Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc.: Employer's Perspective

CitationVol. 28 No. 5
Publication year2014
AuthorBy P. Derek Petersen
Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc.: Employer's Perspective

By P. Derek Petersen

Derek Petersen, an attorney in Perkins Coie's litigation practice, focuses his practice on complex class action cases. He has defended companies in employment class action matters dealing with independent contractor misclassification and Labor Code claims. Mr. Petersen has also represented clients in a broad range of other business disputes. His firm represented the defendant in Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc.

The California Supreme Court's decision in Ayala v. Antelope Valley Newspapers, Inc.1 reaffirmed and clarified the principles governing class certification and independent contractor status, but it does not represent a significant change in the law. The court left many questions unanswered, including whether certification will ultimately be appropriate in Ayala itself. This article explains what the supreme court's narrow decision does, and what it does not do.

What the Court Did

The plaintiffs in Ayala are a putative class of newspaper carriers for the Antelope Valley Press, a daily newspaper. They allege that they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, and that, as a result, the newspaper has violated various provisions of the Labor Code. The trial court denied class certification, finding significant variations among the carriers with respect to the factors that determine independent contractor status. After the court of appeal reversed, the California Supreme Court granted review.

The supreme court affirmed the trial court's denial of class certification for overtime, meal break, and rest break claims, which were found to be unmanageable on a class-wide basis.2 In doing so, the court recognized that variability in evidence necessary to establish liability for the substantive Labor Code claims (like proving meal period violations) may warrant denial of class certification—regardless of whether the employee/independent contractor status question could be manageably tried on a class-wide basis.

The court also confirmed that plaintiffs bear the burden to prove that questions of law or fact common to the class predominate over the questions affecting individual members. "The ultimate question," the court explained, "is whether the issues [that] may be jointly tried, when compared with those requiring separate adjudication, are so numerous or substantial that the maintenance of a class action would be advantageous to the judicial...

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