Law360, New York (January 22, 2014, 1:45 PM ET) — The Ninth Circuit on Tuesday vacated a California federal court's denial of class certification in an overtime wage spat between automobile glass repair company Safelite Group Inc. and a former employee, ruling that the judge had erred in denying the plaintiff's efforts to conduct precertification discovery.
In an unpublished unanimous opinion, the three-judge panel said that the failure to grant the early discovery request of Joseph Perez amounted to an abuse of discretion by the court, finding that Perez had established that additional information was needed to allege commonality of the class of former workers he sought to represent.
“The district court denied class certification because Perez did not have evidence about other employees with his job title, which shows that discovery is necessary to determine the existence of a class in this case,” the panel said. “Perez is therefore entitled to precertification discovery on remand.”
Perez initially filed the case in California state court in 2010, and it was removed to federal court soon thereafter. The suit seeks to represent a class of Safelite technicians in California, alleging that individuals in these positions are wrongly classified as outside salespersons and are therefore denied overtime wages.
In an effort to gather more information about the class he sought to represent, Perez stipulated with Safelite to extend the class certification deadline, a stipulation that was rejected by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner without reason, according to the panel.
Judge Klausner similarly denied Perez's precertification discovery request without reason and ultimately denied class certification in 2011, noting that there was insufficient evidence to establish the duties performed by Safelite employees other than Perez. The district court did wade into the need for precertification discovery in its order.
Eric B. Kingsley, a partner with Kingsley & Kingsley APC who represented Perez, welcomed the panel's decision reviving his client's request for class certification.
“We are obviously very happy that the judge's ruling was reversed and we are looking forward to going back in front of him again, proving up the certification issues and conducting discovery as well,” Kingsley told Law360.
The panel did not find merit in Perez's challenge of the Central District of California's local rule that places a 90-day deadline on class certification. Perez had alleged that the deadline creates an “impossible barrier” to class certification that can be abused by defendants and district courts.
In response, the Ninth Circuit said that the timing of class certification is “committed to the discretion of the district judge” and that the local rule allows for extensions of the 90-day deadline.
Circuit Judges Dorothy W. Nelson, Kim McLane Wardlaw and Johnnie B. Rawlinson sat on the panel for the Ninth Circuit.
An attorney for Safelite did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Perez is represented by Darren M. Cohen, Liane Katzenstein Ly and Eric B. Kingsley of Kingsley & Kingsley APC.
Safelite is represented by Michael Jacob Ball, Robert A. Harris, Daniel J. Clark, Michael Charles Griffaton and Andrew Christian Smith of Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP.
The case is Joseph Perez et al. v. Safelite Group Inc., case number 12-55657, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
–Editing by Jeremy Barker.