Telephone company faces class action on wage statements, meal and rest periods

Former technician also made claims under PAGA for unlawful business practices, wrongful termination

Telephone company faces class action on wage statements, meal and rest periods

The question of whether an employer’s written guidelines violate wage and hour law is not an individualized issue, but a common one that a court should resolve in relation to all members of a class action, a recent ruling has said.

In Meza v. Pacific Bell Telephone Company, Pacific Bell Telephone Company hired the plaintiff as a premises technician in 2014. The plaintiff brought a suit alleging that Pacific Bell violated California’s Labor Code by failing to accurately document hours worked, to pay overtime wages, to offer meals, to provide accurate and complete wage statements, and to pay costs for the upkeep of uniforms.

Read more: California court rules employer should report extra pay for missed breaks on wage statements

The plaintiff also made claims under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), for unlawful business practices under section 17200 of California’s Business and Professions Code, and for wrongful termination. He asked for compensatory and punitive damages, restitution, and penalties.

In a consolidated class action suit, the plaintiff asserted that Pacific Bell failed to provide the lawfully required meal and rest periods and itemized wage statements, among other alleged Labor Code breaches.

The trial court issued orders:

  • denying class certification to five meal and rest period classes;
  • granting summary adjudication of the claim under PAGA and the claim regarding wage statements under s. 226(a)(9) of the Labor Code;
  • striking the claim under s. 226(a)(6) of the Code.

The plaintiff appealed these orders.

The California Court of Appeal for the Second District affirmed the orders relating to PAGA and the wage statements but remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of the undecided issue of whether the plaintiff was an adequate class representative. Pacific Bell was arguing that the plaintiff was inadequate because he was dishonest in his actions and inconsistent in his deposition testimony, the appellate court noted.

The appellate court dismissed the appeal of the order to strike. The notice of appeal, which clearly provided the plaintiff’s limited scope of appeal, failed to mention the order to strike and could not be interpreted to include it.

However, the appellate court found that the other orders – relating to PAGA, wage statements, and class certification – were appealable under the death knell doctrine. That legal doctrine permits immediate appeals of certain interlocutory orders which resolve all representative claims but which leave individual claims intact.

As for the wage statement claim, the trial court properly granted summary adjudication of this matter, the appellate court ruled. Pacific Bell’s wage statements did not breach section 226(a)(9), which does not require a listing of hours and rates next to the calculation of an overtime true-up.

The trial court also correctly granted summary adjudication of the PAGA claim, the appellate court held. The rule of claim preclusion would bar the PAGA claim, given that a previous PAGA suit had been settled and dismissed.

Lastly, the appellate court addressed the trial court’s denial of certification to the meal and rest period classes. In doing so, the trial court failed to apply the proper legal framework, the appellate court ruled. Just because an individual inquiry might be necessary to decide whether individual employees could take breaks despite the employer’s allegedly unlawful policy, this did not mean that the court should refuse to certify the class.

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