California Appellate Court Finds Employees’ Motion Properly Denied

In Koval v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co. (2014) 232 Cal. App. 4th 1050 [2015 DJDAR 67], the California First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that plaintiffs failed to show Pacific Bell’s allegedly restrictive policies had been consistently applied to putative class members and denied class certification on the ground that common questions did not predominate over individual questions, making class action procedure an inappropriate method to resolve the dispute. Consistent with Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, the appellate court observed that while a uniform policy consistently applied can support certification, the existence of a uniform policy alone does not require certification in a wage-and-hour case. (In Brinker, the California Supreme Court clarified that an employer’s duty requires making uninterrupted meal periods and rest breaks available to its employees, but does not obligate the employer to ensure that they are taken.)

The Koval appellate court affirmed as “well within the permissible bounds of the lower court’s discretion” its determination that the underlying merits could not be determined on a class-wide basis. (Koval, supra, at 1059.) Presented with a class certification motion, a trial court must examine the plaintiff’s recovery theory, assess the legal and factual disputes likely to be presented, and decide whether individual or common issues predominate. (Koval, supra, at 1058, citing Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1021.) The existence of a uniform policy does not limit a trial court’s inquiry into whether class action treatment is appropriate in meal and rest break cases. (Id.) Even though Pacific Bell maintained uniform written policies, evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that supervisors inconsistently articulated the policies to class members. Each supervisor orally conveyed the policies to class members oral, resulting in diverse practices and differing rules interpretations. In other words, while a uniform policy may support class certification, a uniform policy alone is not enough and does not necessitate class certification in and of itself. The second prong of the Brinker test, requiring that the uniform policy be “consistently applied,” must be satisfied.

Moreover, consistent with the recent California Supreme Court decision in Duran v. U.S. Bank National Assn. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 1, Koval’s discussion of manageability issues gives an additional boost to California employers facing class certification motions: “Trial courts must pay careful attention to manageability when deciding whether to certify a class action. In considering whether a class action is a superior device for resolving a controversy, the manageability of individual issues is just as important as the existence of common questions uniting the proposed class.” (Koval, supra, at p. 1063, quoting Duran, supra, 59 Cal.4th at p. 29.)