Sacramento, CA (Law Firm Newswire) February 19, 2014 — Farmers Insurance Exchange representatives assess damage to cars in accidents. Company policy dictated their workday did not begin until they got to their first assignment.
“Farmers Insurance Exchange (Farmers) had a policy that said insurance adjusters had to basically “eat” the time they spent at the beginning of the day to get ready for work. They were not paid for the extra time it took to get work assignments, track and download damage estimate forms or syncing their computers,” explains noted Sacramento business attorney, Deborah Barron, who is not involved in the case. “However, one employee did not agree with that and launched a class action lawsuit against the company on behalf of himself and others in a similar situation.”
Farmers Insurance Exchange employed plaintiff Kwesi Jones from 2006 and 2008. He was fired in 2008. In 2009, he filed a lawsuit alleging that the company failed to pay claims representatives for their pre-shift work, an action that was in violation of the California Labor Code. At trial, the court found for the defendant, stating that Jones’ motion for class certification was denied, because there were no common issues. Jones filed an appeal.
“In order to determine if a motion for class certification is viable, California judges look to Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court, 34 Cal.4th 319 (Cal. 2004), which states issues may be tried as a class action if there are enough of them that would make such a motion advantageous to the plaintiff(s) and the courts,” Barron explains. The courts examine whether an individual issue or common questions may come up, rather than on the merits of a case. California courts also rely on Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal.4th 1004 (Cal. 2012), whose ratio decidendi states that if the liability of a defendant may be determined by facts common to all class members, the class is certifiable even if members must individually prove damages.
At trial, Farmers argued against certification because individual issues, such as what tasks employees did each day, were predominant. The plaintiff stated the trial court erred in denying certification, because common issues were evident relating to whether Farmers had a uniform policy that denied them pre-shift compensation, thus violating State labor laws.
The Appeals court did not find for the defendant. Instead, it stated that the matter of whether there was an existing pre-shift compensation policy was a question of fact, and thus common to all members of the class. “In actual fact, the Court felt that Farmers liability was predicated on the existence of such a policy and how it was applied,” Barron says.
The only sticking point in this case, which was sent back to the lower court, was that the named class representative did not include a declaration outlining his desire to represent the class and that he understood his obligations as such. The Appeals court instructed the lower court to have the claims representatives amend their statement of complaint by naming a new class representative.
“Is pre-shift work compensable? It may well turn out to be,” indicates Barron, “which makes this case well worth watching, whether you are an employer or an employee.”
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