Employees can be in a tough spot when they have to get their jobs done, but aren’t supposed to have overtime. Two recent Court of Appeals decisions involving insurance adjusters who alleged they worked “off-the-clock” illustrate that point.
In Williams v. Superior Court, whether or not class should be certified has been decided three separate times. First, the trial court granted class certification on the issue of whether or not Allstate adjusters worked “off the clock” doing things such as logging into computers. Then they sided with Defendant, who said the issue should not be handled as a class, because individual issues were involved.
At the Court of Appeal level, the Court sided again with the insurance adjusters, in a decision that said that the allegation of a common practice was sufficient. The Court acknowledged both that some adjusters never worked off the clock, but declined to look into the merits of the claim at the class certification level. The ruled the class should have been certified.
Shortly before the appellate decision in Williams, a similar decision was made in Jones v. Farmers Insurance Exchange. However, in the Jones case, the trial court said the insurance adjusters’ claims for working while off the clock could not be handled as a class. Then the Court of Appeals ruled the lower court had abused its discretion in refusing to certify the policy question. Although trial courts have “great discretion” in ruling on class certification, because plaintiff’s theory of recovery was that Defendant’s policy denied payment for “computer sync time,” the trial court had abused its power in denying the case the ability to proceed as a class.
In the Jones case, the Court ruled that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Jones was not a sufficient class representative – because he had not filed a declaration stating he knew his fiduciary obligation to the whole class. But the appellate court ruled the class should have allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to name a different representative. Because the case involved common issues, having the class certified would benefit the Courts, because it’s more efficient to handle a bunch of claims in one fell swoop when possible.
Both cases illustrate that point that an in depth inquiry into the merits of an action are not necessary to decide whether or not an action can proceed as a class or not. What’s at issue are the employer’s policies regarding employees as a group.