On July 24, 2007, the Third District Court of Appeal in California issued the attached decision, Arias v. Superior Court, — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2007 WL 2111017.  Click here to read the opinion.
At issue in Arias was whether an employee bringing an action on behalf of himself and others under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) must bring his representative claims as a class action. The Court concluded that the UCL requires that a representative claim be brought as a class action. However, the Court held that PAGA expressly allows a person to prosecute a representative claim without requiring that it be brought as a class action.
The Court held that, since PAGA actions are in the nature of enforcement actions, the aggrieved employee acts as a private attorney general to collect penalties from employers who violate labor laws. “Such an action is fundamentally a law enforcement action designed to protect the public and penalize the defendant for past illegal conduct. . . . Thus, both the purpose and the language of PAGA indicate an enforcement action on behalf of others need not be brought as a class action.” Id. at *6.
Based on the Arias decision, individual plaintiffs will have a much easier time asserting PAGA claims without the need to establish the prerequisites for class certification. This could open the door to civil penalties provided for under PAGA. The amount of such civil penalties could be substantial, including any penalty set forth in the violated Labor Code section, or $100 per aggrieved employee per pay period for each initial violation, and $200 per aggrieved employee per pay period for each subsequent violation.
Both of these issues are of potential interest to the California Supreme Court, and we will monitor any developments.
Keesal, Young & Logan Employment Group