Decision: In Williams v. Superior Court of Los Angeles (Allstate Insurance Company), a non-exempt automobile field adjuster sought to represent a class of employees in California state court for damages based on an alleged company-wide policy of “off the clock” work. Plaintiffs claimed that the adjusters were required to perform work before the start of their first field appointment and after their last field appointment but were directed not to record such work. Allstate did not pay the employees for any work that was not recorded. The tasks that field adjusters claimed they were required to perform without recording their time included logging onto their work computers, downloading their assignments, making courtesy calls to auto repair shops and car owners to confirm appointments, checking their voice mail and traveling to and from their first and last appointments of the day.
At first, the trial court certified an “off-the-clock” class of non-exempt Allstate field adjusters, but later accepted Allstate’s argument that the class should be decertified under the principles set forth by the Supreme Court in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, 131 S.Ct. 2541 (2011). The Court of Appeals permitted an interlocutory appeal and found that the trial court had abused its discretion in decertifying the claim. The Court of Appeals criticized the lower court for relying on a portion ofDukes dealing with injunctive relief, when the Allstate plaintiffs were seeking monetary damages, and for concluding that the Allstate case did not pose a common question.
According to the Court of Appeals, the plaintiffs’ claim that Allstate maintained a policy of requiring “off the clock” work was in itself a common question that made class treatment more efficient. In addition, the Court of Appeals declared, without really explaining, that the factual issues in Allstate were different from Dukes because Dukes depended on the proof of the subjective intent of thousands of individual supervisors. Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the case would require “trial by formula” as in Dukes, stating that this has little if any impact on the certification decision in the wage and hour context. The Court of Appeals directed the trial court to certify the claim.
Impact: This case is the latest in a string of recent California Court of Appeal decisions to reverse a trial court’s denial of class certification. Courts and plaintiffs are finding ways to distinguish Dukes, and the California Court of Appeals seems to be particularly skeptical of applying Dukes to deny certification of wage and hour classes. The decision reinforces that the focus for practitioners seeking a denial of class certification decision should be to persuade the court that there is no common policy at issue. To limit the risk of wage and hour class action claims, California employers should continue to prioritize properly tracking all of their employees’ time and providing breaks and overtime pay in accordance with California law.