Wang v. Chinese Daily News is Still Making News
More than a decade has passed since plaintiffs filed Wang v. Chinese Daily News, Case No. 04-cv-01498 (C.D. Cal.), and more than nine years have passed since the plaintiffs first obtained certification of a California class of hourly employees and later successfully tried the case and won a $5.1 million verdict in the case for overtime, missed meal and rest breaks, and other violations. After the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Wal-Mart v. Dukes. The Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s certification of the plaintiff class and remanded to the trial court to reconsider its class certification analysis under Dukes.
By order of April 15, 2014, the trial court (Hon. Consuelo Marshall) re-certified the same class— finding that nothing in Dukes called into question her previous Rule 23(b)(3) certification. Judge Marshall found multiple common questions, the answers to which were, in the words of Dukes, “apt to drive the resolution of the litigation.” These questions included (among others) (1) whether or not the Chinese Daily News had a policy of not paying overtime to its non-exempt employees who worked more than 40 hours per week, and (2) whether the Chinese Daily News denied its employees meal and rest breaks. The Court found that the answers to these questions would be central to the validity of each class member’s claims. Addressing plaintiffs’ “common questions as a class action avoids hundreds of unnecessary ‘mini-trials’ by allowing the Court to address [Chinese Daily News’s] liability as to each of the nearly 200 class members with a single trial.”
Notably, for California wage-and-hour law practitioners, Judge Marshall found that the “only individual issues remaining relate to individual plaintiffs’ damages, and these cannot defeat certification”—citing Leyva v. Medline Industries Inc., 716 F.3d 510 for this proposition. Chinese Daily News, therefore, reaffirms that individual damage issues do not necessarily pose a problem in wage-and-hour class cases, even after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Comcast decision. There, the Court held in an antitrust case that a class action could not be certified unless the plaintiffs presented a damages model that was linked to the theory on which liability was premised. Leyva and its progeny, including the latest Chinese Daily News decision, confirm that the Comcast holding does not pose significant hurdles in typical wage and hour overtime cases. This is likely the case because, unlike in Comcast, the damages model in overtime or meal break cases is not complicated (such that no expert is needed to establish the connection) but rather is closely tied to the employer’s actions that allegedly created the legal liability—that is, requiring the employee to work overtime without paying overtime wages or failing to provide 30-minute uninterrupted meal periods.
Indeed, Judge Marshall cited Brinker for the proposition that to “‘decertify a class on the issue of damages . . . may well be effectively to sound the death-knell of the class action device’” and, in her ruling, declined to do so. Apparently, reports of the death of wage-and-hour class litigation, like those of Mark Twain in 1897 (he died in 1910), have been greatly exaggerated.