Unlawful Policies Create Class Certification Danger for California Employers
Time 3 Minute Read

In several recent cases in California, courts have applied Brinker Restaurant Corp., et al. v. Superior Court to reverse trial court decisions denying class certification.  Brinker is the ground breaking case in California where the California Supreme Court held that employers are only required to provide the opportunity for employees to take 30 minute meal breaks, but are not required to ensure those breaks are actually taken.  The Brinker court also held that where an employer has a uniformly-applied policy that is unlawful, class certification may be appropriate.  The recent California appellate cases have, therefore, focused on uniform policies and procedures, which allegedly violate California law and which are applied to the putative class members.  In the most recent case, Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack, decided December 4, 2013, the Second Appellate District in California reversed a trial court’s decision to deny a class certification motion.  The standard on review does not make this easy.  The trial court is given broad discretion to make these decisions.  However, the appeals courts are focused on what they perceive as a misapplication of Brinker where there are common and uniform policies and procedures that arguably result in overtime violations.  In Martinez, the issue was whether the managerial exemption applied.  The appellate court downplayed the myriad of facts that showed the differences in the individual putative class members in regard to the amount of time they spent on particular tasks and the tasks they performed.  Instead, the court primarily focused on whether the company’s implementation of uniform practices resulted in managerial employees being undercompensated for performing exempt work.  The court found it important, for example, that the putative class members testified that their duties did not change when they were promoted to management positions, and they were directed to performed a “utility” function and were routinely required to fill in for hourly employees.  The court also focused on the company’s uniform hiring and training practices, operations manual, menu, evaluation practices, and classification of all “managerial” employees as exempt.  The court stated that the focus should be on the employer’s “realistic expectations” and “actual overall requirements of the job.”  Ultimately, the court directed that the focus of the analysis should be on the policies and practices of the employer and the effect those policies and practices have on the putative class.


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