Broad Scope of Standing Available for California Employees in PAGA Suits

by | January 12, 2019 | Wage & Hour

California’s Private Attorney General Act of 2004 (“PAGA”) has provided employees injured by their employer’s Labor Code violations with an opportunity to seek statutory penalties on behalf of him or herself and on behalf of other aggrieved employees.  This law famously allows an individual employee to stand in the shoes of the government agency that enforces the Labor Code and assert the rights of all injured employees, providing employees with a powerful tool against their employers.

However, courts and parties have long disagreed about whether it is necessary for the employee bringing the PAGA action to have been injured by each and every Labor Code violation asserted in the lawsuit.  For example, an employee who was denied overtime pay may also be aware that her employer maintains unsafe working conditions for another group of employees.  May the employee’s lawsuit based on the denial of overtime pay also include causes of action for the unsafe working conditions, even though that employee was not injured by those conditions?

Typically, a plaintiff only has standing to assert claims and seek damages for misconduct that has actually injured the plaintiff personally.  However, a government agency may, of course, enforce the Labor Code and seek penalties for violations that did not impact the agency itself but impacted the entity’s employees.  Therefore, when this issue arose in PAGA cases, some courts dismissed certain causes of action that did not personally impact the plaintiff in the case, while other courts allowed the full case to go forward.

On May 23, 2018, in Huff v. Securitas Security Services, USA, Inc., the California Court of Appeal (Sixth Appellate District) sided with employees.  The Court of Appeal held that “any Labor Code penalties recoverable by state authorities may be recovered in a PAGA action by a person who was employed by the alleged violator and affected by at least one of the violations alleged in the complaint.”

Pointing to the legislature’s declared “goal of achieving maximum compliance with state labor laws,” the Court of Appeal explained that “it would make little sense to prevent a PAGA plaintiff (who is simply a proxy for state enforcement authorities) from seeking penalties for all the violations an employer committed.”  This case paves the way for employees to assert claims of individualized injuries both for themselves and on behalf of other employees who suffered different injuries.  The case also increases the incentive for employers take extra care to ensure full compliance with California’s laws that protect its workers.

If your employer has violated the Labor Code, you should consult an attorney specializing in employment law and civil litigation such as the attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp to determine whether you may have a viable PAGA case.