In answering a question of first impression, the California Court of Appeals (2nd District) has given weight to the affirmative defense of manageability in California Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) litigation.
Manageability has long been a watchword for employers defending against PAGA litigation. In the case Wesson v. Staples the Office Superstore, LLC the Court found that inherent authority lies with the courts “to ensure that a PAGA claim will be manageable at trial – including the power to strike the claim, if necessary….”
This is an important ruling because the average PAGA case (if there is such an animal) can involve a significant number of employees claiming penalties for highly individualized issues (e.g., failure to receive meal and rest periods, overtime or compensation for working off-the-clock). Given that a single PAGA plaintiff may file a lawsuit on behalf of themselves and hundreds, if not thousands, of other aggrieved employees – without the burden of proving their own claim(s) are like the “others” they represent – manageability is a real issue. A case involving 500 or even 1,000 aggrieved employees could cause a case to drag on and on with witnesses for both sides testifying for days on end to either the “sameness” or “uniqueness” of the specific job classification at issue. All to give weight to the PAGA plaintiff’s claim(s) that all (or at least some) were similarly aggrieved. This was Wesson’s downfall.[i]
Unable to provide the lower court with a trial plan showing his PAGA action would be manageable at trial, the court concluded that the PAGA action could not be managed and found in favor of defendant Staples. The Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s ability to make such a ruling.[ii]
The Wesson case is a huge step forward from a PAGA litigation defense standpoint. It highlights the court’s unique ability to rule on the manageability of PAGA claims in a manner “not inconsistent with PAGA’s procedures and objectives, or with applicable precedent.”
[i] Based on the estimates provided by the parties it was determined by the lower court that a trial on the matter would have lasted eight years.
[ii] In affirming this decision the Court of Appeal provides the first published opinion considering a trial courts’ power to ensure the manageability of PAGA claims.