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Wage and Hour Class Actions

The California Supreme Court today clarified several issues under the unfair competition, or unfair business practices statute (Business and Professions Code Section 17200 et seq.), and under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code Section 2698 et seq.)(“PAGA”), two commonly used statutes for pursuing alleged wage and hour violations. In theArias v. Superior Court case, the Court held that purported representative actions brought under the unfair business practices statute must satisfy class action requirements, basing this holding on an analysis of the language and intent of Proposition 64, which tightened the standing requirements under this statute. (The concurring opinion points out some of the quirky features of Section 382 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which actually pre-dates modern class action practice, but concedes that viewing Proposition 64’s reference to Section 382 more broadly than as a requirement that representative unfair business practices cases must satisfy class action rules may make little practical difference.)

In contrast to the voters’ fairly clear tightening of the rules for unfair competition cases by means of Proposition 64, the court held that the PAGA contains no requirement that class action rules be satisfied. The Supreme Court was not troubled by employers’ claims of due process violations when various individual plaintiffs attempt to obtain relief against an employer that will bind the employer in subsequent litigation but will not bind other plaintiffs pursuing similar relief. That is because, according to the Supreme Court, any plaintiff taking advantage of PAGA is proceeding as the “proxy or agent of the state’s labor law enforcement agencies . . . .” (slip opin. at 16)

In a second case, Amalgamated Transit Union v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court held that labor unions are not entitled to bring actions for alleged wage and hour violations under either the unfair competition statute or PAGA. A labor union has not suffered actual injury as a result of wage and hour violations, and is therefore disqualified under the Proposition 64 amendments to the unfair competition statute. A labor union is also not an “aggrieved employee” entitled to sue under PAGA for such violations.

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