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Singletary v. Teavana Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

May 2, 2014

ANGIE SINGLETARY, individually and on behalf of other members of the general public similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
TEAVANA CORPORATION, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (RE: DKT NO. 30)

PAUL S. GREWAL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Angie Singletary brings five claims against her former employer, Teavana Corporation, for violations of the rest break and suitable seating provisions of the California Labor Code. This court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) because Singletary's claims place in controversy an amount exceeding $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and the opposing parties are of diverse citizenships. The court also has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d) because it is a putative class action involving more than 100 individuals, at least one of whom is a citizen of a state other than Teavana, and it places in controversy a total amount exceeding $5, 000, 000, exclusive of interest and costs. Venue is proper in this court because this action was removed from the Santa Clara County Superior Court of California, which is a state court within this federal district.[1]

Teavana moves for summary judgment as to four of Singletary's claims: failure to provide suitable seating, failure to pay wages upon termination, violations of California's Unfair Competition Law, and penalties under the California Private Attorney General Act, as well as her prayer for injunctive relief.[2] Having considered the papers and arguments of counsel, the court GRANTS Teavana's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The essential facts of this dispute are not terribly complicated. Teavana is a chain of retail stores that sell tea and tea accessories, and Singletary was hired as a sales associate in their San Jose store. Singletary's job was to guide customers through the "Teavana Journey, " including providing tea samples, demonstrating the teapots and accessories and selling the tea itself. When she was with customers, her job "required constant movement throughout the store."[3] When she was not with a customer, she was required to be at the sample cart in front of the store to lure in prospective customers; this task also required her to stand, so she could actively engage with passersby.[4] The store did not have a place for employees to sit while out on the sales floor, but there was a stool in the back room, benches five steps from the entrance to the store, and a seating area with couches just a few yards down the hall.[5]

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

Summary judgment is appropriate only if there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[6] There are two distinct steps to a motion for summary judgment. The moving party bears the initial burden of production by identifying those portions of the pleadings, discovery and affidavits which demonstrate the absence of a triable issue of material fact.[7] Where the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, he must "affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party."[8] If the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, however, he may satisfy his burden of proof either by proffering "affirmative evidence negating an element of the non-moving party's claim, " or by showing the non-moving party has insufficient evidence to establish an "essential element of the non-moving party's claim."[9] If the moving party meets its initial burden, the burden of production then shifts to the non-moving party, who must then provide specific facts showing a genuine issue of material fact for trial.[10] A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.[11] A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that reasonable minds could differ and find for either party.[12]

At this stage, the court does not weigh conflicting evidence or make credibility determinations.[13] Thus, in reviewing the record, the court must construe the evidence and the inferences to be drawn from the underlying evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.[14]

III. DISCUSSION

A. Singletary's Testimony Precludes Her Suitable Seating Claim

Labor Code Section 1198 establishes that "the standard conditions of labor fixed by the [industrial wage] commission shall be... the standard conditions of labor for employees." The parties agree that IWC's Wage Order 7 sets the "standard conditions of labor" for retail stores, and Section 14(B) of that order provides that "[w]hen employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment... an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties."[15]

At the hearing on this motion, Singletary's counsel suggested that there is a factual dispute as to whether Singletary was ever "not engaged in the active duties of her employment, " such that she would have had an opportunity to sit if seats had been provided. But this suggestion is not supported by the record. Critically, at her deposition, Singletary conceded that she could not work with customers while seated, and that if there was no customer in the store, she was either to be straightening the store or at the sample cart, attempting to draw in customers.[16] She also conceded that neither of these latter tasks could be performed while seated.[17] Singletary's testimony therefore establishes that there was no time during Singletary's shift in which she could have been performing her required duties while sitting. Put another way, Singletary concedes that she was always engaged in the active duties of her job, and there was no down time that would have allowed her to use a seat. No reasonable jury could review this evidence and conclude that she could have used any seats provided in a way that "[did] not interfere with the performance of [her] duties."[18] Teavana's motion for summary judgment as to Singletary's seating claim is granted.

B. Singletary Failed to Exhaust Her Administrative Remedies, Which Precludes Her ccPrivate Attorney General Act Claim

California's PAGA statute creates a mechanism by which an "aggrieved employee" can bring a civil action against an employer for any violation "that provides for a civil penalty to be assessed and collected by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency."[19] In order to bring such an action, however, the employee must first exhaust the administrative remedies available to her by providing written notice of "the specific provisions of this code alleged to have been violated, including the facts and theories to support the alleged violation" to both the employer and the LWDA; a lawsuit may commence ...


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