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Hall v. Rite Aid Corporation

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

May 2, 2014

KRISTIN HALL, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
RITE AID CORPORATION, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2009-00087938-CU-OE-CTL, Joan M. Lewis, Judge.

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COUNSEL

Dostart Clapp & Coveney, James F. Clapp, James T. Hannink; Altshuler Berzon and Michael Rubin for Plaintiff and Appellant.

AARP Foundation Litigation and Barbara A. Jones for AARP as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Paul Hastings, Jeffrey D. Wohl, Rishi N. Sharma, Regan A. W. Herald, Elizabeth J. MacGregor and Peter A. Cooper for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

McDONALD, J.

Kristin Hall filed this action, on behalf of herself and similarly situated persons, alleging defendant Rite Aid Corporation did not provide seats to employees while the employees were operating cash registers at Rite Aid check-out counters in violation of section 14 of Wage Order 7 2001 (section 14) (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, §11070, subd. 14), promulgated by California's Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC). Section 14 requires an employer to provide employees with suitable seats "when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats." (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11070, subd. 14(A).)

The trial court initially granted Hall's motion for class certification. However, Rite Aid subsequently moved for decertification, citing additional

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evidence as well as decisions by other courts. The trial court granted Rite Aid's motion for decertification, and denied Hall's cross-motion to permit the action to proceed as a representative nonclass action under Labor Code section 2698 et seq. Hall appeals, contending (1) Rite Aid's decertification motion should have been denied because it was unsupported by an adequate showing of "changed circumstances"; (2) the trial court applied the wrong analytical approach and standards when it reevaluated the propriety of permitting Hall's action to proceed as a class action; (3) the trial court's order decertifying the class was based on an erroneous interpretation of section 14; and (4) the court erred when it denied Hall's cross-motion to permit the action to proceed as a representative nonclass action under the California's Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), codified in Labor Code section 2698 et seq.

We conclude that, under the analytic framework promulgated by Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004 [139 Cal.Rptr.3d 315, 273 P.3d 513] (Brinker), the trial court erred when it decertified the class action because its decertification order was based on an assessment of the merits of Hall's theory rather than on whether the theory was amenable to class treatment.

I

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. The Complaint

Hall is a former employee of Rite Aid, where she worked as a Cashier/Clerk. She filed a putative class action against Rite Aid to recover penalties pursuant to Labor Code § 2699, subdivision (f). She alleged Rite Aid violated Labor Code section 1198, which makes it illegal to employ a person under conditions of labor prohibited by an applicable IWC Wage Order. She alleged Rite Aid violated a condition of labor because it did not provide its Cashier/Clerks with suitable seats, in violation of section 14 of Wage Order 7 2001, which provides:

"(A) All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.

"(B) When employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, 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." (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11070, subd. 14.)

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B. The Class Certification Order

Hall moved for class certification. In support of the motion, she submitted evidence that (1) all Cashier/Clerks are covered by the same job description and have similar job duties, including checkout work; (2) on average, Cashier/Clerks spend a majority of their hours working at the register; (3) most check-out work (which largely involves scanning and bagging merchandise, processing payments, and handing the bags and receipt to the customer) can be done while seated, but Rite Aid required its Cashier/Clerks to stand while performing check-out work; and (4) Rite Aid's standard counter configurations could accommodate a seat with minimal modifications.

Rite Aid opposed the motion, arguing that individual issues would predominate. Rite Aid asserted (1) its stores differed in size, sales volume, number of Cashier/Clerks, and sales counter configurations; (2) when Cashier/Clerks are not performing check-out counter work they are tasked with duties that varied among the stores; and (3) the percentage of time each Cashier/Clerk spent behind the check-out counter varied from 2 percent to 99 percent (with an average of about 42 percent) and the time spent on stockroom or floor duties was equally varied. Rite Aid's evidence also showed that, even when performing duties at the check-out counter, the distance Cashier/Clerks had to move away from the register (to retrieve controlled items such as tobacco and liquor) varied depending on the specific configuration of each store, and they often or very often performed tasks requiring them to lift, bend, twist, lean over, or move around while working at the check-out register. Because of the variety of tasks, 69 percent of surveyed Cashier/Clerks reported they spent at least half their time moving behind the counter, and 31 percent reported they spent at least 3/4 of their time moving behind the counter.

Hall, whose proffered theory of recovery was that the work performed by Cashier/Clerks when stationed at the check-out registers reasonably permits the use of seats and therefore the failure to provide seats violated section 14, asserted many of these variations were irrelevant to her theory and therefore were not an obstacle to class certification. Hall argued the lack of uniformity in the sizes and configurations of the stores, or the variations in the amount of time Cashier/Clerks reported spending working at the check-out counter, had no relevance to whether the failure to provide seats violated section 14 ...


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