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A Few Quick Employment Law Updates (Moderately California-Related)

by D. Gregory Valenza | | June 14, 2019

Here are quick summaries of some recent employment law developments that may be of interest to California employers. OK, the first one will be of some interest. The second two are kind of boring. 

Meal Period Penalties / Premiums and PAGA –  The Court of Appeal upheld Safeway’s victory in a meal period class action. This case is Esparza v. Safeway, Inc. and the opinion is here.  The class initially was certified based on the theory that Safeway never paid a meal premium during a certain period of time, even though there were many potential violations during the same period.  The court of appeal believed the plaintiffs should have the chance to prove their case.  But then Safeway prevailed on summary judgment because the plaintiffs could not prove that employees actually were deprived of the penalties because of violations on certain days. Therefore, there was no basis for the plaintiffs’ claim for “restitution” on a class-wide basis. This case also is important because the court held that the one-year statute of limitations applicable to a PAGA claim will run, even during pending litigation, if the employee does not timely send the required PAGA notice letter to the California Labor Workforce Development Administration. A new PAGA claim does not “relate back” to the date the initial lawsuit was filed when the employee does not submit / serve the PAGA notice letter within a year of the alleged violation.

EEOC Charge Not “Jurisdictional” Prerequisite.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Fort Bend County, TX v. Davis (opinion here) concerns Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the decision aligns with California law on the same subject.  And that subject is just not very interesting – exhaustion of administrative remedies. Normally, an employee who sues under anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII or California’s FEHA must file a “charge” or administrative complaint before suing in court.  The administrative agencies are supposed to screen these cases before they get to court. If they have merit, the agencies are supposed to try and “conciliate”  – or resolve –  them and avoid litigation.  Anyway, some eager beavers rush into court without having filed a charge, or without having obtained a “right to sue” letter from the federal or state agency involved (the EEOC or DFEH, respectively).  Does that matter?  Yes.  Does the court have jurisdiction to hear the case?  Well that’s what the Supreme Court decided in Davis. The answer is… maybe.  The district court must dismiss the case, but only if the defendant / employer timely raises the employee’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies as a defense.  If the defendant / employer does not timely assert the failure to exhaust administrative remedies as a defense, then the defense is waived and the court may proceed with the case.  

California Employers Subject to Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act will be happy to know that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that only federal law applies to employment conditions on the outer continental shift lands. So, an off-shore drilling platform employee’s claim that he was due on-call / standby pay for his entire 14-day stint on the platform was rejected because only the Fair Labor Standards Act applied to his employment, rather than California law.  That case is Parker Drilling Management Servs. v. Newton, and the opinion is here.  






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