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March 2013 Archives

Random sampling no shortcut for class action certification

Continuing to crack down on overtime class actions, a California appellate court has ruled that random employee sampling cannot establish cases as class actions if the entire class of employees is not provably similar. In Dailey v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., a group of Sears' auto center managers and assistant managers tried to bring a class action for unpaid overtime and denied meal and rest breaks. Sears had characterized the managers as salaried and therefore exempt from overtime requirements. The managers argued they all performed substantially the same jobs and therefore their case should proceed as a class action. But Sears showed that, despite their uniform job titles and set salaries, the managers in fact performed different job duties depending on the stores in which they worked. The managers tried to establish commonality among their claims, a necessary element for class actions, by having an expert sample a group of them to show they all did the same thing. But while sampling has been allowed to establish damages in class actions, courts have been reluctant to let it establish the foundational elements of a class action case. The Dailey court was no exception. In rejecting the Sears managers' attempt to certify their case as a class action, the court held that if sampling could be used to establish foundational class action requirements, "it is hard to imagine that any proposed class action would not be certified." Dailey follows other cases that have recently rejected sampling in class actions, including Duran v. U.S. Bank National Assn. They are part of a continuing trend of courts imposing ever stricter standards for class action cases.

Mothers can receive additional pregnancy leave as a disability accommodation

Employers cannot reflexively fire working mothers who exhaust the four months of leave they are entitled to under California's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law ("PDLL"). Even if they have used all their PDLL leave, mothers can still be entitled to additional time off as a reasonable disability accommodation. In Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., an employee was placed on bed-rest shortly into her pregnancy and was unable to continue working. The employee used all of her PDLL leave by July 2009, but her baby was not due until October. The employer promptly fired the employee at the expiration of her PDLL leave, arguing that it could not be held liable for any wrongdoing if it gave the employee the full leave she was entitled to under PDLL. But the appellate court disagreed, holding that PDLL was intended to expand working mothers' leave rights, not restrict them. Since mothers are already entitled to leave under other laws as a reasonable disability accommodation, they should still be entitled to that same leave, notwithstanding what is available under PDLL. What leave constitutes a reasonable disability accommodation is a fact-specific inquiry that depends on numerous factors (e.g., size and nature of the workplace, duration of leave, etc.). So employers who reflexively fire mothers at the expiration of PDLL leave can potentially be liable for wrongful termination and failure to accommodate, in addition to other claims.

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