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Rai v. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority

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

February 24, 2015

BALJINDER RAI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SANTA CLARA VALLEY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION (Re: Docket No. 143)

PAUL S. GREWAL, Magistrate Judge.

Each weekday, 139, 582 people ride the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's bus and light rail train system.[1] Richard Rosa and Walter Silveira are system operators who allege that from August 17, 2009 onward VTA subjected them to a common and unlawful compensation scheme.[2] Plaintiffs say that VTA required them to "work off-the-clock without compensation" because VTA did not compensate them for "all hours worked" performing compensable work activities such as traveling to their routes and meeting with their supervisors.[3] Plaintiffs move for certification of a class of operators under-compensated during the relevant time period.[4]

Whatever their ultimate success on the merits, the substantial record compiled by the parties shows that Plaintiffs meet the requirements for class certification.[5] The court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion.

I.

"The class action is an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.'"[6] To satisfy class certification requirements, class members' claims must be capable of satisfaction in "one stroke."[7] To satisfy the four threshold requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), (1) the class must be "so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable" (numerosity); (2) there must be "questions of law or fact common to the class" (commonality); (3) "the claims or defenses of the representative parties" must be "typical of the claims or defenses of the class" (typicality); and (4) the named plaintiffs must "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class" (adequacy).[8] Plaintiffs seeking class certification must also satisfy the requirements of Rule 23(b), subdivisions 1, 2 or 3, which define three different types of classes.[9]

Here, Plaintiffs seek certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3), the predominance standard.[10] To certify a class under Rule 23(b)(3), the party seeking class certification must establish that both that (1) "questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members" and that (2) a class action would be "superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy."[11] "The shared legal or factual issues must be of sufficient importance to the case that the Court is convinced that the most efficient, fair, and sensible method of adjudication is through a class action."[12] As a result, the predominance inquiry examines "whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation."[13]

In evaluating whether a party has met the requirements of Rule 23, "Rule 23 does not set forth a mere pleading standard."[14] "A party seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule-that is, he must be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, etc."[15] This is a "rigorous analysis"[16] that must "entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim.'"[17]

Over three hundred and eighty bus and train operators perform public transit services for VTA each day.[18] Each of these operators is assigned to one of four divisions.[19] VTA oversees and operates all divisions.[20] Since 2008, VTA and Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 265, which represents all bus and train operators at VTA, have been parties to collective bargaining agreements that set forth operators' wages, hours of work and working conditions.[21]

Throughout the proposed class period, VTA has used Trapeze, a computer software suite, to design schedules for its bus and light rail operators.[22] VTA uses Trapeze to create a "Synopsis of Runs" that identifies each operator's daily assignment.[23] The Synopsis of Runs enables VTA to calculate a predetermined daily pay amount for each operator. To determine this amount, VTA calculates the operator's total "straight time, " which is a predetermined amount of compensable time for various categories of time associated with the operator's run.[24] In some situations, straight time includes additional time that operators are paid in order to meet full time operators' guarantee of eight hours of daily pay and "elapsed time, " which is a premium for work time that exceeds ten hours and thirty minutes.[25] VTA adds straight time hours to overtime hours and then multiplies this figure by the applicable hourly rates to calculate the operator's total daily pay.[26]

Plaintiffs allege that VTA's compensation system does not pay operators for "all (1) split-shift travel time, (2) turn-in time, (3) bulletin time, (4) meeting time, (5) pre-departure time and (6) all time actually spent driving."[27] In the Second and Third Causes of their Fourth Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that by not "compensat[ing] operators for all hours worked, " VTA has violated California Industrial Wage Order No. 9, California Labor Code § 1194 and San Jose Municipal Code Chapter 4.100.[28]

Plaintiffs now request that the court certify a class with request to these causes of action of "[a]ll individuals who are currently employed, or formerly have been employed, by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority as a bus or train operator at any time on or after August 17, 2009."[29] Plaintiffs also seek authorization to send to all class members the class notice attached to the Declaration of Steven G. Tidrick, appointment of Plaintiffs Richard Rosa and Walter Silveira as representatives of the class and appointment of the Tidrick Law Firm as class counsel.[30]

II.

This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1338. The parties further consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned magistrate judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).

III.

At issue is whether Plaintiffs' proposed class should be certified. Because Plaintiffs have met the requirements of both Rule 23(a) and Rule 23(b)(3), the court certifies the proposed class.

First, Plaintiffs have standing to pursue their claims. "[I]f none of the named plaintiffs purporting to represent a class establishes the requisite of a case or controversy with the defendants, none may seek relief on behalf of himself or any other member of the class."[31] Put another way, if "the individual plaintiff lacks standing, the court need never reach the class action issue."[32]

VTA suggests that Plaintiffs lack standing to seek compensation for time allegedly worked in excess of eight hours because they are guaranteed eight hours per day under their collective bargaining agreements.[33] While Section 510 of the California Labor Code and Wage Order No. 9 provide that employers must pay overtime to employees who work in excess of certain time periods, [34] neither Section 510 nor Wage Order No. 9 applies to employees like Plaintiffs covered by a "valid collective bargaining agreement" that expressly provides for "premium wage rates for all overtime hours worked" and a "regular hourly rate of pay... of not less than 30 percent more than the state minimum wage."[35] But, as Plaintiffs point out, no state court ...


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