California Employers’ Winning Streak in ‘Suitable Seating’ Cases Continues in Latest Appellate Decision

On February 18, 2022, a California appellate courtroom issued the most recent steering in the persevering with saga of statewide “suitable seating” litigation, cementing a big trial victory for grocers, retailers, and different employers throughout California. The attraction arose in LaFace v. Ralphs Grocery Co., the primary suitable-seating case to proceed to trial following the California Supreme Court docket’s determination in Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., which examined, as a matter of first impression, employers’ obligations to supply appropriate seating to workers underneath the California Industrial Welfare Fee’s (IWC) wage orders. Part 14, the suitable-seating provision discovered in many of the wage orders, requires employers to supply appropriate seating in two circumstances: (1) when the character of the work moderately permits the usage of seats (part 14(A)), and (2) when an worker will not be actively engaged in duties that require standing, or, because the courtroom described the requirement, throughout “lulls in operation” (part 14(B)).

In LaFace, the California Court docket of Attraction, Second Appellate District, addressed two important points. First, the appellate courtroom dominated that, underneath part 14(B) of IWC Wage Order 7, an employer doesn’t have to supply seating the place the employer’s expectation for workers to maintain busy and never stand round means there isn’t any purposeful “lull” in duties that might require the employer to supply seating. Second, the courtroom held that appropriate seating claims and different claims for penalties underneath the Non-public Attorneys Normal Act (PAGA) are usually not entitled to a jury trial.

Within the trial courtroom, plaintiff Jill LaFace challenged Ralphs Grocery Co.’s apply of not offering seating to cashiers, claiming that cashiers may moderately carry out their cashiering duties whereas seated and that the corporate was additionally obligated to supply seats for cashiers to make use of throughout “lulls in operation.” After a three-week bench trial, Choose Patricia Nieto of the Superior Court docket of Los Angeles County discovered that the proof overwhelmingly confirmed that the character of the work didn’t allow sitting as a result of “Ralphs cashiers continuously perform work that should or even must be performed while standing.” Choose Nieto additionally discovered that Ralphs had no obligation to supply seating to be used throughout “lulls in operation” as a result of Ralphs cashiers have been anticipated to stay busy between clients.

On attraction, LaFace challenged the latter a part of the trial courtroom’s determination—i.e., whether or not part 14(B) required Ralphs to supply seating for grocery cashiers in affordable proximity to their work areas to be used after they weren’t actively testing buyer orders. The appellate courtroom agreed with Choose Nieto that the absence of shoppers in line didn’t represent a “lull in operation” underneath part 14(B) as a result of the undisputed proof at trial was that cashiers have been required to carry out an assortment of duties when not serving to clients. When not serving to clients, Ralphs cashiers have been anticipated to and have been required to “fish” for brand new clients, straighten and prepare magazines and merchandise in checkstand lanes, run merchandise again to their aisles, restock merchandise, and assist different cashiers and departments with their duties, amongst quite a lot of different duties. As such, Ralphs anticipated its cashiers to be actively working whereas clocked in and there was no “lull” in duties that might set off an obligation to supply seating underneath part 14(B). In ruling that seating was not required, the courtroom made clear that workers couldn’t manufacture part 14(B) claims by avoiding their anticipated job duties, reminiscent of by remaining at their checkstands or checking their telephones, as a substitute of performing their anticipated job duties.

This determination can also be notable because the courtroom, for the primary time in PAGA’s eighteen-year historical past, addressed the query of whether or not the California Structure supplies any proper to a jury trial in PAGA lawsuits. The courtroom held it didn’t, counting on the supreme courtroom’s 2020 determination in Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc. v. Superior Court docket, which discovered {that a} constitutional proper to a jury trial didn’t exist with regard to claims introduced underneath California’s Unfair Competitors Legislation and False Promoting Legislation. The courtroom discovered that PAGA is much like these legal guidelines, as all of them present statutorily created equitable rights and treatments unavailable at widespread regulation that have been by no means contemplated by the California Structure to be topic to a proper to a jury.

Key Takeaways

The LaFace determination highlights that the suitable-seating provisions underneath the IWC’s wage orders are topic to essential limitations, together with limits based mostly on employers’ affordable work expectations. Furthermore, employers might take pleasure in important benefits when PAGA claims proceed to trial earlier than judges, somewhat than juries.

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