employment class action news
August 6, 2015 – Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias today considered the petition for coordination filed by the firm on behalf of client Candace Holzer in her case against auto dealership giant DCH/Lithia Motors for wage theft under California statutory law. Currently pending are seven separate court cases filed by different employees against one or another of the various DCH entities and dealerships, in addition to a growing number of private individual arbitrations, for similar wage and hour violations. In a proceeding that lasted most of the morning, Judge Elias agreed with the firm that its follow-on case for employee Ryan Dale (who says DCH/Lithia coerced him and others into signing “settlement” agreements over these claims without the benefit of counsel and in violation of law) should be deemed an “included action” in any coordination. She retained jurisdiction over all such cases, stayed proceedings in them, and allowed the parties to commence a mediation of all claims before one mediator. Judge Elias set a deadline of March of next year to conclude that mediation. A court order is pending.
June 30, 2015 – The firm has filed a second lawsuit against DCH Auto Group (now owned by Lithia Motors, one of the largest chains of car dealerships in the nation) for claims arising from DCH’s labor practices in the State of California, where it owns and operates over a dozen car dealerships. In a complaint filed today in Los Angeles County Superior Court, auto mechanic Ryan Dale accuses DCH of fraud and unfair competition, among other things, in connection with DCH’s practice of calling employees into “settlement” meetings with management and coercing those employees to sign away their wage claims for pennies on the dollar, in violation of law. These “settlement” meetings were apparently in response to allegations which continue to accumulate and are now pending in six separate lawsuits in three different California Superior Courts against DCH alleging systemic and persistent wage and hour law violations. Employees’ claims include failure to provide statutorily-mandated breaks (and falsifying time records to cover them up), failure to pay minimum wages, and failure to pay all earned wages. The firm recently sought to have those lawsuits coordinated by one judge; the California Judicial Council will hear the firm’s application to do so in early August.
June 12, 2015 – The firm applied today to the State of California's Judicial Council to coordinate several PAGA complaints against DCH Auto Group (USA) in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Six suits are pending in Southern California by current and former employees against the auto sales giant and its affiliated dealerships alleging numerous and persistent violations of the California labor code, including denying employees meal and rest breaks, failing to pay for overtime work, failing to pay minimum wages, failing to reimburse employees for out-of-pocket costs, and falsifying employees’ time records to cover it up. Coordination of the cases expands and consolidates the potential number of dealerships included in issue as well as expands and consolidates the categories of employees covered by the claims to include clerical and office workers, service writers, auto mechanics and technicians, and sales people. The firm’s investigation of this matter is ongoing: For more information about that subject, click here.
June 5, 2015 – Federal district court judge William H. Alsup has set a July 2016 trial date in a class action brought by the firm on behalf of a former employee of famed Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley for wage theft. A recently-filed amended complaint amplified claims previously made against owner and operator McCormick & Schmick and its corporate parent, Landry’s (until 2010, a publicly traded company), for persistent and systematic wage and hour violations under California law. Hundreds of current and former restaurant employees may have been damaged by these alleged violations; lost wages and penalties may run into the millions of dollars. Judge Alsup also ordered a settlement conference to be conducted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero; a date for that event is pending. A motion for class certification is expected before the end of the year.
May 12, 2015 – Defendants today answered the allegations of an amended complaint filed in San Francisco federal court in a class action brought by the firm on behalf of a former employee of the famed Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto. The restaurant, currently owned and operated by restaurant chain McCormick & Schmick, in turn a wholly owned subsidiary of Landry’s (until 2010, a publicly traded company), has been an East Bay fixture on Fourth Street in Berkeley since the 1930s. The amended complaint amplifies claims previously made against these two entities for persistent and systematic wage and hour violations under California law. Hundreds of current and former restaurant employees may have been damaged by these alleged violations. A recent court order has set a case management conference in the matter for June 4th.
March 12, 2015 – Firm partner Nick Carlin succeeded today in overcoming multiple objections to moving forward with client Candace Holzer’s wage theft case against DCH Auto Group, one of the largest auto dealerships in the nation, a case brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act and seeking broad compensatory relief. Siding with Ms. Holzer, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson rejected DCH’s attempt to compel arbitration of Ms. Holzer’s wage and hour claims on behalf of herself and all other non-exempt employees throughout the State of California; Judge Johnson also refused to grant a stay of Ms. Holzer’s case, as requested by DCH on multiple grounds, including the existence of pending arbitration proceedings by others on their own individual wage theft claims. The court’s order is pending. For more information about the case, which now enters the pre-trial discovery phase, click here.
February 23, 2015 – The firm today filed a 23-page federal court complaint against the owner and operator (together with the corporate parent) of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto, the popular seafood restaurant located in Berkeley, on behalf of a putative class of the restaurant's workers. The class action complaint alleges a pattern and practice of unlawful conduct, including forcing employees to work off-the-clock and without compensation, failing to provide statutorily required breaks, failing to provide accurate and complete wage statements and engaging in fraudulent recordkeeping. The court has set the first hearing in the case for May.
October 14, 2014 – Firm partner Nicholas Carlin filed an amended complaint today in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Candace Holzer, a former employee of DCH Auto Group (one of the largest auto dealerships in the nation - recently acquired by Lithia Motors [NYSE:LAD]), seeking relief under the California Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) for wage and hour violations. The complaint alleges, among other things, that DCH failed to allow its employees to take meal and rest breaks, and falsified time records to show that employees clocked out for lunch when in fact they were still working. The complaint seeks recovery on behalf of Ms. Holzer and all other non-exempt employees of DCH in all of its auto dealerships in California. Any current or former employee with information about such potential labor code violations is encouraged to contact the firm. PE&G has launched a website as a part of its investigation of California car dealerships affiliated with DCH Auto Group for possible systematic labor code violations.
