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This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 08/15/2019 at 09:38:58 (UTC).

MONICA MEDA VS AUTOZONE INC ET AL

Case Summary

On 11/16/2017 MONICA MEDA filed a Contract - Other Contract lawsuit against AUTOZONE INC. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Stanley Mosk Courthouse located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are MICHELLE WILLIAMS COURT and DANIEL S. MURPHY. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****3600

  • Filing Date:

    11/16/2017

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Contract - Other Contract

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Stanley Mosk Courthouse

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

MICHELLE WILLIAMS COURT

DANIEL S. MURPHY

 

Party Details

Plaintiff and Petitioner

MEDA MONICA

Defendants and Respondents

AUTOANYTHING INC

AUTOZONE INC

DOES 1 TO 50

AUTOZONERS LLC

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff and Petitioner Attorneys

KINGSLEY ERIC B. ESQ.

KINGSLEY ERIC BRYCE ESQ.

Defendant and Respondent Attorneys

HOFFMAN MICHAEL

HOFFMAN MICHAEL A III

 

Court Documents

Case Management Statement

7/5/2019: Case Management Statement

Minute Order

7/22/2019: Minute Order

MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

3/1/2018: MEMORANDUM OF POINTS AND AUTHORITIES IN SUPPORT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

3/6/2018: CASE MANAGEMENT STATEMENT

Minute Order

3/20/2018: Minute Order

DECLARATION OF ARI J. STILLER IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

4/24/2018: DECLARATION OF ARI J. STILLER IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Minute Order

5/7/2018: Minute Order

NOTICE OF RELATED CASE

5/17/2018: NOTICE OF RELATED CASE

OBJECTION AND MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE TO NOTICE OF RELATED CASES

5/29/2018: OBJECTION AND MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE TO NOTICE OF RELATED CASES

Minute Order

6/14/2018: Minute Order

AMENDED NOTICE OF HEARING ON MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

6/26/2018: AMENDED NOTICE OF HEARING ON MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

AMENDED NOTICE OF HEARING ON MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

6/27/2018: AMENDED NOTICE OF HEARING ON MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Minute Order

8/20/2018: Minute Order

ORDER RE: MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

8/20/2018: ORDER RE: MOTION TO STAY PAGA ENFORCEMENT ACTION

Minute Order

2/2/2018: Minute Order

NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

12/12/2017: NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING

12/12/2017: ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING

REPRESENTATKVE ACTION COMPLAINT FOR:1. PENALTIES PURSUANT TO LABOR CODE 2699. ET SEQ. FOR VIOLATIONS OF LABOR CODE 1198 AND 1199

11/16/2017: REPRESENTATKVE ACTION COMPLAINT FOR:1. PENALTIES PURSUANT TO LABOR CODE 2699. ET SEQ. FOR VIOLATIONS OF LABOR CODE 1198 AND 1199

26 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 02/18/2020
  • Hearingat 08:30 AM in Department 32 at 111 North Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; Status Conference

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  • 07/23/2019
  • DocketNotice ( of Court's Continuance of Case Management Conference); Filed by MONICA MEDA (Plaintiff)

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  • 07/22/2019
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 32, Daniel S. Murphy, Presiding; Status Conference - Held - Continued

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  • 07/22/2019
  • DocketMinute Order ( (Status Conference)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 07/09/2019
  • DocketCase Management Statement; Filed by AUTOZONE INC (Defendant); AUTOZONERS, LLC (Defendant)

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  • 07/05/2019
  • DocketCase Management Statement; Filed by MONICA MEDA (Plaintiff)

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  • 09/14/2018
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 74; Hearing on Motion for Stay of Proceedings (MOTION - STAY PROCEEDINGS; Advanced to a Previous Date) -

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 09/14/2018
  • DocketMinute order entered: 2018-09-14 00:00:00; Filed by Clerk

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  • 08/20/2018
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department 32; Hearing on Motion for Stay of Proceedings - Held - Motion Granted

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  • 08/20/2018
  • DocketMinute order entered: 2018-08-20 00:00:00; Filed by Clerk

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63 More Docket Entries
  • 12/20/2017
  • DocketNotice; Filed by MONICA MEDA (Plaintiff)

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  • 12/20/2017
  • DocketNOTICE OF SERVING COURT'S NOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/20/2017
  • DocketNotice; Filed by MONICA MEDA (Plaintiff)

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  • 12/12/2017
  • DocketNOTICE OF CASE MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 12/12/2017
  • DocketNotice of Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

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  • 12/12/2017
  • DocketOSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Filed by Clerk

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  • 12/12/2017
  • DocketORDER TO SHOW CAUSE HEARING

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  • 11/16/2017
  • DocketREPRESENTATKVE ACTION COMPLAINT FOR:1. PENALTIES PURSUANT TO LABOR CODE 2699. ET SEQ. FOR VIOLATIONS OF LABOR CODE 1198 AND 1199

    Read MoreRead Less
  • 11/16/2017
  • DocketComplaint; Filed by MONICA MEDA (Plaintiff)

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  • 11/16/2017
  • DocketSUMMONS

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: BC683600    Hearing Date: January 11, 2021    Dept: 32

MONICA MEDA,

Plaintiff,

v.

