Pacific Bell is a telecommunications corporation providing voice, video, data, internet and professional services to businesses, consumers, and government agencies. It has branches around the world, including in California.
Dave Meza filed a consolidated class action lawsuit against Pacific Bell. He alleged Pacific Bell violated California law by failing to provide lawful meal and rest periods and failing to provide lawful itemized wage statements among other Labor Code violations.
Meza appealed four trial court orders: (1) an order denying class certification to five meal and rest period classes (the class certification order); (2) an order granting summary adjudication of Meza’s claim relating to wage statements under section 226, subdivision (a)(9) (the wage statement order); (3) an order striking Meza’s claim under section 226, subdivision (a)(6) (the order to strike); and (4) an order granting summary adjudication of Meza’s claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (§ 2698 et seq.) (the PAGA order).
The Court of Appeal ruled on these four issues in the partially published case of Meza v Pacific Bell Telephone Company, B317199 (June 2022)
The court said that the orders were appealable under the “death knell doctrine,” which allows immediate appeals of certain interlocutory orders that resolve all representative claims but leave individual claims intact.
The court of appeal concluded that the trial court erred in refusing to certify the meal and rest period classes based on its conclusion that common issues do not predominate.
The trial court order denying class certification dealt with an often-litigated class certification issue: whether supervisors’ diverse practices with respect to uniform written policies makes class certification inappropriate. The trial court held that individualized issues predominated because the managers’ declarations indicated that “the actual management practices of [Pacific Bell]’s supervisors result[ed] in a diverse application of the company’s Premises Technician Guidelines.”
The California Supreme Court case of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004 dealt with the issue of uniform corporate policies as a basis for class certification. The progeny of Brinker has dealt more directly with the question of class certification based on uniform policies that are allegedly applied by corporate managers in different ways. This has proved to be a tricky issue for the courts.
In general, cases following Brinker “have concluded . . . that when a court is considering the issue of class certification and is assessing whether common issues predominate over individual issues, the court must ‘focus on the policy itself’ and address whether the plaintiff’s theory as to the illegality of the policy can be resolved on a classwide basis.”
The trial court did not apply the proper legal framework when it denied class certification. Meza’s theory of liability is that the written guidelines for premises technicians were for the benefit of Pacific Bell and exerted substantial control over the premises technicians during their meal and rest periods in violation of the law.
Although the trial court acknowledged that “the policies are undisputed,” it concluded that the disparate manner in which employees experienced the policy through different managers rendered the claims unsuitable for class treatment.
However, “the employer’s liability arises by adopting a uniform policy that violates the wage and hour laws.” The “fact that individual inquiry might be necessary to determine whether individual employees were able to take breaks despite the defendant’s allegedly unlawful policy . . . is not a proper basis for denying certification.”
With respect to the other issues, the court affirmed the wage statement order and the PAGA order. In the published portion of the opinion, it explain that the trial court correctly granted summary adjudication of Meza’s wage statement claim because Pacific Bell’s wage statements do not violate the Labor Code. The trial court also correctly granted summary adjudication of the PAGA claim because it was barred by claim preclusion in light of the settlement and dismissal of a previous PAGA lawsuit. However Meza’s appeal of the order to strike was dismissed because Meza did not include it in his notice of appeal.