Court Approves $13 million Consumer Class Action Settlement in Blair v. Rent-a-Center

On January 24, 2020 the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted final approval of a $13 million dollar settlement to benefit low-income consumers in California who alleged they were overcharged in violation of California’s Karnette Act when purchasing appliances and other household items from defendant Rent-a-Center.  The settlement requires Rent-A-Center to pay class members an amount that its own experts calculated would amount to more than 100 cents on the dollar, and also enjoins Rent-a-Center from continuing its challenged practices and from imposing mandatory arbitration agreements on customers that strip them of their right to pursue public injunctions in future cases. 

The District Court’s final approval order specially noted that counsel for the class “deserves credit for . . . the hard work they’ve done in achieving an excellent outcome for the class,” including for taking “a chance by basing part of their claim on an untested statute whose application was unclear,” and  specifically commended Altshuler Berzon LLP partner Michael Rubin for his “excellent work” on behalf of the class.  Altshuler Berzon LLP served as class counsel along with the San Diego law firm of Dostart Hannick & Coveney.

California Retailers and Banks to Provide Seating to Cashiers, Tellers

In a series of settlements negotiated by Altshuler Berzon LLP and its co-counsel, prominent retailers including CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, and national banking institutions JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have agreed to provide seats to all of their cashiers and tellers and to pay tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties.

The settlements, which have now received final court approval, arose in separate lawsuits filed under California’s “suitable seating” law (Wage Order §14) and the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which allows aggrieved workers to file a private right of action civil penalties on behalf of the State of California against employers that have committed Labor Code violations.  The key provision of the seating law requires California employers to provide seats to all employees “when the nature of their work reasonably permits the use of a seat.”

Of the tens of millions of dollars recovered in these cases, 25% has been allocated to the aggrieved workers and 75% was paid to the State Labor and Workforce Development Agency to be specially earmarked for future Labor Code enforcement and education – the allocation scheme required by PAGA. 

In 2019, as a result of these and other PAGA cases (including other seating cases in which Altshuler Berzon was co-counsel), the LWDA received more than $88 million in PAGA civil penalties.

Altshuler Berzon LLP Attorney Welcomes New Year with Two 9th Circuit Arguments in Three Days

January 2020 started off with a bang for Altshuler Berzon LLP partner Michael Rubin, who had back-to-back arguments in the Ninth Circuit on January 6 and 8, 2020 in San Francisco.

The first case up was Canela v. Costco, a case of first impression under the federal Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) and California’s Labor Code Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) – a state statute that provides a private right of action to employees in California, authorizing them to sue as agents of the State Labor and Workforce Development Agency for civil penalties against an employer that allegedly violated plaintiff’s and other aggrieved employees’ rights under the California Labor Code.  The appeal raised several questions, including whether a PAGA representative action filed in state court can ever be removed to federal court under CAFA, and whether, if a PAGA claim is litigated in federal court, the plaintiff must satisfy all requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure before being permitted to seek civil penalties based on violations committed against other aggrieved employees.

Two days later, in the same courtroom of the James R. Browning Court of Appeals building and before two of the same judges, Rubin argued Johnson v. Serenity Transportation, a Rule 23(f) appeal concerning the construction and application of California Labor Code §2810.3.  That statute, which the California Legislature enacted to overcome the difficulties faced by many workers under existing “joint-employer” liability standards, imposes strict liability on “client employers” for Labor Code wage violations committed by those companies’ “labor contractors.”  In Serenity Transportation, the ultimate issue – another question of first impression – is whether Section 2810.3 applies in circumstances where the labor contractor provides workers to more than one client employer at the same time – in this case, by requiring those workers to be on-call, or “engaged to wait,” while awaiting dispatch to one of the labor contractor’s clients.  Because the appeal arose in the context of a district court’s denial of class certification (based on the court’s legal conclusion that Section 2810.3 does not apply in that situation), a threshold issue in the appeal is whether, or under what circumstances, a district court has authority to deny certification based upon a legal determination that plaintiffs’ claim lacks merit – even if that merits question is common to the class as a whole.

Both cases are currently under submission by the Ninth Circuit.

Federal District Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Unions for Petitioning Activity Protected by the First Amendment

On January 7, 2020, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California granted a motion to dismiss federal antitrust, RICO, and labor law claims, as well as state law claims, brought by a hotel developer against UNITE HERE! Local 30, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, and those unions’ leaders.  The hotel developer alleged that the unions and union officials had engaged in unlawful conduct designed to coerce the hotel developer to agree to a card check neutrality agreement and project labor agreement, including by opposing and threatening to file environmental challenges to the proposed hotel redevelopment plan.  The court dismissed the hotel developer’s claims on the grounds that the supposedly unlawful activity was all petitioning activity protected by the First Amendment under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.  Altshuler Berzon represented defendants San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and Tom Lemmon.  The other defendants were represented by McCracken, Stemerman & Holsberry LLP.

You can read the Court’s Order here.

Ninth Circuit Affirms $55 Million Class Action Judgment Against Wal-Mart for Failure to Pay California Minimum Wages

On January 6, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a published opinion affirmed a $55 million California minimum wage judgment in favor of a class of Wal-Mart, Inc.’s California truck drivers, in Ridgeway v. WalMart, Inc., Ninth Cir. Nos. 17-15983, 17-16142.  Following a 16-day trial in 2016, a jury found that Wal-Mart failed to pay minimum wages required by California law to its California-based truck drivers for time they spent engaged in pre- and post-trip inspections, rest breaks, and during mandatory “layover” periods, during which Wal-Mart exercised control over the drivers by prohibiting them from returning home without management permission.  The 11-year class period covered the time from October 2004 to October 2015. 

After Wal-Mart appealed, Altshuler Berzon LLP was brought in by the class and trial counsel to defend the verdict on appeal.  The Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment against Wal-Mart in its entirety, rejecting Wal-Mart’s numerous arguments, which challenged the trial court’s jurisdiction, partial summary judgment and class certification decisions, and jury instructions, and raised other arguments under California and federal law.

You can read the Court’s decision here.