California law provides a number of protections above and beyond the protections that are afforded to employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). For example, California law requires that employees be provided with a meal and two rest breaks when they work an eight-hour shift. Additionally, if they work over 8 hours in a day, daily overtime premiums kick in. There are also requirements that the employer provide an employee with very detailed paystubs that must contain specific information.
On January 9, 2018, a federal judge in California certified a class of current and former employees of the big-box retail giant Walmart, who alleged violations of the FLSA and the California Labor Code. Three classes were certified, which range in size from 52,000 employees to nearly 76,000 employees. Most courts – including courts in the Ninth Circuit – follow a two-step approach to collective action certification.
Where Walmart Went Wrong
At the first stage, courts do not evaluate the merits of the Plaintiff’s legal claims but instead focus solely on whether the members of the proposed class are similarly situated to each other. According to U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh, Walmart made the mistake of attacking the merit of the Plaintiffs’ legal claims instead of arguing that the Plaintiffs were not similarly situated to each other. Judge Koh disregarded Walmart’s merit-based arguments and granted certification to the class.
Collective or class actions are advantageous tools for employees who are the victims of wage theft. They can be a powerful mechanism to deter employers from skimming off their employees’ wages. While an individual employee may have only a few hundred dollars stolen, an employer can easily pay them off and sweep their claims under the rug. This permits employers to continue skimming wages. However, when the employer faces a collective action, all the aggrieved employees are notified of the violation and provided with the opportunity to join the lawsuit to seek back wages against the employer.
The case is Magadia v Wal-Mart Associates Inc., et al, case number 17-cv-00062, and is pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
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