The Critical Case Recap: Week of May 26, 2014
What It’s About: In a much-anticipated decision, the California Supreme Court struck down a $15 million trial court verdict obtained on behalf of employees who claimed they were misclassified as overtime-exempt, due to the trial court’s “flawed implementation of sampling,” which did not permit the defendant to present its affirmative defenses.
Why It’s Important: Like Brinker, there’s something in this decision for everyone. It provides guidance on the proper use of statistical sampling to show both liability and damages in class wage-and-hour cases, explicitly—but cautiously—holding that sampling “may provide an appropriate means of proving liability and damages in some wage and hour class actions.” Future parties and future cases will doubtlessly grapple with the practicalities of implementing the Court’s guidelines.
What It’s About: After a complex procedural start to the case, a Northern District of California judge found, among other things, that the defendant sufficiently established the required amount in controversy pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”).
Why It’s Important: This decision is one of the first federal district court decisions to interpret the Ninth Circuit’s relatively recent switch to a preponderance of the evidence standard for defendants seeking federal CAFA jurisdiction (see Rodriguez v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC, 728 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2013)).
Serri v. Santa Clara University
What It’s About: The California Court of Appeal held that after-acquired expert evidence regarding the lack of any adverse consequences from an employee’s failure to perform a job duty does not create a triable issue of fact with respect to whether that employee failed to perform her job duties.
Why It’s Important: This decision limits the scope of information that can be used to successfully oppose summary judgment in discrimination cases in which there is a dispute over whether the employer had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to terminate employment or whether its reasons for doing so were pretextual.
Rosenfeld v. Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Inc.
What It’s About: The California Court of Appeal upheld a trial court verdict in favor of the defendant in an age discrimination case, holding, among other things, that the trial court correctly prohibited the plaintiff from proceeding with a disparate impact age discrimination claim where her pleadings had solely alleged a theory of disparate treatment based on intentional age discrimination.
Why It’s Important: This decision reaffirms the significant distinctions between disparate treatment and disparate impact theories of liability and should caution plaintiffs’ attorneys to clearly and separately plead each theory of liability, despite the fact that they may constitute the same cause of action.
What It’s About: Judge Alsup denied Apple summary judgment in two related Fair Labor Standards Act cases on behalf of hourly specialists, managers, and “genius bar” employees asserting that they are not paid for time spend undergoing security searches. The court then stayed the cases pending the outcome of the Supreme Court’s review of Busk v. Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Ninth Circuit case upholding an FLSA claim for an employer’s failure to compensate hourly employees for time spent in pre- or post-shift security screenings.
Why It’s Important: Employers and defense-side counsel may wish to pay attention to the court-drawn distinctions regarding whether a security screening policy can be considered “work,” depending on whether the policy is mandatory. The Supreme Court’s decision in Busk, likely not to come out until Spring 2015, will provide further guidance on the topic; in the meantime, plaintiffs’ attorneys may find their FLSA security screening cases on hold.