Private Attorneys General Act

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

On May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued its much anticipated decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis.  In a 5-4 decision written by the newest jurist, Justice Gorsuch, the Court declares that employers can require employees to arbitrate their employment disputes individually and waive their rights to resolve those disputes through class or collective actions.

Background.

The case was a consolidation of three cases (Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris, and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc.).  In each case, the employees brought a class action under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and related state law against their employer on behalf of themselves and similarly situated employees for wage and hour violations. However, in each of the cases, the employees had entered into an agreement with their employer providing for individualized arbitration proceedings to resolve employment disputes between the parties. Although the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) generally requires courts to enforce arbitration agreements as written, the employees argued that the FAA’s “savings clause” removes this obligation if an arbitration agreement violates some other federal law and that, by requiring individualized proceedings, the agreements they signed violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).
Continue Reading GOOD NEWS EMPLOYERS – The U.S. Supreme Court Says You Can Require Class Action Waivers In Your Arbitration Agreements

California employers hoped for significant changes following Governor Brown’s budget proposal that called for the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) to have more oversight of claims made under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA).   The budget proposal noted that the departments tasked with investigation and enforcement of the Labor Code has never