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Posts Tagged ‘Northern District of California’

After Bench Trial on UCL Claim, Northern District Finds “On-Job Supervisor” Properly Classified as Exempt Under Administrative Exemption

In Administrative, Exemptions on September 23, 2010 at 10:20 pm
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District Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California conducted a bench trial of plaintiff’s overtime claim under the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and found that defendant UPS met its burden of proving that plaintiff was properly classified as falling within the administrative exemption in his role as “On-Job Supervisor”.  Lopez v. United Parcel Service, Inc., C 08-05396 SI, 2010 WL 3630619 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2010).

Background

Plaintiff Ben Lopez sued defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. (“UPS”) contending that UPS improperly classified him as an employee exempt from overtime compensation under California law. Id. *1. Read the rest of this entry »

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Northern District Approves 28.9% Fee Award in Wage and Hour Class Action Settlement

In 23(b)(3) Class, Attorney's Fees, Class Actions, Settlement on August 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm
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Judge Jeffrey S. White approved a wage and hour class action settlement of a non-reversionary $1.8 million, inclusive of $520,000 in attorneys fees, in Ozga v. U.S. Remodelers, Inc., No. C 09-05112 JSW, 2010 WL 3186971 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

Plaintiff filed a class action in the Alameda Superior Court on February 17, 2009, alleging that Defendant U.S. Remodelers Inc. violated the California Labor Code and violated California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders by: (1) requiring its Installer employees to work substantial amounts of time without compensation; (2) regularly failing to provide Installers with meal and rest periods; and (3) refusing to reimburse expenses that Installers incurred in the performance of their work duties, including travel expenses and equipment costs.

Defendant removed the action to this Court, and Plaintiff subsequently moved to remand.  But before the hearing on the motion to remand, the parties reached a settlement, which was facilitated, in part, by a mediation that occurred on October 1, 2009, before Michael Loeb.  The parties also engaged in some discovery, and Class Counsel interviewed a number of Settlement Class members.

The Court finds that the terms of the Settlement are fair, adequate and reasonable. As noted, the settlement was reached after the parties engaged in discovery, conducted a meditation, and continued to engage in arms-length negotiations. The parties agreed to a Settlement payment of $1,800,000.00, none of which will revert to the Defendant. The overall reaction to the settlement has been positive. The Claims Administrator has received 156 claim forms from the 270 Class Members. (Id., ¶¶ 20-21.) Neither the Claims Administrator nor the Court received any objections to the Settlement. No Class Member appeared at the final approval hearing to object. According to the Claims Administrator, assuming the Court were to grant in full Plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs and service awards, approximately $1,108,917.72 would be available to distribute Class Members who submitted timely claim forms, for an average award of just over $7,000. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)

The Court approved costs to be paid to the Claims Administrator of $10,000.00 from the Settlement Fund.

Attorneys Fees, Costs, and Service Awards

Plaintiff brought an unopposed fee application, seeking $600,000.00 in attorneys’ fees, $11,274.89 in costs, and $10,000.00 in service awards to him and to class member Boris Moskovich.

Plaintiff’s counsel sought an award of attorneys’ fees based on the percentage method, asking for 33 1/3% of the Settlement Fund.  The court agreed to depart from the 25% benchmark.  See Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043, 1047 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that 25% is benchmark and “usual” range of awards is 20-30%); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1029 (9th Cir. 1998) (stating that 25% is benchmark).  But the court would not vary from the benchmark to the degree requested by counsel.

The Court concludes that counsel did achieve an excellent result for the class, that the reaction to the settlement has been overwhelmingly positive, and that Plaintiff faced significant risk in prosecuting this case given the uncertain state of California law in similar wage and hour cases. The Court also recognizes that other courts have awarded settlement fees of up to 33 1/3% in such cases. However, the parties reached this settlement quickly and did not engage in any motion practice. Seee.g.Navarro v. Servisair, 2010 WL 1729538 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 27, 2010) (finding that proposed award of 30% of settlement fund unjustifiably departed from benchmark based in part on speed with which parties reached a settlement). Moreover, the requested percentage would amount to award that is more than double the fees actually incurred by counsel. Compare Vasquez v. Coast Valley Roofing, Inc., 266 F.R.D. 482, 491 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (awarding 33 1/3% of settlement fund which was “significantly less” than asserted lodestar).

