Calling “seriously flawed” a lower court’s trial management plan which used sampling evidence to prove class liability and damages under California law, the California Supreme Court has vacated a $15-million judgment against the employer for overtime pay and remanded the case for a new trial on both liability and damages. Duran v. U.S. Bank National Ass’n, No. SC S200923 (May 29, 2014).

The high court’s decision highlights the difficult questions that arise in deciding how individual issues can be successfully managed in a complex class action in California. The Court did not reach any broad conclusion as to whether or when sampling should be available to prove liability in a class action; however, if sampling is used, it advised, the sample must not be too small, and the sample must be randomly selected.

Furthermore, the Court stated that statistical proof cannot be relied on to bar the presentation of valid defenses to either liability or damages, even if the alternative would require adjudication of a defense on an individual level. If the trial proceeds with a statistical model, a defendant accused of misclassification must be given a chance to impeach that model or otherwise show that its liability is reduced because some plaintiffs were properly classified.

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