California Federal Court Relies on Comcast to Deny Class Certification of Off-The-Clock and Meal Period Claims
By Bill Allen
Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied Rule 23 class certification of California state law claims for off-the-clock work and unpaid work time during meal periods in Forrand v. Federal Express Corp.*
First, the plaintiff alleged that she and other hourly employees were not paid for work performed during the time between their clock-in times and their scheduled start times. The district court had previously denied class certification on this claim, but in 2010 the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded that decision to “determine whether the level of FedEx’s control over employees within the proposed general class when they are on-the-clock but off-shift” was sufficient to render that time compensable under California law. On remand, the district court noted that Comcast requires a plaintiff “to bring forth a measurement method that can be applied classwide and that ties the plaintiff’s legal theory to the impact of the defendant’s illegal conduct.” The court found that the plaintiff’s proposed damages methodology, which assumed the entire gap between clock-in and the start of paid time was compensable, could be applied classwide, but failed “to tie California law to liability and a reliable measure of damages.” The court found that the plaintiff’s proposed class claim raised factual questions regarding whether each individual employee was in fact working and/or under the employer’s control during the gap period, and therefore individual factual inquiries predominated over classwide inquiries.
Second, on her meal period class claim, the named plaintiff alleged that she never received an uninterrupted 30-minute lunch break, presented testimony of another employee who claimed he had been required to work through unpaid meal breaks, and described data from earlier litigation purporting to show that 23.1 percent of unpaid breaks were interrupted by work. Under California law, an employer must relieve its employees of all duty for an uninterrupted 30-minute period but need not actually ensure its employees take meal breaks and need only pay for interrupted or missed meal breaks when it knows or should have known that an employee was working through the meal period. Again, the district court found Comcast instructive, stating that while the plaintiff’s “evidence and method of proof was applicable to the class as a whole, it does not adequately tie [her] allegation . . . to a proper and reliable measure of damages for work done on those breaks,” particularly because of the requirement to prove the employer knew or should have known of the work during the unpaid meal periods.
The Forrand decision represents at least the fourth wage and hour decision applying Comcast’s requirement that plaintiffs establish “damages are capable of measurement on a classwide basis” and denying class certification for failure to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement. As discussed in a prior post, two of these decisions were in district courts in the Second Circuit – Roach v. T.L. Cannon Corp., and Tracy v. NVR, Inc. – and one was in a district court in the Ninth Circuit – Ginsburg v. Comcast Cable Communications Management. In addition, on April 1, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded Ross v. RBS Citizens, N.A. for further consideration in light of Comcast. In Ross, the Seventh Circuit had affirmed the district court’s decision certifying a class action involving off-the-clock and misclassification claims.
However, in Martins v. 3PD, Inc., a federal district court in Massachusetts certified a wage and hour class action and distinguished Comcast on the grounds that the parties in Comcast had conceded that the individual damages calculations fell within the “Herculean task” category and therefore warranted denial of class certification under the predominance requirement. The court interpreted Comcast “not to foreclose the possibility of class certification where some individual issues of the calculation of damages might remain, as in the current case, but those determinations will neither be particularly complicated nor overwhelmingly numerous.”
These decisions are likely only the start of a potential flood of decisions discussing the application of Comcast to class certification decisions in wage and hour cases. We will keep you posted as significant developments occur.
*The case was litigated by Federal Express’s in-house legal department.