Last month, the Second District Court of Appeal issued an unpublished opinion in Aguiar v. Cintas Corporation (B182477) reversing and remanding a Los Angeles County Superior Court order denying class certification of a claim for violations of the Los Angeles Living Wage Ordinance (LWO) (Los Angeles Admin. Code, § 10.37 et seq.) and related claims. The trial court found that the proposed class was not ascertainable, lacked a well-defined community of interest and class treatment was not the superior means to resolve the litigation. However, because the complexities of the case on which the trial court relied to find class certification inappropriate can be addressed by the use of subclasses and, with those issues resolved, the requirements for class treatment are satisfied, and the Court of Appeal reversed the order denying certification and remanded the case with directions for the trial court to certify two subclasses of Cintas employees and to conduct further proceedings consistent with the opinion.
The LWO provides employees with a private right of action against a violating employer and specifies the available damages. The first amended complaint alleged six causes of action: (1) violation of the LWO; (2) violation of BPC § 17200; (3) violation of Labor Code §§ 201 and 202; (4) violation of Labor Code § 227.3 (for failing to compensate employees who have quit or been discharged for accrued vacation time); (5) violation of Labor Code § 204 (for civil penalties under the PAGA); and (6) breach of contract. The plaintiffs proposed to represent a class of "all of [Cintas’s] current and former employees [of its Whittier, Pico Rivera and Ontario facilities] who have worked at least 20 hours per month on [Cintas’s] contracts to provide rental, uniform, and laundry services to the DWP.”
Cintas opposed certification on the ground that each named plaintiff and putative class member would be required to demonstrate he or she worked at least 20 hours per month to be eligible for protection under the LWO. The trial court denied the motion for class certification because the plaintiffs had failed to specify available means to identify the individual class members, and because the testimony from the plaintiffs regarding the amount of time they worked on DWP contracts was “incompatible and contradictory,” rendering the plaintiffs not typical of the proposed class and inadequate representatives..
After acknowledging the rule that a trial court’s ruling on a motion for class certification is reviewed for abuse of discretion (Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court (2004) 34 Cal.4th 319, 326), because "trial courts are ideally situated to evaluate the efficiencies and practicalities of permitting group action, they are afforded great discretion in granting or denying certification," the Court of Appeal reversed. A trial court ruling supported by substantial evidence generally will not be disturbed “unless (1) improper criteria were used [citation]; or (2) erroneous legal assumptions were made [citation]” [citation]. . . . “ However, here, none of the grounds relied on by the trial court was a valid basis for denying plaintiffs’ class certification motion.
The use of subclasses is an appropriate device to facilitate class treatment. Richmond v. Dart Industries, Inc. (1981) 29 Cal.3d 462, 470-471. Thus, any distinctions between class members who worked over the 20 hour threshold could be resolved by creating two subclasses. Morever, the court wrote, "to the extent questions arise later in the litigation about how to determine which putative class members worked at least 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts, or whether their schedules varied from month to month, that burden falls on Cintas. It was Cintas’s business decision to commingle DWP items with those of other customers and to allow all employees to work on the items at each substation (for example, sorting, hanging, folding) as they were processed through the plant. Moreover, the LWO through its implementing regulations requires employers to provide the City a list of all employees subject to the LWO (Regulation No. 4); and at the time Cintas was awarded the DWP contracts it certified it would do so, including the name, position, classification and rate of pay for each employee. Thus, Cintas was aware that, if the LWO was applicable to its contracts, it was responsible for keeping track of employee time. Accordingly, it is appropriate to shift the burden of proof on issues regarding employee time spent on DWP contracts to Cintas."
Where an employer is obligated to maintain such records, the burden shifts to the employer to come forward with evidence of the precise amount of work performed or with evidence to negative the reasonableness of the inference to be drawn from the employee’s evidence. If the employer fails to produce such evidence, the court may then award damages to the employee, even though the result be only approximate.’ [Citations.]” (Hernandez v. Mendoza (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 721, 727; see also Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 949, 961-964 [burden of proof in wage-and-hour case on defendant to prove employer provided proper employee rest breaks].
Thus, the validity of the 20-hour rule was not a bar to class certification because the putative class can be divided into subclasses. With the use of subclasses, class members were ascertainable and had a well-defined community of interest and class treatment was not the superior method for both the litigants and the courts for resolving the litigation.
As to the initial requirement of an ascertainable class, class members are "ascertainable" where they may be readily identified without unreasonable expense or time by reference to official records." (Rose v. City of Hayward (1981) 126 Cal.App.3d 926, 932.) Since members of plaintiffs’ proposed class are ascertainable from Cintas’s payroll records, which identify each employee by name, job code, dates of employment and rate of pay, that element was also met.
Morever, if there was no plaintiff suitable to represent the new subclass, the putative class members for that subclass could be represented adequately by a named plaintiff who did not work 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts; and the second amended complaint may be amended once again on remand to add another named plaintiff should it be determined that the subclass of employees who did not work 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts needs an additional, adequate representative. (La Sala v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 864, 872
And, finally, class treatment was plainly the superior means for resolving the litigation for both the parties and the court. “[W]age and hour disputes (and others in the same general class) routinely proceed as class actions.” Prince v. CLS Transportation, Inc. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 1320, 1328. "Absent class treatment, each individual plaintiff would present in separate, duplicative proceedings the same or essentially the same arguments and evidence, including expert testimony. The result would be a multiplicity of trials conducted at enormous expense to both the judicial system and the litigants”. "By establishing a technique whereby the claims of many individuals can be resolved at the same time, the class suit both eliminates the possibility of repetitious litigation and provides small claimants with a method of obtaining redress for claims which would otherwise be too small to warrant individual litigation.” Thus, the trial court’s denial of class certification in this case constitutes an abuse of discretion.