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Catalina Ricaldai, On Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly v. Us Investigations Services

May 25, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dean D. Pregerson United States District Judge


[Docket No. 48]

Presently before the court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ("Motion"). Having reviewed the parties' moving papers and heard oral argument, the court denies the Motion in part, grants the Motion in part, and adopts the following Order.


From July 2003 to November 2008, Plaintiff Catalina Ricaldai ("Ricaldai") worked as a field investigator for Defendant US Investigations Services, LLC ("USIS"). USIS field investigators conduct background investigations of individuals seeking employment with or already employed by the federal government. During Ricaldai's employment at USIS, field investigators typically worked remotely out of their homes and with a company car, gathering records, conducting interviews, and preparing written reports. (Pl.'s Statement of Genuine Issues in Opp'n to Mot. ("SS"), Nos. 1-2, 6-9.) "USIS expected California-based investigators to work 40 hours each week and eight hours per day unless they had approved overtime." USIS also "expected investigators to close their investigation within the time allotted to the file." (Mot. at 5.) USIS therefore "trained investigators to build their own daily work schedule based on the work they had to complete for their investigations, not based on a particular schedule." (SS No. 13.)

Under California state law, if an employee works five or more hours in a day, the employee has the right to a 30-minute meal period, free of any job duties and starting no later than the fifth hour of work.*fn1 See Brinker Rest. Corp. v. Super. Ct., 139 Cal. Rptr. 3d 315, 343-44 (Cal. 2012) (discussing Labor Code section 512). The meal break is not limited to the right to eat; rather, employees must be free to attend to any personal business they may choose during the 30-minute period. See id. at 340.

During Ricaldai's employment, the USIS employee handbook section on timekeeping included the statement: "Do not start work early, finish work late, work during a meal break or perform any other extra or overtime work unless you are authorized to do so." (Decl. of Lara K. Strauss in Supp. of Mot. ("Strauss Decl."), Ex. E at 41.) USIS also posted in its district offices the required Industrial Welfare Commission ("IWC") wage order regarding meal periods. See 8 Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11040(22). USIS did not, however, otherwise train or advise employees as to their meal period rights. (SS at 45-53.) To the contrary, Ricaldai argues that her trainers and supervisors, along with particular company policies, unlawfully pressured her to work during meal periods. USIS also failed to record meal periods, in violation of the applicable IWC wage order. See id. § 11040(7)(A)(3). Ricaldai claims that she therefore never took the 30-minute, duty-free meal period provided by California law.

Specifically, Ricaldai alleges that during a 2003 field training for "update investigations," her trainer told her "to pack her lunch because they would not have time to stop and eat lunch." (SS Nos. 56-58; Decl. of Christine C. Choi in Supp. of Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. ("Choi Decl."), Ex. 1 at 66, 75, 79.) Throughout the training period, Ricaldai and her trainer did in fact "eat lunch while they were looking at the paperwork and reviewing the interviews they had done." (SS No. 59.) Further, while instructing Ricaldai on how to fill out her time cards, the trainer told her that: "it was not okay for [Ricaldai] to do something else during the course of the day for personal reasons, such as go to a doctor's appointment," and that Ricaldai "had to work eight hours a day and request time off from the district manager if she needed to incorporate any personal activities." (SS Nos. 60-61.) During this field training and a one-week training in Pennsylvania, Ricaldai was also "told that she had to 'zone' her work," meaning that "if she was in a particular geographic area, she had to make sure to fill her day in the zone with scheduled interviews, visits to the court, or walks around the neighborhood to try and get more interviews." (SS Nos. 62, 65-66.)

Likewise, at a 2004 training and during quarterly "'check rides' with the district manager or team lead" throughout her employment, Ricaldai and the trainer or supervisor again had "working lunch[es]." (SS Nos. 68-72; Choi Decl., Ex. 1 at 80.) On days that Ricaldai had a check ride, she and her supervisor "would sit down, grab a sandwich, go through a checklist, and talk about different things that they liked or did not like during the interviews that [Ricaldai] had conducted." (SS No. 72.)

More broadly, Ricaldai asserts that "it was not possible for [her] to take 30 minutes of off-duty time during the day because it was the culture of the job to get as much testimony as possible." (SS No. 73.) According to Ricaldai, "[a]ny time off was considered a waste and a failure to correctly zone the geographic area." Ricaldai also "had to accommodate the schedules and availability of witnesses." (SS Nos. 74-75.) Ricaldai therefore allegedly "[a]lways took a working lunch wherein she would review paperwork and type reports on her laptop," and "[n]ever did any type of personal activity during the course of her day without previously requesting time off." (SS Nos. 76-78.)

Based on these alleged meal period violations - and overtime issues not relevant to this Motion - Ricaldai filed a putative class action suit against USIS in California state court, on August 26, 2010. USIS removed the action to this court on October 4, 2010, pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Ricaldai filed a Second Amended Class Action Complaint ("Complaint") on June 9, 2011. In her Complaint, Ricaldai alleges six causes of action: 1) failure to provide meal periods, in violation of California Labor Code ("Labor Code") sections 226.7 and 512; 2) failure to properly calculate and pay overtime, in violation of Labor Code section 1194(a); 3) failure to timely pay wages, in violation of Labor Code section 203; 4) failure to maintain and provide accurate itemized statements, in violation of Labor Code section 226; 5) enforcement of the Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA"), Labor Code § 2698; and 6) unlawful business practices, in violation of California Business and Professions Code section 17200. Ricaldai's third through sixth causes of action are predicated on her meal period and overtime claims.

USIS filed this Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on September 9, 2011. USIS argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Ricaldai's meal period claim, because Ricaldai indisputably had the independence and flexibility to set her own schedule and take the required breaks. USIS therefore also argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on claims three through six, to the extent they are based on Ricaldai's meal period claim. Last, USIS contends that Ricaldai's PAGA and Labor Code section 226 claims are time-barred, and that the section 226 claim also fails because Ricaldai does not allege certain required elements.


Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all justifiable inferences are drawn in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

A genuine issue exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," and material facts are those "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. at 248. No genuine issue of fact exists "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the ...

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