Hall v. Rite Aid

Evaluating Whether Employers Have a Duty to Provide Cashier or Clerk Based Employees with Suitable Seats.The facts of the case

A recent decision put at issue the question as to whether an employment class action may be certified regarding the issue of whether pursuant to Section 14 of the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order, a particular defendant Employer has a duty to provide its cashier or clerk employees with suitable seats, and an employer’s failure to do so, constitutes a violation of the California Labor Code Section 1198. Such California Labor Code Sections generally set forth that Employers have an obligation and duty to its employees to provide suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of such seats. From a class action perspective, especially evident in this particular case, is the unique challenge that a particular class of employees, such as cashiers or clerks face, where they must demonstrate their burden that such work reasonably permits the use of such seats and as such an application of class treatment. Based on the language of the relevant provisions of California’s Labor Code, the trial court in this case determined that the Defendant Company Rite Aid did owe a duty to its employee cashiers and clerks, and as such, that class wide certification was appropriate.

The Appeals Court

On Appeal, the California Court of Appeal reversed, holding in pertinent part that the trial’s determination that class treatment was appropriate was based on an assessment of Plaintiff’s merit based claims as opposed to a proper analysis of Plaintiff’s theory of liability. The Appeals Court further reasoned that Plaintiffs in this case utilized a flawed approach to class certification, where the basis of the class focused primarily and required a merit’s analysis of the underlying claims, especially where the Court recognized that Defendant Rite Aid had actually imposed and enforced a uniform policy to not provide its cashiers and clerks seats, especially where based on their duties, scope of work, and overall employment responsibilities, Rite Aid determined that such work did not reasonably permit the use of such seats. For instance, many of Rite Aid’s clerks are assigned inventory and shelving related duties, others are responsible for pricing, and many similarly are involved in administrative and management based functions. In other words, Rite Aid did not believe that it could impose an overall store policy to all of its cashiers and clerks with respect to providing seating, based upon the differences in duties and responsibilities. Additionally, the Court found that such inquiry regarding whether the work of cashiers and clerks reasonably substantiated the use of such seats, was more significantly an individualized per class member inquiry, as opposed to a class-wide inquiry, and therefore that that the commonality prong required for class certification was not present. In narrowing it’s holding the Court of Appeals specifically held that the trial court’s inquiry should not have been merits based, but rather focused on the specific issue as to whether Rite Aid’s general policy as applied to the class members was in fact a violation of California’s fair wage and employment related laws. Despite this, the Court of Appeals was explicit in setting forth that Plaintiffs’ theory of liability could lend itself to class-wide treatment at a subsequent stage, and did not forgo that California’s fair wage and employment related laws could be deemed to be relevant and applicable to providing cashiers and clerks with seats.

The significance of this case is the degree to which Courts will seek to bifurcate theories of liability and theories of merit, for purposes of determining whether class wide treatment and class certification is appropriate. In this situation, the Court duly found that Plaintiffs’ merits based analysis was premature, and therefore, class certification was not proper. This highlights the continued challenge by Plaintiffs in knowing whether the Courts will insist on demonstrating a theory of liability or demonstrating a merits based approach, and how such may eventually impact the overall evaluation of class certification.

If you have any employment-related dispute and are considering suing your employer under PAGA, contact the Orange County Employment Lawyers at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.