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School Bus Drivers’ Wage Lawsuit Survives Crippling Challenge

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Pay stub claims key to success

San Francisco, CAIn Humes v. First Student Inc., a group of California bus drivers claim that the company for which they worked, First Student, Inc. (formerly Laidlaw) failed to pay them for all the hours that they worked. In the latest legal turn, the Ninth Circuit has cleared the way for the drivers to pursue their lawsuit as a class action. That keeps the lawsuit alive. Among their California labor law claims is that they received inaccurate pay stubs. It seems a small point in a big fight. Especially because of recent case law developments, however, pay stub claims be an increasingly important part of California wage lawsuits.

Humes v. First Student Inc.



The bus drivers first filed their complaint on October 28, 2015. The Complaint asserts that First Student willfully failed to pay regular wages, including the minimum wage, at the proper time. In addition, the bus company allegedly failed to furnish accurate wage and hour statements, as required by Section 226 of the California Labor Code. In sum, these practices amounted to an unfair business practice and the breach of an oral contract, violations of other provisions of California law.

Pay stub claims part of a big picture



At first blush, this looks like a very lawyerly refinement on throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Wage claim cases frequently include an allegation that pay stubs were incorrect. If wages are underpaid, it stands to reason that the reporting is also flawed. A deeper dive into the facts of Humes, however, reveals how central the recordkeeping and reporting issues are to the case.

The school bus drivers were covered by a collective bargaining agreement that guaranteed a certain number of hours of pay per day even if they completed assigned tasks in fewer than the guaranteed number of hours. Those tasks included substantial non-driving chores, such as cleaning and fueling the bus. If the actual work time exceeded the hours guarantee, however, drivers were to be paid for additional time reported.

Prior to the start of the 2015-16 school year, drivers filled out a Daily Bus Report form on which the recorded the time they reported to the dispatch desk at the beginning of a shift and the time they returned the keys at the end of the day. In addition, actual driving time was recorded through a "ZONAR," system that made use of a hand-held device. Other software recorded GPS data for each bus.

Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, drivers were no longer required to manually report their hours of work, unless they worked beyond scheduled hours. In that case, drivers reported their extra hours in an “exception log.” In addition, they were instructed to fill out a billing sheet. These billing sheets were used for billing the school district, not for payroll.

Drivers complained that they were not paid for hours reported in the exception log. In addition, it appears that the overlapping reporting requirements created multiple sets of records that were not necessarily consistent with one another. It was a recordkeeping nightmare.

New potential under new court decisions



Workers’ wage claims depend on the existence of time records. Those time records are typically maintained by the employers against whom wage claims may be made. It would be a catch-22 for workers, absent vigorous enforcement of legal requirements that the records be kept accurately.

California Labor Code Section 226(a) outlines nine pieces of information that must be included on pay stubs:

  • Gross wages earned;

  • Total hours worked by the employee;

  • Piece-rate units, if applicable;

  • Deductions from wages;

  • Net wages earned;

  • The pay period beginning and end dates;

  • Employee’s name and last four digits of Social Security number (or employee ID number);

  • Name and address of the legal entity that is the employer;

  • All applicable hourly rates in effect during the pay period and the corresponding number of hours the employee worked at each hourly rate.


  • Recent cases have considered whether non-California employers who employ workers who live, but do not work in California must comply with these requirements. In addition, courts have considered how easy it must be for employees to access pay stubs and whether the existence of contradictory records is problematic.

    Don’t delay



    There is no dispute, however, about the fact that the statute of limitations for unpaid wages claims in California is only four years, so workers should not delay in seeking legal assistance. The pay stub portion of a wage claim may seem insignificant, but it may mean the difference between success and failure.

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