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Cal. Supreme Court Issues Opinion in Reid v. Google, Rejecting Strict Application of Stray Remarks Doctrine in Cal. Discrimination Cases

In Other Cases of Interest on August 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm
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The California Supreme Court today issued its decision in Reid v. Google.  The Court rejected strict application of the stray remarks doctrine in California discrimination cases.  Under this doctrine, statements that non-decision-makers make or that decision makers make outside of the decisional process are deemed stray, and they are irrelevant and insufficient to avoid summary judgment.

Plaintiff Brian Reid filed an age discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Google, Inc. The trial judge, Hon. William J. Elfving, granted Google‘s summary judgment motion relating to plaintiff‘s claims. The Court of Appeal reversed.

The Court decided two issues:

  1. Does a trial court‘s failure to rule on a party‘s evidentiary objections relating to a summary judgment motion waive the objections on appeal?
  2. Should California courts follow the federal courts in adopting the stray remarks doctrine in employment discrimination cases?

The Court of Appeal found that the trial court’s failure to issue express rulings on evidentiary objections did not waive those objections on appeal.  And the Court of Appeal further refused to apply the stray remarks doctrine to exclude alleged discriminatory statements that Reid‘s supervisors and coworkers made.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal’s conclusions:

Regarding the waiver issue, the Court of Appeal correctly determined that a finding of waiver does not depend on whether a trial court rules expressly on evidentiary objections and that Google‘s filing of written evidentiary objections before the summary judgment hearing preserved them on appeal. (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subds. (b)(5), (d).)  After a party objects to evidence, the trial court must then rule on those objections. If the trial court fails to rule after a party has properly objected, the evidentiary objections are not deemed waived on appeal.

Regarding the stray remarks issue, the Court of Appeal also correctly determined that application of the stray remarks doctrine is unnecessary and its categorical exclusion of evidence might lead to unfair results.

Robin Weideman of the California Labor & Employment Law Blog gives a nice analysis of the stray remarks portion of today’s ruling.

The attorneys for plaintiff and appellant were Barry L. Bunshoft, Ray L. Wong, Paul J. Killion, Lorraine P. Ocheltree, Eden E. Anderson and Allegra A. Jones.  Charlotte E. Fishman for California Employment Lawyers Association filed an Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.  Thomas W. Osborne, Melvin Radowitz and Barbara A. Jones for AARP also filed an Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

The attorneys for defendant and respondent were Fred W. Alvarez, Marina C. Tsatalis, Amy K. Todd, Marvin Dunson III, Koray J. Bulut, Elizabeth C. Tippett, Jeanna Steele, Gary M. Gansle of Wilson Sonsini and Paul W. Cane, Jr. of Paul Hastings.  Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland and Robert A. Olson for Association of Southern California Defense Counsel filed an Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.  Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe‘s Gary S. Siniscalco, Patricia K. Gillette, Greg J. Richardson and Lynne C. Hermle on behalf of the Employers Group and California Employment Law Council also filed an Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent. Jonathan B. Steiner, Jay-Allen Eisen, Jon B. Eisenberg, Dennis A. Fischer, Steven L. Mayer, Robert A. Olson, Douglas R. Young, and Robin Meadow also filed an Amicus Curiae.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Central District Approves $4,385,000 and 30% Attorney Fee Award in Class Settlement of Cicero v. DirecTV, Inc.

In Attorney's Fees, Class Actions, Settlement on August 5, 2010 at 10:47 am
A standard DirecTV satellite dish with Dual LN...
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Judge Avern Cohn of the Central District of California approved a wage and hour class settlement in Cicero v. DirecTV, Inc., 2010 WL 2991486 (C.D. Cal. July 27, 2010) (not reported).  Judge Cohn approved a payout fund to class members of $4,385,000, a 30% attorney fee award of $1,950,000 to class counsel, and incentive awards of $7,500 and $5,000 the representative plaintiffs.

The class action claimed violations of California’s wage and hour laws.  The named plaintiffs are former satellite television installation and service technicians who brought this case individually and on behalf of all other similarly situated current and former satellite installation and/or service technicians against their former employers Mountain Center, Inc., and Ironwood Communications Inc. (currently DirecTV, Inc. doing business as DirecTV Home Services, collectively “Defendant”) for allegedly violating California’s labor and unfair competition laws. Named Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant violated applicable provisions of the Industrial Welfare Commission’s (“the IWC”) Wage Orders, the Labor Code, and the Business and Professions Code by: (1) failing to provide employees duty-free meal periods; (2) failing to reimburse employees for tools necessary to the performance of the employees’ work; (3) failing to pay wages for all hours worked, including hours worked in excess of eight per day and forty per week; (4) failing to pay all wages owed employees upon termination of the employment relationship; and (5) failing to provide accurate wage statements.

The parties engaged in two mediations of the matter before the Hon. William Cahill (Ret.) in March, 2009, and subsequently before the Hon. Diane Wayne (Ret.).

The Court approved the attorneys’ fees request, which represented 30% of the total gross settlement amount.  The Court noted that:

California recognizes the common fund doctrine for the award of attorneys’ fees. Under California and Ninth Circuit precedent, a court has discretion to calculate and award attorneys’ fees using either the lodestar method or the percentage-of-the-fund method. Wersha v. Apple Computer, Inc., 91 Cal.App. 4th 224, 253 (2001); Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir.2002). The Court, in its discretion, finds that the percentage method is a fair, reasonable, and appropriate method for awarding attorneys’ fees in this case. . . .

Overall, although this percentage is slightly higher than the 25% benchmark for fees in class action cases, it is consistent with other wage and hour class actions where the recovery is less than $10 million. Moreover, there have been no objections to the amount of attorneys’ fees. The Court therefore finds that the amount of attorneys’ fees is warranted by the complexity of the case and Class Counsel’s dedication of extraordinary time and resources to the prosecution of this claim.

Id. **6-7.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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