After nine years in the legal system, an exorbitant amount of legal fees,
and hours upon hours of work, the matter of
James Cole v. CRST Inc.,
et al. has finally come to an end, at least for the time being. On March 31,
2017, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips granted summary judgment
to CRST, ending a lawsuit brought by James Cole on behalf of himself and
4,200 other truck drivers regarding CRST's labor practices.
On October 6, 2008, James Cole filed a putative class action lawsuit in
California Superior Court for the County of San Bernardino against his
employer, CRST Van Expedited, Inc., a motor carrier that transports freight
to customers across the country, in California Superior Court for the
County of San Bernardino. Cole alleged that he, along with 4,200 other
truck drivers, were, among other claims, not provided rest and meal breaks,
proper compensation for work performed, and not provided with itemized
wage statements. Although class certification was initially granted in
August 2010, Judge Phillips later reversed her original order and fully
decertified the class in 2016 after finding that Cole could no longer
satisfy the predominance requirement for class certification.
Despite losing on the issue of class certification, Cole continued to litigate
his individual claims against CRST. However, after all the dust had settled
over the years, the only real claims remaining were related to Cole's
allegations that he was not provided with meal and rest breaks, as well
as claims that he was not paid minimum wages for "nonproductive"
work performed. On March 31, 2017, in what many would likely consider
an anomaly, Judge Phillips adjudicated these remaining claims in favor
of CRST and against Cole by granting CRST's motion for summary judgment,
obliterating Cole's claims and ending the protracted litigation.
Under California Labor Code § 512, an employee is entitled to an uninterrupted/off-duty
meal period of not less than thirty (30) minutes if he or she is working
for more than five (5) hours per day, which may be waived by mutual consent
of employer and employee only if the employee is working for no more than
six hours. Additionally, a second uninterrupted meal period of thirty
(30) minutes must be given if the employee works more than ten (10) hours
per day. However, this second meal period may be waived, but only if a
statutorily compliant first meal period was taken.
In the instance that a full uninterrupted/off-duty meal period is not taken
or provided, the employee is entitled to a one hour premium wage rate
for each missed meal period. Furthermore, pursuant to
Brinker Restaurant Corporation, et al. v. Superior Court of San Diego County (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004 ("Brinker"), if an employer's records fail to show that a meal period was
given, there is a rebuttable presumption that the employee was not relieved
of all duty and no meal period was provided.
Regarding rest periods, California Industrial Welfare Order 4-2001 requires
that an employer authorizes and permits a ten (10) minute rest period
for each four (4) hour work period, or major fraction thereof. These rest
periods are counted as "time worked," and therefore, the employer
is required to pay for such periods.
Here, CRST argued that it encouraged and trained its drivers to not drive
more than five hours without taking a break and to take breaks if they
ever felt fatigued. In contrast, Cole argued that CRST did not do enough
to enforce their policy or police its employees to ensure that appropriate
meal and rest breaks were being taken. The court, relying on the rationale of
Brinker, tossed out Cole's claim as an employer is not obligated to police
its employees to make certain that meal and rest periods are being taken.
Indeed, the requirement in California is that an employer provide an opportunity
for the mandated breaks and do nothing to discourage or prevent the employee
from taking a meal or rest break.
In regards to Cole's claim that CRST had failed to pay him minimum
wage for all work performed, Cole argued that the compensation structure
of CRST, which utilized a piece-rate system, failed to account for "non-driving"
tasks he performed while on duty. In essence, Cole argued that he was
not paid for "nonproductive" time which is defined under Labor
Code Section 226.2 as "time under the employer's control, exclusive
of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity
being compensated on a piece-rate basis." In fact, this was the same
claim made in the recent case of
Ridgeway et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. et al. (Case No. 3:08-cv-05221) which resulted in a San Francisco jury awarding
Wal-Mart drivers $54 million based on Wal-Mart's alleged failure to
pay truckers for "nonproductive" work such as waiting to load/unload
their cargo, washing and fueling the trucks, and filling out forms.
Despite the parallel nature of the claims, Cole's minimum wage cause
of action was adjudicated in CRST's favor and never made it to a jury.
In granting CRST's motion, the court found that Cole had failed to
present any evidence of the specific hours in which he did not receive
a minimum wage.
Although CRST and its attorneys may be breathing a sigh of relief, any
celebration may be premature. Cole's attorneys have already indicated
that they will appeal the case to the Ninth Circuit Court based on the
belief that Judge Phillips erred in decertifying the class last year,
which had detrimental ramifications for Cole and pervaded the court's
summary judgment ruling in CRST's favor. It seems, that even after
nine years of litigating this case, the final of chapter of
James Cole v. CRST Inc.,
et al. has yet to be written.