A federal court in California has refused to certify four classes of Starbucks employees in litigation alleging that its rest break policy and scheduling practices, and meal period policy and practices violated the state’s Labor Code and unfair Competition Law. Cummings v. Starbucks Corp., No. 12-6345 (U.S. Dist. Ct., C.D. Cal., decided March 24, 2014).
As to the proposed meal break class, the court found that the plaintiff’s “second theory of liability—that starbucks had a practice of failing to provide timely meal breaks—does not present a common question of law” because “there is no common answer as to why employees took a late meal break, and individualized inquiries into each late meal break would be required.”The court also found as to this proposed class that the plaintiff’s claims did not meet the typicality requirement because her alleged late meal break claims were due not to a defective policy, but “because of unique circumstances in the store.”
Regarding the predominance requirement, the court found “conflicting case law as to whether starbucks’s liability can result solely from its unlawful policy, as the California Court of Appeal cases suggest, or whether liability results from the actual failure to provide a rest break, as the [federal] district court cases suggest.”The unlawful policy was the company’s apparent failure to include certain language—“or major fraction thereof”—in its policy as required under California law. Relying on Ninth Circuit precedent which applied the reasoning from the state law cases but noted that “it is an abuse of discretion for the district court to rely on uniform policies ‘to the near exclusion of other relevant factors touching on predominance,’” the court acknowledged the “possibility that the predominance requirement may not be met, despite the existence of a facially defective policy.” In this regard, the court found that the evidence “does not indicate that starbucks’s facially defective rest period policy was consistently applied to deprive class members of a second rest period.”Thus the court found the plaintiff’s rest break claims not amenable to class certification because they did not satisfy the predominance requirement.
Because the unfair Competition Law claims were derivative of the Labor Code claims, the court also found this class not amenable to class certification.