Friday, September 13, 2019
California Supreme Court:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court held yesterday that unpaid wages are not civil penalties, recoverable in an action under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004.
Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar wrote the opinion for a unanimous court.
Under Labor Code §558—which predates PAGA—the labor commissioner may seek “a civil penalty as follows: [¶] (1) For any initial violation, fifty dollars ($50) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee was underpaid in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages. [¶] (2) For each subsequent violation, one hundred dollars ($100) for each underpaid employee for each pay period for which the employee was underpaid in addition to an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.”
The section also provides: “Wages recovered pursuant to this section shall be paid to the affected employee.”
Pursuant to PAGA, an employee may maintain a representative action, on behalf of the state, to gain civil penalties based on underpayment to that employee and to co-workers.
“What we conclude,” Cuéllar said, “is that the civil penalties a plaintiff may seek under section 558 through the PAGA do not include the ‘amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.’ Although section 558 authorizes the Labor Commissioner to recover such an amount, this amount––understood in context––is not a civil penalty that a private citizen has authority to collect through the PAGA.”
The jurist specified that “unpaid wages the Labor Commissioner recovers through section 558 are separate from and additional to, rather than thoroughly included within, the civil penalty a private plaintiff may recover in a PAGA action.”
He said that on remand to the San Diego Superior Court, the judge may strike plaintiff Kalethia Lawson’s unpaid wages claim or allow her to amend the complaint.
The case is Z.B. N.A. v. Superior Court, 2019 S.O.S. 2520.
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