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Aguiar v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County

January 20, 2009; as modified February 19, 2009

HERMELINDA AGUIAR ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, RESPONDENT;
CINTAS CORPORATION, NO. 2 ET AL., REAL PARTIES IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDING; application for writ of mandate. Maureen Duffy-Lewis, Judge. Petition granted. (Super. Ct. No. BC310696) (Maureen Duffy-Lewis, Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Perluss, P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

In 1997 the City of Los Angeles adopted a Living Wage Ordinance (LWO) prescribing a minimum level of compensation for employees of private firms who work on service contracts benefiting the city. (L.A. Admin. Code, § 10.37 et seq.) The ordinance provides an employee is eligible for LWO wages and benefits if he or she "spends any of his or her time" on a city service contract. (L.A. Admin. Code, § 10.37.1, subd. (f).) Former Regulation No. 5 (Regulation 5), promulgated by the city agency entrusted with implementing the LWO, provided, prior to its rescission in 2006, if an employee of a private contractor works at least 20 hours during the month on a city service contract, he or she must be paid the appropriate wages mandated by the LWO for each hour worked on the subject agreement. If, however, the employee works less than 20 hours per month on a city service contract, he or she is not eligible for any LWO wages. Do Regulation 5's 20-hour rule and hours-worked component limiting LWO wages to the time actually spent on a city service contract conflict with the LWO?

The plain language of the LWO, coupled with its legislative history, reflect an unmistakable intent to afford a living wage to employees of city service contractors who spend any time working on city service contracts, no matter how much or how little that participation may be. By limiting LWO eligibility to those who work 20 hours a month or more on city contracts and the amount of LWO wages to the hours actually spent on the city contract, Regulation 5 directly conflicts with the LWO's articulated remedial purpose of raising wages for low wage service workers and ameliorating the burden placed on city social services caused by payment of inadequate compensation. Because the trial court erred in concluding Regulation 5 was a valid and enforceable clarification of the LWO, we grant the petition for writ of mandate filed in this class action lawsuit by Hermelinda Aguiar, Alicia Maria Aldrete, Aurora Banuelos, Maria Alicia Gonzalez and Josefina Contreras on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated (collectively plaintiffs) and direct respondent Los Angeles Superior Court to vacate its order upholding Regulation 5 and to enter a new and different order invalidating Regulation 5 on the ground it conflicts with the LWO.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn1

1. Cintas Corporation's Contract with the City

Cintas Corporation No. 2 and Cintas Corporation No. 3 (collectively Cintas) lease and launder garments and other goods for their customers. In 1999 and again in 2003 the city awarded Cintas a contract to lease and launder flame-retardant uniforms and other items for use by employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). Under each contract Cintas was required to pick up soiled uniforms and materials, such as dust rags, towels and blankets, used by DWP employees from numerous DWP locations, launder the items, make any necessary repairs and return them to their respective DWP site. Items generally were picked up from DWP sites each business day and returned clean within a week of receipt. Cintas used its Whittier, Pico Rivera and Ontario facilities at various times to process the DWP items. Each contract required Cintas to comply with the LWO for all covered employees, including the salary, vacation and sick time and notification provisions. For each contract Cintas signed a declaration of compliance, certifying it would comply with the LWO. The city terminated its contract with Cintas for cause on January 28, 2004.*fn2

2. The Class Action Lawsuit by Cintas's Employees

In 2004 a group of Cintas employees sued Cintas alleging it had failed to properly compensate them under the LWO and the Labor Code. The complaint was amended in March 2004 to name the current plaintiffs and include allegations that plaintiffs represented not only themselves individually, but also "a class of [Cintas's] current and former employees [of its Whittier, Pico Rivera and Ontario facilities] who have worked at least 20 hours per month on [Cintas's] contracts to provide rental, uniform and laundry services to the DWP[.]" On January 24, 2005 plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in which they reiterated most of their class action allegations, but eliminated the allegation restricting the proposed class to workers who had spent at least 20 hours per month performing services on the DWP contracts. In conjunction with the second amended complaint, the plaintiffs also filed a motion to certify the proposed class, consisting of more than 300 production and stockroom workers at Cintas's Whittier, Pico Rivera and Ontario facilities during the period from May 1, 2000 (the effective date of Cintas's original contract with the DWP) to January 29, 2004 (the date the city terminated its contract with Cintas).

Cintas opposed the motion for class certification, arguing the named plaintiffs were not adequate class representatives and common issues of law and fact did not predominate over the individual determinations that would be required to determine who was a member of the putative class. Specifically, to demonstrate applicability of the LWO, Cintas maintained each named plaintiff and putative class member would be required to demonstrate he or she had worked at least 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts.

The trial court agreed with Cintas and denied the motion, finding the proposed class was not ascertainable, the putative class members lacked a well-defined community of interest and class adjudication was not the superior means of resolving the litigation because plaintiffs' evidence did not demonstrate substantial benefits would accrue to either the litigants or the court if the lawsuit were maintained as a class action.

3. The Appeal from the Denial of Class Certification

Plaintiffs appealed, contending the trial court had implicitly assumed the validity of Regulation 5's 20-hour rule and then used it to determine class treatment was not the appropriate means to resolve the litigation. We reversed the order denying class certification in Aguiar v. Cintas Corp. No. 2 (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 121 (Aguiar I), holding any perceived barriers to class certification identified by Cintas could easily be resolved by dividing the putative class into two subclasses: those employees who worked at least 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts and those who did not. Accordingly, we did not reach the validity of Regulation 5's 20-hour rule. (See id. at p. 135 ["the validity of the 20-hour rule need not be resolved at this stage of the litigation and is not a bar to class certification because the putative class can be divided into subclasses of those employees who worked at least 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts and those who did not"].)

4. Repeal of Regulation 5

In August 2006, shortly before our decision in Aguiar I, supra, 144 Cal.App.4th 121, the Los Angeles City Council revoked the 20-hour rule, finding it inconsistent with its earlier intent to have the LWO apply to all employees who had worked on any city contract. Regulation 5 was rescinded in its entirety.*fn3 the same time language in Regulation No. 4 that cross-referenced both ...


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