PAGA Suit Alleging Wage and Hour Violations
On July 13, 2017, the California Supreme Court in Williams v. Superior Court (Marshalls) issued its first opinion addressing the scope of discovery in representative actions brought under the state's Private Attorneys General Act, knows as PAGA (Cal. Labor Code §§ 2698 et seq.). The Court reversed the trial court's discovery order denying Plaintiff's motion seeking contact information for fellow California employees in other California Marshalls of CA, LLC (“Marshalls”) stores in this representative action seeking civil penalties on behalf of the State and aggrieved employees statewide for alleged wage and hour violations.
Plaintiff Michael Williams worked in the Costa Mesa, California Marshalls store beginning in January 2012. In 2013, Williams sued Marshalls under California's PAGA, alleging that the company failed to provide meal and rest periods or compensation in lieu of the required breaks to Williams and other aggrieved employees. The complaint also alleged that Marshalls routinely understaffed stores, required employees to work during meal periods without compensation, directed managers to erase meal period violations from time records, and required employees to carry out company business without reimbursement. Williams further alleged that as a result of these violations, Marshalls failed to provide him and other aggrieved employees timely wage payment or complete and accurate wage statements. All told, Williams sought declaratory relief and civil penalties on behalf of approximately 16,500 current and former non-exempt employees who worked at Marshalls stores throughout California.
During discovery, Williams sought the names, contact information and employment history for all 16,500 employees statewide. Marshalls objected to the requests on the grounds that the interrogatories were (1) overbroad, (2) unduly burdensome, and (3) invasive of the right to privacy of third-parties under Article I, Section One of the California Constitution. The plaintiff then moved to compel the discovery, arguing the contact information was routinely discoverable in representative employee actions and vital to the prosecution of his PAGA claims. The trial court granted the motion in part, ordering Marshalls to produce the contact information only for the employees at the Costa Mesa store where the plaintiff worked, and denied production of the contact information of employees at the other 128 Marshalls stores statewide. The trial court and lower appellate court both held that plaintiff would be entitled to such sweeping information only by first showing his claims had some merit.
However, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court rejected such a requirement, endorsing liberal discovery at the onset of a PAGA action, and holding that statewide contact information should be provided before any determination of merit. In other words, the court held that, in non-PAGA class actions, the contact information of those a plaintiff purports to represent is routinely discoverable without any requirement that the plaintiff first show good cause, and nothing in the characteristics of a PAGA suit affords a basis for restricting discovery more narrowly.
Click here to read the Supreme Court's Opinion in Williams v. Marshalls of CA.
Concerns by Employers
The Court's opinion is concerning for employers since broad discovery rights, like those approved of in Williams, can be used in efforts to get companies to settle, even when the alleged claims have little or no merit. Further, dealing with broad discovery rights can be burdensome and expensive for employers trying to defend questionable litigation.
PAGA “deputizes” California employees to bring claims against their employers on behalf of the state for violations of the California Labor Code. Similar claims had previously been recoverable only through or by the state's labor commissioner. The statute can carry expensive penalties for employers, as employees must bring such claims as “representative” actions on behalf of other allegedly aggrieved employees, without having to meet the requirements for class certification.
California Employment Lawyers
With the increase in California PAGA claims, employers and employees alike should remain informed of labor and employment laws and any changes by the legislature this year. There remains numerous benefits as a result of PAGA's original passing and Kingsley & Kingsley continues to prosecute these claims on behalf of California employees. To discuss a potential PAGA claim, feel free to contact leading California employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley. Call toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or contact us via email.