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Magistrate Recommends Certification of Some Classes in Amazon Wage Lawsuit

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Federal class action rules bar some plaintiffs

Sacramento, CAOn June 8, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara A. McAuliffe recommended that the Eastern District of California certify several classes of plaintiffs in Trevino v. Golden State FC LLC. In Trevino, workers at various Amazon fulfillment centers alleged that the internet retail giant had violated the California Labor Code by failing to pay wages due for regular and overtime hours worked and provide required meal and rest periods. The lawsuit sought class action certification for groups of similarly situated workers who could number in the hundreds of thousands and who worked at 50 California facilities. The Magistrate determined, however, that the claims of some workers were too individualized to merit inclusion in a class action lawsuit. 

Sweeping claims


Workers alleged that:
  • Amazon rounded actual time entries. Time punches entered before the shift start time were rounded forward to the start time and time entries after the shift end times were rounded backwards to the scheduled shift end time. Over time, they claim, the result was that employees were systematically underpaid in violation of California Labor Code Section 510.
  • Amazon required 10-hour shifts and a four-day workweek at its fulfillment centers. Under the California Labor Code, workers must voluntarily agree to an alternative workweek. The requirements for these agreements are explicitly spelled out in the law and applicable Industrial Wage Orders with the goal of making the agreements clear and unambiguous. Amazon’s form agreements allegedly did not comply.
  • Workers were reportedly not compensated for the time spent going through security procedures at the beginning and end of the workday, when clocking out for a meal break or when walking through warehouses, as large as 28 football fields, to reach the security check location. As a result, they were shorted on the required 30-minutes to be provided for meals. Many were not offered the second meal break required after 10 hours of work.
  • As a consequence of these factors, all of which contributed to underpayment, their wage statements were incorrect in violation of California Labor Code section 226. Further, Amazon had the benefit of unfair labor practices prohibited by California’s Unfair Competition Law.
 

Requirements for class action certification


For a variety of reasons, many wage and hour lawsuits can, realistically, only be pursued as class actions. But class action status is a decision of the court based on the rules set out in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) for federal actions or similar state procedural rules for state court lawsuits. In addition, where the lawsuit names several classes of plaintiffs, the decision is done on a class-by-class (or subclass-by-subclass) basis.

Trevino names seven subclasses of plaintiffs:
  • Subclass 1. Unpaid Wages Subclass. All Class members who were not compensated for all hours worked for Defendants at the required rates of pay, including overtime; 
  • Subclass 2. Alternative Work Week Subclass: All Class members who worked at locations operating under an improper or otherwise invalid alternative work week schedules;
  •  Subclass 3. Meal Period Subclass. All Class members who were subject to Defendants’ policy and/or practice of failing to provide lawful 30-minute uninterrupted meal periods;
  • Subclass 4. Rest Break Subclass. All Class members who were subject to Defendants’ policy and/or practice of failing to authorize and permit Employees to take uninterrupted, lawful10-minute rest periods;
  • Subclass 5. Wage Statement Subclass. All Class members who, within the applicable limitations period, were not provided with accurate itemized wage statements;
  • Subclass 6. Termination Pay Subclass. All Class members who were subject to Defendants’ policy and/or practice of failing to timely pay all wages owing upon termination; and
  • Subclass 7. UCL Subclass. All Class members who are owed restitution as a result of Defendants’ business acts and practices to the extent such acts and practices are found to be unlawful, deceptive, and/or unfair.
Under the FRCP, class action lawsuits must meet the following requirements with respect to each class or subclass of potential plaintiffs:
  • the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
  • there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
  • the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
  • the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Trimming the lawsuit


The second and third requirements proved to be troublesome for the workers. The Magistrate did not recommend certifying certain classes where individual issues predominated or questions of fact existed relating to exit screening procedures. (Subclasses 1-4). The Magistrate also did not recommend certifying classes where individual issues appeared to predominate with regard to the time rounding claims (Subclasses 5 and 7). She did, however, recommend certifying classes with respect to the meal period waiver and certain of the wage statements. The Subclasses based on derivative claims concerning accuracy of the wage statements and unfair business practices were trimmed as a consequence of the other limitations.

In California, in these situations, a great deal of the fact finding is delegated to a Magistrate Judge. The ultimate decision rests with the Eastern District. There is little reason to suppose that the court will not accept the Magistrates suggestions.

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