California is infamous for its hostility towards employers. On May 23, the California Supreme Court continued on its unwavering mission to solidify that well-earned reputation by issuing a 45-page decision in Naranjo et al. v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc., a case we have been closely monitoring at Blank Rome.
For context, the failure to pay wages in California triggers not only an award of those unpaid wages, but potentially steep and costly statutory and civil penalties as well, including so-called: (1) “waiting time penalties”—up to 30 days’ wages for former employees; and (2) “wage statement penalties” when the unpaid wages render the employee’s pay stub inaccurate. Wage statement penalties start at $50 for the first violation and rise to $100 for subsequent violations. When claims are brought on a classwide basis, these penalties can become astronomical, as they are all assessed on a per-employee, per-pay-period basis.
While talking heads focused on the debates heating up in Houston last week, the California Supreme Court on Thursday put an end to a nearly five-year debate regarding the permissible scope of recovery and arbitrability under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”), a statute that has left employers in the Golden State scratching their heads for over a decade.
On September 12, 2019, California’s highest court held that “underpaid wages” are not recoverable under PAGA. The decision, ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court (“Lawson”), marks big changes in the wild-west of PAGA litigation, yet many key questions remain unanswered.
You May Ask Yourself, Well, How Did I Get Here?
Ahh, PAGA. Where to begin? For the last 15 years, PAGA has allowed private citizens to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner, essentially turning “aggrieved” employees into bounty-hunters for the State’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”). Specifically, PAGA litigants are authorized to recover civil penalties on behalf of the State for certain Labor Code violations, which would otherwise be recoverable only by the Labor Commissioner. If successful, employees receive a 25 percent share of civil penalties recovered, with the remaining 75 percent going to the LWDA. And one other thing, PAGA allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs, which are often exponentially larger than the underlying civil penalties and statutory damages recovered—leaving no surprise as to why PAGA has become such a popular vehicle for plaintiffs’ attorneys. Continue reading “Once in a Lifetime? Rare Battle Won for Golden State Employers—but the PAGA War Rages On”