AUTOZONE, INC., et. al.,

Defendants.

Case No.: BC683600

Hearing Date: January 8, 2021

order RE:

MOTION for summary judgment

Background

Plaintiff Monica Meda (Meda), on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, commenced this representative action against Defendants AutoZone, Inc. (AutoZone), AutoZoners LLC (AutoZoners), and AutoAnything, Inc. (AutoAnything) (collectively, Defendants) on November 16, 2017. The Complaint asserts one cause of action under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) for violations of Labor Code sections 1198 and 1199. Meda alleges that Defendants failed to provide Meda and other similarly situated employees with suitable seating pursuant to Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Order 7-2001 section 14.

In June 2018, the Court related this action to an earlier-filed lawsuit commenced by Meda entitled Meda v. AutoZone, Inc., et al. (Case No. BC667233). At the time, the related case was in arbitration. As such, the Court stayed the instant case until arbitration was completed in the related case.

On October 7, 2019, the Court granted Meda’s motion to lift the stay contingent on, among other things, the dismissal of AutoZone and AutoAnything in this case. Two days later, Meda dismissed AutoZone and AutoAnything from this action without prejudice.

Statement of Facts

Meda was employed at AutoZone as a part-time Sales Associate at AutoZone Store number 5224 located in Gardena, California from November 8, 2016 until her resignation on April 18, 2017. (DUMF 1.) As a Sales Associate, Meda was responsible for a variety of tasks, including assisting customers at the parts counter, retrieving parts, stocking shelves, operating cash registers, cleaning the store, moving the merchandise around the store, and stocking shelves. (DUMF 2.)

Since the first day of Meda’s employment, there were two stools located in the store. (DUMF 3.) The stools were kept in the manager’s station area in the store. (DUMF 4.) Meda had access to the manager’s area, an area that was not closed off and did not have a door. (DUMF 5.) The only places in the store where the use of the stools would have been useful, in Meda’s view, were the cash registers and the parts counter. (DUMF 6.) Both the registers and parts counter were located on elevated counters where a normally-sized chair would have been too low to be useful. (DUMF 7.)

Early in Meda’s employment, she dropped a battery on her foot and required a disability accommodation, namely, being allowed to sit at work. (DUMF 8.) Jaime Gomez (Gomez), Meda’s manager, granted the accommodation. (DUMF 9.) Meda did not have other communications with anyone else at AutoZone about the accommodation. (DUMF 10.) Meda did not recall whether the note said anything specifically about being allowed to sit, just that it talked about “light duty.” (DUMF 11.) During the period of Meda’s disability accommodation, she used one of the stools at the cash register, but only for a couple of days. (DUMF 12.) Meda did not recall whether the store manager offered to let her use the stool at the registers as part of her accommodation request. (DUMF 13.)

Other than using the stool during the first few days of her disability accommodation, Meda did not use a stool at the parts counter or the cash register. (DUMF 14.) At deposition, when asked why she stopped using the stool, Meda testified, “I was never given the option” and “I guess nobody made it known that I was — I had that option, that I was able to use a chair to sit down.” (DUMF 15.) Nobody told Meda that she was not allowed to use the stool other than in connection with her accommodation. (DUMF 16.) Nobody told Meda that she was not allowed to use the stools at the cash registers or the parts counter. (DUMF 17.) Meda testified that she formed the belief, however, that she was not allowed to use the stools other than in connection with her disability accommodation. (DUMF 18.) Meda’s basis for drawing this conclusion was that “[n]obody in the store — no other employees would ever sit down.” (DUMF 19; Meda Depo. pp. 34-35.)

Meda recalled that there was someone else who she saw at the store using a smaller black stool when stocking shelves. (Meda Depo. pp. 40-42.) Although Meda testified that she thought it was to accommodate the woman’s pregnancy, Meda admitted that she did not know how it came about that the employee was allowed to use the stool. (DUMF 21.) Other than her conversation with Gomez about the use of a stool in connection with her disability accommodation, Meda did not recall any other discussions with anyone at AutoZone about stools. (DUMF 22.)

Meda did not recall ever reporting her concerns she had regarding the stools or seating when she worked at AutoZone. (DUMF 23.) Meda had no reason for not making such a report. (Meda Depo. p. 37 (“No, there’s no reason.”).) When asked what Meda felt was problematic about the seating at the store, Meda testified, “[o]ther than the fact that it wasn’t provided and it wasn’t really known that it was an option, nothing else.” (DUMF 25.)

Meda was able to do all the jobs of a cashier while sitting on the stool. (DUMF 26.) Meda estimated that she spent about 40 percent of her time at the cash register. (DUMF 27.) She also estimated that she spent about 40 percent of her time working at the parts counter. (DUMF 28.) Meda estimated that, while at the parts counter, about half of her time was spent sitting at her computer compared to the time spent getting the parts. (DUMF 29.)

Discussion[1]

Defendant AutoZoners moves for summary judgment of Meda’s lone cause of action for PAGA penalties. AutoZoners contends that Meda cannot show that she has standing to maintain this cause of action because she is not an “aggrieved employee.”

