October 19, 2021

Key California Employment Law Cases: September 2021

Chamber of Commerce v. Bonta, No. 20-15291, 2021 WL 4187860 (9th Cir. Sep. 15, 2021)

Summary:  The FAA does not preempt Labor Code section 432.6’s prohibition of mandatory employment arbitration agreements, but does preempt the civil and criminal sanctions imposed for a violation of that provision.

Read our in-depth analysis HERE.

Wesson v. Staples the Office Superstore, LLC, 68 Cal. App. 5th 746 (2021)

Summary:  Courts have “inherent authority” to ensure that trial of PAGA claims are fair and efficient, and may strike claims that are not manageable.

Read our in-depth analysis HERE.

Turrieta v. Lyft, Inc., Case No. B304701, 2021 WL 4472080 (Cal. Ct. App. Sept. 30, 2021) 

Summary:  A plaintiff in one PAGA matter does not have standing to intervene in other pending PAGA matters.

Facts:  Plaintiffs Brandon Olson, Million Seifu, and Tina Turrieta filed separate actions against Defendant Lyft, Inc. under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”), alleging that they had been misclassified as independent contractors.  Plaintiff Turrieta and Defendant reached a settlement.  When Plaintiff Turrieta filed a motion with the trial court to approve the settlement, Plaintiffs Olson and Seifu sought to intervene to object to the settlement.  The trial court (1) rejected their requests to intervene, finding that they did not have standing; (2) found the settlement was fair and adequate, and approved it; and (3) denied their subsequent motions to vacate the judgment.  Plaintiffs Olson and Seifu appealed.

Court’s Decision:  The California Court of Appeal affirmed.  As to the motions to vacate, the court concluded that “appellants’ status as PAGA plaintiffs in separate actions does not confer standing to move to vacate the judgment or challenge the judgment on appeal.”  The court held that, due to the unique nature of PAGA, in which the state is the real party in interest, Plaintiffs Olson and Seifu had no personal interest in the Turrieta action and, therefore, were not “aggrieved parties” who may appeal from the judgment.  While Plaintiffs Olson and Seifu were “deputized” under PAGA, the court held that the deputization does not give them authority to act on the state’s behalf for all purposes.  Furthermore, the court observed that because it was the state’s rights, and not Plaintiff Olson’s or Plaintiff Seifu’s rights, that were affected by the parallel PAGA settlement, they were not aggrieved parties with standing to seek to vacate the judgment or appeal.  The court also concluded that Plaintiffs Olson and Seifu could not claim a pecuniary interest in the penalties at issue, as the civil penalties recovered on the state’s behalf in a PAGA action are intended to remediate present violations and deter future ones, not to redress employees’ injuries.  As to the motions to intervene, the court determined that because neither Plaintiff Olson nor Plaintiff Seifu could show a direct and immediate interest in the settlement, as required for mandatory or permissive intervention, the trial court did not err in denying their motions to intervene.

Practical Implications:  This case is promising for employers facing multiple PAGA claims for the same underlying violations. With this decision, an employer pursuing settlement with one plaintiff now has a means of defense if plaintiffs in the other action try to interfere.

Guzman v. NBA Auto., Inc., 68 Cal. App. 5th 1109 (2021)

Summary:  Former employee exhausted her administrative remedies despite incorrectly identifying the employer in her administrative complaint with the DFEH.

Facts:  Plaintiff Gloria Guzman filed an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”), identifying the respondent as “Hooman Enterprises, Inc.” in the caption.  In the “Additional Complaint Details” section, she identified her employer as “Defendant Hooman Enterprises Inc. DBA Hooman Chevrolet” and one of her supervisors as “Hooman Nissani.”  Per Plaintiff’s request, the DFEH issued her an immediate right-to-sue letter.  Plaintiff then filed a lawsuit, naming “Hooman Enterprises Inc. DBA Hooman Chevrolet and DOES 1 to 10” as defendants.  Defendant NBA Automotive, Inc., using the name “Hooman Chevrolet of Culver City” filed an answer.  Plaintiff later amended the name on her civil complaint and filed an amended complaint with the DFEH, which the DFEH accepted and deemed to have the same filing date as the original complaint.  After a jury trial, Defendant moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that Plaintiff did not timely file her administrative complaint.  Defendant also moved for a new trial on these grounds. The trial court denied both motions.  Defendant appealed.

Court’s Decision:  The California Court of Appeal affirmed.  It held that the administrative complaint unmistakably identified NBA Automotive as the respondent. Although Plaintiff did not state NBA Automotive’s full correct legal name in her administrative complaint, she stated that the fictitious business name of her employer was “Hooman Chevrolet,” a name virtually identical to “Hooman Chevrolet of Culver City,” NBA Automotive’s actual fictitious business name.  In addition, Plaintiff’s administrative complaint listed the address of Hooman Chevrolet in Culver City and named the owner (Hooman Nissani).  Additionally, the court noted that Plaintiff also provided a detailed description of her employer, the names of the individuals who engaged in the allegedly discriminatory practices, and a narrative of multiple instances of wrongful conduct spanning 15 years.  Furthermore, the court found it significant that the administrative complaint also named the supervisors and managers employed by NBA Automotive who took the adverse employment actions against her.  Based on this information, the court concluded that any reasonable investigation would have revealed that NBA Automotive was Plaintiff’s employer.  As a result, Plaintiff’s administrative complaint gave Defendant sufficient notice that it was being named in the administrative complaint and would be named in any subsequent lawsuit, and Defendant did not argue that it was prejudiced by this misnomer.  The court also made note of Defendant’s gamesmanship in attempting to conceal its “true legal name” until after the trial court granted a motion to compel.

Practical Implications:  If an employee incorrectly names his or her employer in an administrative complaint, an employer should proceed with caution in arguing insufficient notice.