A California Court of Appeal Permits Class Action Regarding Independent Contractor Status But Affirms Denial of Class Certification For Unpaid Overtime and Meal and Rest Period Violations
A new case presents a mixed bag of results for California employers. As a general matter, California employers should be careful when classifying individuals as independent contractors, rather than employees. Reversing the denial of class certification in an action for various Labor Code violations, a California Court of Appeal held that whether newspaper delivery carriers were independent contractors or employees of the newspaper was amenable to class action treatment through common proof. Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc., No. B235484 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2012). However, the Court affirmed the denial of class certification on the carriers’ claims for unpaid overtime and meal and rest period violations because such claims would require individual factual assessments.
This case provides employers with guidance regarding defending against wage hour class actions. Significantly, the appellate court held certain issues, such as payment of overtime or provision of meal or rest periods, are highly individualized since they depend on how many hours per day and week individuals work. The Court indicated such inquiries may render class certification inappropriate. Where the Court is being asked to examine the nature of a particular job and the employer’s control, the Court noted such issues may lend themselves to class treatment. There are many more issues in this case and employers should also be weary that the case could be appealed by either or both parties.