Can PAGA and exclusive concurrent jurisdiction rule coexist?

Work policy made employees miss off-duty, uninterrupted meal and rest periods, petitioners claim

Can PAGA and exclusive concurrent jurisdiction rule coexist?

A recent case explored the interplay between claims under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) of 2004 and the rule of exclusive concurrent jurisdiction, which provides that, when more than one court has subject matter jurisdiction over a dispute, the court that first claimed jurisdiction would exclusively assume such jurisdiction.

In Shaw et al. v. Superior Court of Contra Costa County, the petitioners filed an action under PAGA, which sought to represent wronged employees who worked for Beverages & More!, Inc. at any time since a year before the filing of the petitioner’s PAGA notice.

Read more: California Supreme Court affirms employee's right to sue under PAGA

The petitioners alleged that the employer had a two-person policy, which required the presence of two workers in its open store locations, which effectively deprived employees of off-duty, uninterrupted meal and rest periods. They did not receive premium pay for the meal and rest periods that they missed.

The petitioners claimed that the employer violated the following provisions of the Labor Code:

  • paying overtime wages (ss. 510, 1194);
  • providing off-duty meal periods (ss. 226.7, 512);
  • providing off-duty rest periods (s. 226.7);
  • paying all wages due upon termination (ss. 201–203);
  • giving compliant wage statements (ss. 226(a));
  • maintaining payroll records (s. 1174).

Over a year before the petitioners initiated their case, Tatiana Paez filed a PAGA representative action against the same employer on behalf of herself and current and former aggrieved employees. Paez’s suit included the following claims:

  • failure to pay minimum wage (ss. 1182.12, 1194, 1197, 1198);
  • failure to pay wages during employment (s. 204);
  • failure to pay medical or physical examination costs (s. 222.5);
  • failure to provide suitable seating (s. 1198);
  • failure to reimburse necessary business expenses (s. 2802);
  • failure to provide safety devices and safeguards (ss. 6401, 6403).

Paez’s other claims overlapped with the petitioners’ allegations, including in relation to the two-person policy. The employer asked the trial court to stay the petitioner’s case under the doctrine of exclusive concurrent jurisdiction. The trial court granted the employer’s motion to stay, rejected the petitioners’ motion to lift the stay, and exercised its discretion to apply the rule of exclusive concurrent jurisdiction.

The California Court of Appeal for the First District denied the petitioners’ request for a peremptory writ of mandate. The trial court did not commit an error when it applied the exclusive concurrent jurisdiction rule to the dispute, the appellate court found.

The legislative enactment of PAGA did not abolish the judicial doctrine of exclusive concurrent jurisdiction, the appellate court held. PAGA and the exclusive concurrent jurisdiction rule could rationally coexist. The exclusive concurrent jurisdiction rule aims to prevent conflicting decisions, vexatious litigation, and multiplicity of suits, the appellate court noted.

Even if the court would recognize its power to stay a subsequent PAGA representative suit that was wholly subsumed by a previous PAGA representative suit, PAGA’s enforcement mechanism would remain intact, the appellate court said. In effect, the first suit would proceed and would fulfill PAGA’s purpose.

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