Today a California Court of Appeal issued its published decision in Mies v. Sephora, holding that the trial court properly denied class certification in a case alleging certain store employees were misclassified as exempt executives and/or administrative employees.  The Court of Appeal originally issued its decision as an unpublished decision in early February but ordered the decision published today, in response to various publication requests recently submitted to the Court. 

The plaintiff in the case held the position of “Specialist,” which is a store position charged with oversight of between 10-45 sales associates and leads on the floor.   The plaintiff sought to represent a class of 99 Specialists employed by Sephora in California for a four-year period, alleging that Sephora misclassified the position as exempt and failed to pay the Specialists overtime.  Plaintiff also alleged that Sephora failed to provide Specialists with proper meal breaks and/or premium pay in lieu thereof.  The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion for class certification, finding that individual issues would predominate over any common issues in determining liability and, as such, class treatment was inappropriate. 

Plaintiff appealed but was unsuccessful.  The Court of Appeal held that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in denying class certification.  The Court emphasized that the trial court had substantial evidence before it revealing material differences in the amount of time Specialists spent performing exempt work.  Specifically, the plaintiff had submitted several declarations of Specialists who stated that they spent the majority of their work time performing non-exempt sales duties on the floor.  In contrast, Sephora had submitted several declarations of Specialists stating that they spent the majority of their time on exempt management and/or administrative duties and further demonstrated that the amount of time spent on such duties varied depending on store location and other circumstances.  Because California’s overtime exemptions are quantitative in nature and focus on whether an employee spends more than 50% of his or her time on exempt tasks, evidence of material variation from class member to class member as to the amount of time spent on exempt work prevents a class-wide liability determination.  Moreover, although the plaintiff submitted evidence that the position was uniformly classified as exempt and that there was a uniform job description and other uniformly applicable policies, none of these policies singularly or collectively bore on the question of how much time any Specialist spent on exempt tasks.  For these reasons, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s determination that individual issues predominated on liability, making class treatment inappropriate. 

Notably, the plaintiff suggested that statistical sampling and/or representative proof could be used to determine liability on a class-wide basis.  The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, holding that Plaintiff had failed to sufficiently demonstrate how these methods properly could be used to determine liability in a case where the central liability inquiry turns on how much time individual employees spend performing exempt tasks and the evidence reveals material variation from class member to class member. 

The Sephora decision is a favorable one for employers fighting class certification in misclassification cases. The full opinion is available here.