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Safeway’ $1.45 million deal Just One of Many PAGA California Labor Complaints

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Last month a California judge preliminarily approved Safeway Inc.'s $1.45 million deal to resolve claims brought under PAGA involving 35,000 California workers who alleged the supermarket chain provided them with inaccurate pay stubs. A flood of PAGA comp

Oakland, CAIf finally approved, a lawsuit brought under PAGA will settle California labor law claims brought on behalf of 35,000 workers in California who allege that Safeway failed to provide accurate pay stubs. The giant supermarket chain’s $1.45 million deal would affect former and current workers.

The Altamirano v. Safeway Inc. Settlement

Linda Altamirano, a former Safeway employee, filed a complaint in March 2017 on behalf of non-exempt hourly workers, claiming that the giant corporation (with 137,000 employees) failed to report workers' pay, failed to provide accurate pay stubs and failed to provide all wages owed when employees left the company.

This deal would pay workers about $23.19, and possibly more if some class members don't file a claim. Class counsel plans to ask for up to $483,333, or 33.3 percent of the settlement, to cover fees, and up to $20,000 to cover costs. Judge Smith, however, said that although the deal was fair, the attorneys' fee request is larger than the typically accepted 30 percent benchmark.

Altamirano plans to ask for a $5,000 service award. Safeway also agreed to make a $25,000 payment to resolve the PAGA claim, according to Law360.

The case is Altamirano v. Safeway Inc., case number RG17851392, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda.

What is PAGA?

Since the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) was enacted in 2004, about 15 PAGA notice letters get submitted to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency every day. In a nutshell, it allows workers to challenge violations of California labor law on the state's behalf.

Here are the main reasons litigation under PAGA has increased exponentially…

In 2009 the California Supreme Court held that the stringent certification requirements for bringing a class action do not apply to PAGA actions, and PAGA claims tagged on with class action lawsuits became commonplace.

In 2014 the state high court held that employees could not waive their right in an arbitration agreement to bring PAGA claims; PAGA claims are for the public benefit and that it is contrary to public policy to enforce such waivers.

In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that PAGA plaintiffs are generally entitled to request and receive information from the employer early in litigation, thereby creating pressure for employers to settle early and avoid huge litigation costs.

For instance, in Williams V. Superior Court, plaintiff Williams was a former Marshalls employee who was permitted by the state Supreme Court to obtain information for all the retailer’s California employees, without first providing evidence that they were indeed aggrieved employees. (PAGA defines an aggrieved employee as any current or former employee "against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.)

"Plaintiffs are now filing complaints alleging a wide variety of labor code violations under PAGA even if they have not or could not have personally suffered a violation of each provision," said Corey Cabral. "In sum, there is nothing stopping one disgruntled … employee from filing a PAGA action alleging any number of labor code violations."

To minimize PAGA claim risk, attorneys advise employers to review whether the company:

•Classifies any workers as independent contractors;
•Is Familiar with and understands all California Labor Laws, including meal and rest breaks; and
•Complies with California overtime laws.


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