California Bag Check Claims Can Proceed as Class Action

By Jonathan E. O’Connell, SHRM-SCP March 6, 2018
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​The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a former Eddie Bauer employee's request for class certification as to several of her claims over bag checks under California wage payment law. The court's holding certified as a class all current and former nonexempt retail employees who worked for the company throughout California at any time from Sept. 28, 2012, to the present.

The plaintiff was employed by the company as a retail salesperson from November 2013 until March 2016. In September 2016, on her own behalf, as well as on behalf of a class of employees, she filed suit alleging that the company failed to compensate its nonexempt retail employees for time spent conducting bag checks or security inspections when clocking out for a meal break, rest break or any other departure from work.

Although Eddie Bauer had a written policy in place regarding the inspections, such policy was silent as to whether the time spent conducting such inspections was considered compensable. An Eddie Bauer representative testified that it was the company's policy to train managers to conduct the bag checks while nonexempt employees were clocked in, thus ensuring that employees were paid for such time. However, the plaintiff testified that in practice "[e]verybody waited until after they clocked out" and then frequently had to wait for the manager to become available to conduct the inspection.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Compensation]

The plaintiff moved for class certification on a number of her claims. Eddie Bauer objected, asserting that many of the requirements necessary to establish class certification were not present—including that there were no "questions of law and fact common to the class." The company argued that a common-sense reading of the policy "makes clear that employees remain clocked-in while waiting for a manager and during the bag check itself"; thus, employees were not similarly affected by the policy. Rejecting the company's "strained reading" of the policy, the court concluded that "whether Eddie Bauer's policies required security checks to be conducted off-the-clock remains a common question capable of generating common answers."

Thus, the court ultimately concluded that class certification was appropriate.

Heredia v. Eddie Bauer LLC, N.D. Cal., No. 16-cv-06236 (Jan. 10, 2018).

Professional Pointer: In wage and hour litigation, it is not uncommon for damages for an individual employee to be relatively small in value. However, when a larger number of employees become involved via a class or collective certification, liability exposure often rises significantly. Handbooks should make clear that nonexempt employees should raise any questions about perceived violations of such policies to management immediately, so that these issues can be addressed as appropriate.

Jonathan E. O'Connell, SHRM-SCP, is a labor and employment attorney practicing with the federal government in Washington, D.C.

 

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