On September 12, 2019, the California Supreme Court issued it decision in ZB, N.A., and Zions Bancorporation v. Superior Court [Lawson, real party in interest] (“Lawson”).  In analyzing whether the Plaintiff’s lawsuit could be compelled to binding arbitration under the arbitration agreement she entered into with her employer, the Supreme Court clarified that under Labor Code section 558, employees are not entitled to recover underpaid wages in a Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) claim.

Before the enactment of the PAGA, section 558 gave the Labor Commissioner authority to issue overtime violation citations for a civil penalty as follows:

(1)        For any initial violation, fifty dollars ($50) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee was underpaid in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.

(2)        For each subsequent violation, one hundred dollars ($100) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee was underpaid in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.

(Labor Code §558, italics added.)

The Lawson case concerned a PAGA action seeking civil penalties under Labor Code section 558.  Lawson brought the representative action against her employer, ZB, N.A. — with whom she agreed to arbitrate all employment claims and forego class arbitration — and its parent company, Zions Bancorporation (collectively, “ZB”).  ZB filed a motion compelling that Lawson  individually arbitrate her “unpaid wages” claim under section 558 because it was not a PAGA civil penalty claim.

The trial court generally agreed, bifurcating Lawson’s action and granting ZB’s motion to compel arbitration of the “unpaid wages” issue.  However, it ordered the issue to arbitration “as a representative action” for the unpaid wages of all aggrieved ZB employees.  ZB responded by filing both an appeal and petition for writ of mandate with the Court of Appeal.  After consolidating the two, the appellate court dismissed the appeal, holding that Code of Civil Procedure section 1294 only gave it appellate jurisdiction over an order dismissing, not granting, a motion to compel arbitration.  However, ZB persuaded the Court of Appeal to issue the writ of mandate, but the court did so on a different ground from the one ZB asserted.  The appellate court concluded that Lawson’s request for “unpaid wages” under section 558 in fact could not be arbitrated at all.  Relying on Thurman v. Bayshore Transit Management (Thurman), the Court of Appeal interpreted section 558 to expressly include “underpaid wages” within the scope of its “civil penalty” provision.  In the appellate court’s view, an employee could pursue the entire, indivisible civil penalty through the PAGA action, and that pursuant to Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, her employer could not compel the PAGA claim to arbitration.
Continue Reading The California Supreme Court Clarifies Wages are NOT Part of the “Civil Penalty” under Labor Code Section 558 in a PAGA Action

Brenden Begley_retouchIt is no secret that arbitration agreements may greatly reduce the risks that many employers face in disputes with employees.  For example, when used correctly, such agreements can curb exposure to class actions by forcing employees to arbitrate disputes on an individual basis instead of a class basis.  See, e.g., Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014).

However, when such an agreement either contains certain language or fails to include other language, it may result in a class action or a representative action being litigated in front of an arbitrator instead of a court.  This can be problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that an arbitrator’s hourly charges typically are paid by the employer – and those fees can add up quickly in a complicated matter involving numerous parties.

Thus, instead of decreasing the cost of defending a class action or a representative action, a poorly drafted arbitration agreement could result in greatly escalating such costs.   A pair of recent decisions from the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District (in San Diego) underscore the need for employers to use great care in drafting such agreements to avoid such outcomes.
Continue Reading Arbitration Agreements Can Backfire on Employers

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review California high court’s landmark decision in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, which held that arbitration agreements with mandatory class waivers are generally enforceable, but carved out an exception for the state’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) claims.

As discussed in our prior blog post, The

Brenden Begley_retouchMany employers have arbitration agreements wherein employees agree to waive the right to file a lawsuit against the employer under various laws, including the California’s Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”).  Employers were disappointed when the California Supreme Court ruled last June that such waivers of PAGA lawsuits are invalid, at least in state court.  See Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014).

However, a number of federal trial judges in the Golden State subsequently disagreed and ruled that PAGA waivers are enforceable in their courts.  See, e.g., Ortiz v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., E.D. Cal. Case No. 2:13-cv-01619 (Sept. 30, 2014).  Because a PAGA waiver still may be enforceable against an employee in federal court, many employers have either kept or inserted such waivers in their arbitration agreements.

This week it became apparent that including a PAGA waiver may destroy an employer’s ability to require arbitration in any type of lawsuit, be it under PAGA or some other theory (e.g., alleged discrimination, harassment, retaliation, or wage-and-hour or meal-and-rest-period violations).  Specifically, the California Court of Appeal ruled that a PAGA waiver will invalidate an entire arbitration agreement in state court if that agreement also includes a non-severability clause.  See Montano v. The Wet Seal Retail, Inc., Cal. Ct. App. Case No. B244107 (Jan. 7, 2015).
Continue Reading The New PAGA-Waiver Trap Door