California Supreme Court Holds That a Challenge to Independent Contractor Status Is Class Certifiable
In Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers the California Supreme Court held that the critical factor in determining whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor is “the degree of a hirer's right to control how the end result is achieved.” Even if that right is not exercised, the hirer will be deemed the employer of the worker and will be subject to all California laws governing employment relationships. The Supreme Court also held that with respect to class certification, the issue is whether there is a common way to show the employer “possessed essentially the same legal right of control” with each plaintiff.
Antelope Valley (defendant) circulates the Antelope Valley Press daily to subscribers throughout Los Angeles and Kern Counties. To distribute the paper, Antelope Valley operates distribution facilities in both counties and contracts with individual carriers using a preprinted standard form contract, “Independent Contractor Distribution Agreement”. The four plaintiffs are/were newspaper carriers for Antelope Valley and are collectively referred to as “Ayala”.
The plaintiffs filed a class action against Antelope Valley alleging they had been misclassified as independent contractors and were entitled to damages because they had not been, inter alia, paid overtime and provided meal and rest breaks in violation of California wage and hour laws. The trial court concluded the case could not proceed as a class action, holding that on the critical question whether Ayala and others were employees, plaintiffs had not shown common questions predominate; to determine employee status, in the trial court‘s view, would necessitate numerous unmanageable individual inquiries into the extent to which each carrier was afforded discretion in his or her work. The California Court of Appeal disagreed in part, holding that the trial court had misunderstood the nature of the inquiries called for, and remanded for reconsideration of the class certification motion as to five of the complaint‘s claims. The Court of Appeal noted that the key issue – “how much right does Antelope Valley have to control what its carriers do” – could be addressed on a class-wide basis.
In Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers the California Supreme Court stated (1) whether a common law employer-employee relationship exists turns principally on the degree of a hirer's right to control how the end result is achieved; (2) whether the hirer's right to control can be shown on a class-wide basis will depend on the extent to which individual variations in the hirer's rights concerning each putative class member exist, and whether such variations, if any, are manageable; and (3) the trial court in this case erred in rejecting certification based not on differences in Antelope Valley's right to exercise control, but on variations in how that right was exercised.
Concerns about being classified as an independent contractor?
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