The Labor and Employment Department of Payne & Fears specializes in representing local, regional and national employers in all aspects of labor and employment law and related litigation. We defend employers in employment cases, ranging from single-plaintiff wage and hour actions to complex disparate treatment cases brought on behalf of thousands of employees. We deliver cost-effective results through early, comprehensive assessment of the facts and case strategy. While many of our cases are resolved by dispositive motions and early resolution, we are also skilled trial attorneys who successfully take employment cases of every size and type through trial, arbitrations and administrative proceedings. Our major areas of expertise include:
Payne & Fears LLP secured complete summary judgment and a voluntary dismissal on behalf of a client in two separate cases filed by the client’s former employee. The employee filed one action alleging that she was discriminated and retaliated against due to a disability that put her out of work indefinitely, and that she was not reasonably accommodated for this disability. The employee filed a second action styled as a wage and hour class action alleging she and other similarly situated employees were denied overtime pay, meal periods, and rest breaks, among other things. In the individual discrimination case, Payne & Fears successfully argued that the employer had gone above and beyond its legal obligations to accommodate the employee and that her request for an indefinite leave of absence was per se unreasonable and therefore not required by law. The Orange County Superior Court agreed and granted summary judgment on all six causes of action in that case. Following the employer’s summary judgment victory in the individual discrimination case, the employee agreed to voluntarily dismiss her wage and hour claims from her class action lawsuit. Jeff Brown, Alex Ruiz, and Tyler Runge defended the case for the employer, with Alex Ruiz handling the oral argument of the summary judgment motion.
The California Court of Appeal has affirmed a complete victory by Payne & Fears’ client, Safeway, Inc., over a certified class of wage-and-hour plaintiffs. Esparza v. Safeway Inc., et al., B287927 (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC369766, June 10, 2019).
Plaintiffs filed the Esparza action in 2007, alleging (among other claims) that Safeway failed to provide meal periods to its retail employees throughout California, and failed to pay one-hour premiums to those employees who did not receive meal periods. Plaintiffs stated claims directly under Labor Code 226.7, and also under the Unfair Competition Law, Business & Professions Code section 17200 et seq. (the “UCL”). In 2013, Plaintiffs obtained class certification on their UCL claim only, asserting that Safeway’s alleged failure to pay any meal period premiums prior to June 17, 2007, constituted an unfair business practice in itself, without regard to whether Safeway actually “provided” meal periods. Plaintiffs argued that the statutory protections of the meal period laws had a “market value” to employees, and that Safeway’s employees were deprived of that value by Safeway’s failure to pay premiums. Safeway challenged the ruling, but the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that Plaintiffs had sufficiently identified common questions. Safeway, Inc. v. Superior Court (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 1138, 1162-1163.
Back in the trial court, Safeway moved for summary adjudication against the certified class claim, arguing that Plaintiffs’ theories sought to impose liability against Safeway for every short, missed or late meal period that occurred, without regard to why it had occurred. Safeway also argued that the “market value” theory described damages (as opposed to restitution), which are not available as a remedy under the UCL. The trial court granted the motion. Safeway then moved to strike Plaintiffs’ companion claim under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, Labor Code section 2698, et seq. (“PAGA”), arguing that it was untimely because Plaintiffs did not fulfill the administrative prerequisite to a PAGA claim – giving notice to the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency (the “LWDA”) – until more than one year after the last alleged violation. The trial court granted that motion as well, effectively eliminating all of Plaintiffs’ class or representative claims.
On June 10, 2019, the Court of Appeal issued a published opinion affirming both defense rulings, noting that: (1) Plaintiffs were not entitled to classwide recovery of meal period premiums without proving, on a classwide basis, that Safeway failed to provide meal periods in the first place; (2) Plaintiffs’ novel “market value” theory did not support a claim for restitution under the UCL; and (3) the “relation-back” theory by which Plaintiffs attempted to save their PAGA claim could not cure their failure to give notice to the LWDA.
Jeff Brown, Jim Payne and Ray Boggess handled Safeway’s successful defense.