February 19, 2014 -- The San Francisco Superior Court today approved the settlement of a class action on behalf of hundreds of minimum wage workers, who alleged they had been unlawfully denied meal and rest breaks. Under the settlement, each of 525 class members, represented by partner Nicholas Carlin, will receive payments averaging over $1,650, and in many cases exceeding $5,000. In addition, defendants will pay a record $45,000 in penalties to the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency.
Court preliminarily approves $1.9 million settlement of wage and hour class action
November 18, 2013 -- The San Francisco Superior Court granted preliminary approval of the settlement of a class action on behalf of approximately 700 minimum wage workers, represented by Nick Carlin, who alleged the workers had been unlawfully denied meal and rest breaks. Under the settlement, class members are expected to receive roughly one hour of pay for each shift worked during the time period covered by the lawsuit or an average of over $1,500 each. Defendants will also pay PE&G's fees and costs, as well as $45,000 in penalties to the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency. The court will hold a final approval hearing on February 19, 2014.
Court orders restaurant chain to turn over evidence, pay monetary sanction for obstruction
April 26, 2013 -- Defendant restaurant chain and its owners stonewalled the firm's attempts on behalf of its restaurant worker clients, to obtain material evidence, including records of time worked and wages earned by employees, and evidence of defendants' financial dealings. Paul A. Renne, Esq., acting as Pro Tem Judge of the San Francisco Superior Court, had "little sympathy" for defendants and flatly rejected their contentions -- including their argument that Judicial Council form interrogatories were vague and sought irrelevant information -- and he held that defendants had failed entirely to engage in a good faith effort to respond to plaintiffs' legitimate discovery requests. Judge Renne ordered the defendants to provide virtually all of the information plaintiffs requested, and also ordered defendants and their lawyers to pay $5,000 in monetary sanctions for their willful obstruction of discovery. PE&G attorneys Cari Cohorn and Alex Tuzin led this effort. The case is Sayre v. SFS 39, Inc., San Francisco Superior Court Case No. CGC-12-523838.
Class case clears important hurdle in battle with restaurant chain over employment policies
April 16, 2013 -- PE&G attorneys Cari Cohorn and Nick Carlin thwarted an attempt by defendant restaurant chain to stall -- potentially for years -- the firm's clients' class action claims for wage theft and other violations of the California Labor Code. The restaurant chain recently began requiring its employees to sign arbitration agreements, and Ms. Cohorn and Mr. Carlin represent a separate group of employees, who were similarly deprived of their rights, in arbitration. The restaurant chain argued that all proceedings in the class action (involving plaintiffs who did not sign the arbitration agreement) should halt until after the arbitration is concluded. The firm's attorneys successfully argued to San Francisco Superior Court judge Marla Miller that this was an improper effort to hold the class action hostage and deny the firm's clients access to the justice system. The judge agreed, and permitted the class action to move forward.
Individual employee can assert representative claim in arbitration for labor code private attorneys general penalities
September 19, 2012 -- In an arbitration proceeding in which class actions are barred, PE&G attorneys Nick Carlin and Cari Cohorn persuaded the arbitrator, in an apparent case of first impression, that an individual employee may pursue Private Attorney General Act ("PAGA") penalties for Labor Code violations committed against all other similarly situated employees. The arbitrator rejected the employer's contention that representative actions under PAGA are akin to class actions such that the class action bar should also apply to representative PAGA actions.
Class arbitration of employment claims is alive and well
March 29, 2012 -- PE&G attorneys Nick Carlin and Cari Cohorn overcame a challenge to a class-wide arbitration of wage and hour claims - despite two recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court sharply limiting the circumstances under which arbitration of class claims is permitted. The firm's clients brought an arbitration proceeding on behalf of themselves and all other current and former employees unlawfully denied meal and rest breaks and overtime (among other things) by their employer. The employer filed a motion seeking a ruling that the parties' employment agreement did not allow class proceedings, thereby forcing each employee to arbitrate his or her claims individually. Former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Zimmerman, acting as arbitrator in the matter, rejected this position, accepting the firm's argument that the terms of the agreement evidenced the parties' intent to resolve all disputes - including those involving representative and class claims - through arbitration, thus allowing the class claims to proceed.
Firm obtains groundbreaking ruling on individual liability for wage and hour violations
March 26, 2012 -- PE&G attorneys Nick Carlin and Cari Cohorn secured a groundbreaking ruling that corporate officers can be personally liable for penalties arising from wage and hour violations. In an ongoing class arbitration over those issues, the arbitrator accepted the firm's theory that, notwithstanding California law holding that corporate officers are not "employers" and therefore cannot be held personally liable for the corporation's failure to provide meal and rest breaks or to pay overtime (or for related violations of the Labor Code), the Labor Code allowed aggrieved employees to recover civil penalties from officers who cause wage and hour violations. The firm argued that the Labor Code imposes penalties against any "person" who causes a wage and hour violation, and that related provisions of the Code create a private right of action allowing the employees themselves (rather than a state agency) to enforce the statute and collect the penalties. Although no California appellate court has ruled on this theory of recovery, the arbitrator held that the claims were viable, and denied the individual defendants' motion to dismiss the claims against them.