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California Court Rules Class Action Suit is allowed to Determine Employment Status of Newspaper Carriers – Las Vegas Employment Law Attorney Andre Lagomarsino

The California Court of Appeals has held that whether newspaper delivery carriers are independent contractors or employees is a question amenable to class action treatment. Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc., No. B235484 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2012). However, the Appellate Court refused to allow a class certification for the carriers’ Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims regarding unpaid overtime and meal and rest period violations.

Maria Ayala, Rosa Duran, and Osman Nuñez were newspaper delivery carriers for the Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc. Before working as carriers, Antelope Valley required all potential carriers to sign an Independent Contractor Distribution Agreements. The IC Agreement required hired carriers to use certain types of colored bags for certain printed products. It also prohibited hired carriers from delivering the newspaper with any unapproved printed products or inserting the newspaper into unapproved wrappings or containers. Hired carriers furnished their own transportation and were required to give Antelope Valley proof of driver’s licenses, social security numbers, and automobile and workers’ compensation insurance.

After being hired, Ayala, Duran, and Nunez filed suit claiming they were not independent contractors but employees of Antelope Valley. As such, they were entitled to overtime and periods to eat meals and rest. The carriers also claimed for reimbursement of business expenses, unlawful wage deductions, and wage statement and payroll records violations. The carriers moved for class certification. After the trial court denied the request for class certification on all counts, the carriers appealed.

The Court of Appeals thus considered the issue of whether common issues regarding the carriers’ employment status predominated such that class certification was required. In examining the IC Agreement and other documents, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court erred in denying class certification because common questions existed regarding whether Antelope Valley exercised sufficient control over the carriers’ work, when and where they performed the services, and how they performed the services. That Antelope Valley presented evidence which contradicted the carrier’s evidence on whether certain policies existed was irrelevant to denying class certification since the fact that there were contradictions was a common issue to all the carriers.

The Court of Appeals held that the carriers’ claims for reimbursement of business expenses, unlawful wage deductions, wage statement and payroll records violations turned on whether the carriers were employees and would be appropriate for class certification. The Court ordered the trial court to certify a class on these claims, unless it determined that individual issues predominated, or that class treatment was not appropriate for other reasons. The Court of Appeals held that because the number of hours the carriers worked each day and week varied significantly, the carriers’ claims for unpaid overtime and meal and rest period violations, class certification was denied.

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