Thus the court found that an award of  $520,000.00 was reasonable.

The court found counsels’ requests for costs in the amount of $11,274.89 reasonable.

The court also approved service awards in the amount of $10,000.00 for the lead plaintiff and for a class member.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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Ninth Circuit Holds That Contracts Expressly Acknowledging Independent Contractor Status “Simply Not Significant” Under California’s Test of Employment”

In Employee/Independent Contractor on August 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm
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In Narayan v. EGL, Inc., — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 2735708 (9th Cir. July 13, 2010), the Ninth Circuit decided whether, assuming the existence of an employer-employee relationship in California, the employer may avoid its obligations under the Labor Code by inserting a clause in an employer-drafted pre-printed form contract in which: (1) the employee acknowledges that he is an independent contractor and (2) agrees that the contract would be interpreted in accordance with the laws of another jurisdiction where such an agreement is generally enforceable.  Judge Ronald M. Whyte of the Northern District of California found that declarations in the underlying agreements stating that the drivers were independent contractors rather than employees compelled the holding that the plaintiffs were indeed independent contractors as a matter of law.  Id. at *2.  Consequently, the district court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment.  The Ninth Circuit reversed.

EGL, the employer, is a global transportation, supply chain management and information services company incorporated under the laws of Texas and headquartered in Texas.  EGL’s services include, inter alia, “air and ocean freight forwarding, customs brokerage, [and] local pickup and delivery service.” Plaintiff drivers (the “Drivers”) were residents of California who were engaged to provide freight pick-up and delivery services for EGL in California. All three Drivers signed agreements with EGL for “Leased Equipment and Independent Contractor Services” (the “Agreements”). The Agreements provided that the “intention of the parties is to … create a vendor/vendee relationship between Contractor and [EGL],” and acknowledged that “[n]either Contractor nor any of its employees or agents shall be considered to be employees of” EGL. The terms of the Agreements provide, inter alia, that the Drivers “shall exercise independent discretion and judgment to determine the method, manner and means of performance of its contractual obligations,” although EGL retained the right to “issue reasonable and lawful instructions regarding the results to be accomplished.”  Id. at *1.

The Ninth Circuit noted the difficultly in overcoming the  Drivers’  prima facie case that the relationship was one of employer/employee. “This hurdle is particularly difficult for EGL to overcome in light of the second special consideration in this case, namely, the multi-faceted test that applies in resolving the issue whether the Drivers are employees.”  Id. at *4.

The Ninth Circuit described the multifactor approach to evaluating the:

indicia of an employment relationship, the most important of which is the “right to discharge at will, without cause.” Borello, 256 Cal.Rptr. 543, 769 P.2d at 404 (quoting Tieberg v. Unemployment Ins.App. Bd., 2 Cal.3d 943, 88 Cal.Rptr. 175, 471 P.2d 975, 979 (Cal.1970)). Borello endorsed other factors derived from the Restatement (Second) of Agency that may point to an employment relationship:  (a) whether the one performing services is engaged in a distinct occupation or business; (b) the kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision; (c) the skill required in the particular occupation; (d) whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work; (e) the length of time for which the services are to be performed; (f) the method of payment, whether by the time or by the job; (g) whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal; and (h) whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relationship of employer-employee.

Id. at *4.

The Court concluded that the “fact that the Drivers here had contracts ‘expressly acknowledging that they were independent contractors’ is simply not significant under California’s test of employment.” Id. at *8 (citing Borello, 256 Cal. Rptr. 543, 769 P.2d at 403 (“The label placed by the parties on their relationship is not dispositive, and subterfuges are not countenanced.”)).

The Court evaluated the various indicia of employment and concluded that:

Ultimately, under California’s multi-faceted test of employment, there existed at the very least sufficient indicia of an employment relationship between the plaintiff Drivers and EGL such that a reasonable jury could find the existence of such a relationship. Indeed, although it plays no role in our decision to deny summary judgment, it is not without significance that, applying comparable factors to those that we apply here, the Internal Revenue Service (at EGL’s request) and the Employment Development Department of California (at Narayan’s request) have determined that Narayan was an employee for federal tax purposes (applying federal law) and California Unemployment or Disability Insurance (applying California law), respectively.

Id. at *8.

UPDATE:

On August 5, 2010, the Ninth Circuit amended its holding, highlighted above.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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