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California's Top Court Protects Worker Rights

AARP’s friend-of-court brief asked the California supreme court to preserve the use of statistical evidence by class members as a critical mechanism to enable the vindication of important labor rights. In a decision largely viewed as benefitting employees the court laid out a framework for the use of statistical evidence in most class actions.

Background

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court handed workers a stunning defeat when in Dukes v. Wal-Mart it denied a class action for 1.5 million current and former female employees of Wal-Mart. That ruling’s repercussions under various federal and state anti-discrimination laws, as well as other civil and consumer rights laws, is still being felt. The Court’s criticism of “trial by formula” is at the forefront of state law cases in several states, including California.

Duran v. U.S. Bank is a class action involving claims by employees of U.S Bank that they were underpaid because the bank misclassified them as outside salespersons exempt from California’s overtime laws and were thus unlawfully denied overtime pay. The state court of appeal reversed a $14 million judgment for plaintiffs and decertified the class, holding that the trial court relied on improper proof of aggregate damages and deprived the Bank of the opportunity to question absent class members concerning their claims.

The California supreme court held that although the statistical evidence used in this case was flawed, statistical evidence could be used in many class action cases to prove labor violations. The court further set out a framework for using statistical evidence that will be useful to employees in many class actions while allowing employers the right to impeach statistical models and evidence.

AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys joined the Impact Fund and other organizations that advocate for the rights of workers and minorities in arguing the use of aggregate data like employee surveys and statistics are critical to prove violations of employees rights. Additionally, courts around the country make use of a variety of techniques to manage class-wide evidence without resorting to mini-trials of each class member’s claim and do so without violating due process rights of defendants.

What’s at Stake

The repercussions of the Duke decision continue to be felt, and as feared, are reverberating through not only federal causes of action, but even through state claims in those states with far greater protections than workers and consumers enjoy under federal law. AARP has filed briefs in cases in California and Pennsylvania, and will continue to work to see that the erosion of worker and consumer rights is minimized and turned back.

Case Status

Duran v. U.S. Bank was decided by the Supreme Court of California.