July 17, 2015
Over the past several years, transit agencies throughout California have increasingly been hit with wage and hour class action lawsuits filed on behalf of transit operators. These class actions often allege that a transit agency’s route scheduling software does not fully account for all of the time that the operators are required to work in order to complete their routes. Even though the amount of alleged unpaid time can be fairly nominal for an individual operator, in the aggregate these claims present financial exposure in the millions of dollars if the case is certified as a class action. Several of these actions against transit agencies in California have recently been certified as class actions.
In Julie Peabody v. OCTA, AALRR reversed this trend and scored an important win in defeating class certification on behalf of OCTA. On July 7, 2015, Judge Josephine L. Staton of the United States District Court denied Plaintiff’s motion to certify a class of OCTA bus operators. Plaintiff had alleged that the OCTA’s “Hastus” scheduling software failed to compensate operators for time spent (a) turning in their buses at the end of the day, (b) reviewing bulletin boards at the beginning of the day, and (c) in meetings with supervisors. Plaintiff also alleged that OCTA buses routinely ran late and that the operators were not paid for this time. Plaintiff sought unpaid wages and attorney’s fees in excess of $10 million dollars.
The Court agreed with OCTA that the claims could not be certified as a class action. OCTA successfully argued that, because its scheduling software included time increments for non-driving tasks, the underlying question was whether OCTA allocated sufficient time for these tasks. Further, this question must be answered on an individual, case by case basis, for each operator and for each route driven, which is inappropriate in a class action framework.
Also, the Court agreed that OCTA’s practice of compensating operators for any work time beyond their scheduled route time via “exception timesheets” precluded class certification, since any operator’s failure to submit an exception timesheet was the result of the operator’s discretion. To the extent operators failed to submit exception timesheets, their failure to do so was not the result of any OCTA practice common to the entire class.
The Court emphasized that it is not sufficient for a plaintiff seeking class certification to simply suggest “common questions.” Instead, the Court held that to satisfy the commonality requirement of class actions, the relevant inquiry is “the capacity of a classwide proceeding to generate common answers apt to drive the resolution of the litigation.” The Court agreed with OCTA that a class action would not generate common answers to the questions of liability.
In light of the potential financial exposure, this ruling was a significant victory for OCTA. This ruling was also gratifying because Plaintiff’s counsel recently obtained a multi-million dollar settlement in a similar case brought against Alameda County Transit, and achieved class certification in currently pending cases brought against San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority and Santa Clara Transportation Authority.
Nate Kowalski, Paul Szumiak and Barbara Van Ligten handled the lawsuit on behalf of the OCTA. For more information about this case, please contact one of these attorneys.