Foods, plaintiffs sought to certify a class of all hourly employees at WinCo stores in California on “late” meal period claims. Plaintiffs alleged that WinCo failed to provide the grocery employees with meal periods during the first five hours of their shifts. Citing the recent Supreme Court decision in Dukes, Judge Kronstadt found plaintiffs failed to establish the Rule 23 class certification requirements because WinCo gave store and department managers discretion over the timing and arrangement of meal periods. As a result, the decision-making with respect to when employees took meal periods varied from store to store and department to department such that the timing of meal periods could not be proven reliably on behalf of the class with evidence in “a single stroke.”
WinCo operates thirty large discount warehouse grocery stores in California. Each WinCo store has up to fifteen different departments, most of which are managed by hourly employees known as department managers. Plaintiffs claimed that WinCo required manager permission for employees to take a meal period and therefore had control over the timing of meal periods, which according to plaintiffs distinguished the case from the Brinker decision that is currently pending before the California Supreme Court. Judge Kronstadt, however, adopted Seyfarth’s argument that managers had discretion to manage and arrange meal periods in varying ways in different departments thereby destroying commonality. Also, because plaintiffs assigned partial responsibility for the alleged meal break violations to their supervisors (fellow hourly employees), and simultaneously sought to represent the same supervisors, the Court found there was a potential conflict of interest that raised concerns about adequacy of representation making the proposed class inappropriate.
Relying on favorable deposition testimony and declarations obtained by Seyfarth showing wide variability of meal period practices from department to department and employee to employee, Judge Kronstadt concluded that plaintiffs “failed to carry their burden ‘affirmatively [to] demonstrate’ that the alleged meal period violations were the result of a common policy or practice, or otherwise demonstrate the predominance of common questions.” Because of the substantial individualized inquires that would be necessary to adjudicate plaintiffs’ “late” meal period claim, the Court determined that the class action would devolve into hundreds or thousands of “mini-trials” and the superiority requirement was not met.
This case is another example of a federal court using Dukes to support denial of class certification, which is a growing trend previously reported on this blog.