Friday, October 27, 2006
C.A. Revives Bid for Class Action Over ‘Living Wage’ Violation
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has reinstated a motion for class certification in a suit against Cintas, the large uniform rental company, by employees who claim they did not receive wages and benefits owed them under the Living Wage Ordinance of the City of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Superior Court Maureen Duffy-Lewis abused her discretion by denying class certification based on findings that “the proposed class was not ascertainable and lacked a well-defined community of interest and class treatment was not the superior means to resolve the litigation,” Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss wrote.
The problems identified by the trial judge do not support her ruling, because they can be managed by dividing the class into subclasses, Perluss explained in an opinion filed Sept. 27 and certified yesterday for publication.
The employees who filed the suit claim that they and 300 or more of their fellow workers at Cintas facilities in Whittier, Pico Rivera, and Ontario were paid less than the minimum wage and denied mandated paid leave for work performed on a Cintas contract with the Department of Water and Power.
DWP contracted with Cintas for the lease, cleaning, and repair of uniforms and other supplies from 2000 to 2004. As part of the contract, Cintas promised to comply with the 1997 ordinance, which requires that most workers on service contracts with the city receive a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, plus an employer contribution of not less than $1.25 per hour to employee health care, or a wage of $8.50 per hour.
The law also requires that employees be given 12 days of annual paid leave, and up to 10 days of unpaid family and medical leave per year.
In addition to the ordinance violations, the plaintiffs allege that the company committed several Labor Code violations, including failure to maintain required records and failure to pay overtime premiums.
The contract was terminated in 2004 by the city, which claimed several breaches, including a failure to comply with the ordinance. A suit by the city for damages allegedly caused by the breaches was settled with no admission of wrongdoing and with an agreement specifying that the settlement was to have no impact on the employees’ suit, which was filed three weeks after the city terminated the agreement.
In denying class certification, Duffy-Lewis said the plaintiffs failed to establish a well-defined community of interest and to demonstrate the superiority of a class action over individual adjudications, in part because some class members worked on the DWP contract at least 20 hours per month, as required by an administrative regulation implementing the ordinance, and others did not.
But Perluss said that difficulty was not insurmountable.
The presiding justice, noting that the plaintiffs are challenging the validity of the 20-hour regulation, said the appropriate means of resolving the class issue is to divide the workers into two subclasses, one made up of those who worked 20 hours or more each month on the contract and the other of workers who worked on the contract less than 20 hours per month during the applicable period.
“To the extent questions arise later in the litigation about how to determine which putative class members worked at least 20 hours per month on the DWP contracts, or whether their schedules varied from month to month, that burden falls on Cintas,” Perluss wrote. “It was Cintas’s business decision to commingle DWP items with those of other customers and to allow all employees to work on the items at each substation (for example, sorting, hanging, folding) as they were processed through the plant.”
The jurist also noted that the ordinance and implementing regulations require employers to provide the city with a list of all covered workers—identified by name, position, classification, and pay rate—and that the company certified as part of the contracting process that it would do so, so that it is proper to force the company to bear the burden of proof on issues regarding employee time spent on DWP work.
Perluss went on to say that the major issues in the case, including the applicability of the ordinance to the DWP contract, the extent to which Cintas did or did not comply, the validity of the 20-hour rule, the constitutionality of the ordinance, and whether the ordinance is preempted by state and/or federal law, are best resolved through a class action.
The case was argued on appeal by Michael Rubin of Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain for the plaintiffs and Diane L. Gibson of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey for Cintas. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs.
The case is Aguiar v. Cintas Corporation No. 2, 06 S.O.S. 5658.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company