To have standing under PAGA, a plaintiff must be an “aggrieved employee.” (See Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 745, 757.) PAGA defines an “aggrieved employee” as “any person who was employed by the alleged violated and against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.” (Lab. Code § 2699(c).)

A. Formulation of the Standing Question

The parties’ first dispute is how to formulate the standing question in this case.

AutoZoners argues that the standing requirement, as applied to this case, requires Meda to show that she “individually experienced” a violation of IWC Wage Order 7-2001 section 14(a). (Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC (review granted) (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 1068, 1102; Opp. at 9 (alleging that AutoZoners violated only section 14(a).) Section 14 of that wage order provides in full: “(A) All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. (B) When employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.”

Meda argues that the standing question is broader than whether she alone was provided with a seat. According to Meda, AutoZoners must show that all employees were provided with seats because the wage order refers to “all working employees.” Meda presents undisputed evidence that the AutoZone store where she worked had two stools and typically more than two employees working there at any one time. (DUMF 3, PUMF 1.)

Meda’s argument misses the mark. Regardless of the wage order’s reference to “all working employees,” Meda must still show that she is an “aggrieved employee” to pursue her PAGA claim. (Lab. Code § 2699(a), (c).) To show she is an “aggrieved employee,” she must show that she “individually experienced” or was “affected by” the wage order violation. (Donohue, supra, 29 Cal.App.5th at 1102 (emphasis added); Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 745, 757.) Meda does not individually experience or become affected by AutoZoners’s alleged failure to provide seating to “all working employees” generally. Meda must individually experience or be affected by AutoZoner’s alleged failure to personally provide her with seating.[2][3] Meda’s interpretation of the standing requirement reads the “aggrieved employee” requirement out of the statute.

B. Definition of “Provide”

AutoZoners does not dispute in this motion that the nature of Meda’s work “reasonably permits the use of seats.” Instead, AutoZoners contends that there was no violation of this wage order provision because it provided Meda with suitable seating.

To resolve this issue, the Court must determine what the definition of the word “provide” is as that term is used in the wage order.

Relying upon Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, AutoZoners argues that the word “provide” means “make available.” In Brinker, the California Supreme Court evaluated what it means for an employer to “provide” a nonexempt employee with a meal period. The employee argued that an employer is obligated to “ensure that work stops for the required thirty minutes,” and the employer argued that the employer is obligated only to “make available” meal periods. The California Supreme Court adopted the employer’s position. (See Dailey v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 974, 1000; Koval v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co. (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 1050, 1058.) Our High Court specifically held: “An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks under both section 512, subdivision (a) and Wage Order No. 5 is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”

Meda responds that Brinker is not analogous because an employer can “provide” a meal break by simply letting employees go on break. Meda states that “providing” suitable seating, by contrast, requires that “employees be both (1) informed of the availability of seating … and (2) that every employee who is entitled, receive a seat.” (Opp. at 13.)

The Court disagrees with Meda. Her interpretation of the word “provide” is not grounded in the language of the wage order (or any other law for that matter). The wage order does not impose an affirmative duty upon employers to inform employees of available seating. The wage order imposes a duty upon employers to “provide” suitable seating.[4]

Meda’s reliance on Godfrey v. Oakland Port Services Corp. (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 1267 is misplaced. There, the Court of Appeal assessed a meal period claim in light of Brinker. The Court of Appeal quoted extensively from the trial court opinion, stating in pertinent part:

“The recent Brinker decision provides two examples of unlawful discouragement — a scheduling policy that makes taking breaks ‘extremely difficult’ and creating an anti-meal-break policy enforced through ridicule or reprimand. The Class established both unlawful scenarios exist here....

“In addition, the evidence shows AB [i.e., the employer] neither maintained, nor provided drivers, any ‘formal’ meal period policy. The first example of unlawful discouragement provided in Brinker presumes the existence of a formal meal period policy. AB does not meet the ‘provide’ standard because it provided no evidence showing drivers were, at a minimum, informed in any meaningful or consistent way that they could take a meal period, or the definition of any such meal period. As AB had no meal period policy to ‘undermine,’ and the evidence presented shows that, beyond that, AB regularly discouraged the taking of legally protected breaks, AB has not shown it provided meal periods to the Class.

(Godfrey, supra, 230 Cal.App.4th at 1285.)

Godfrey is unavailing for, at least, two reasons.

First, the appellate court characterized this text as the “trial court’s findings in the [statement of decision] concerning meal and rest periods, which AB does not dispute were supported by substantial evidence.” (Emphasis added.) The appellate court cited this text to “understand the evidence with respect to liability” which would inform its review of “the trial court’s damages award.” In reciting the trial court’s findings, the appellate court did not purport to hold that an employer must inform employees of meal periods.

Second, Meda’s reliance on this text to show that an employer must inform employees of their right to take a meal break runs directly contrary to Dailey v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 974, 1001 which examined essentially the same issue:

In the trial court, Dailey [i.e., the employee] argued that Sears has no formal written policy regarding meals and rest breaks for its salaried employees at its auto centers, does not provide training on that subject to those employees, and does not keep track of whether those employees took their meal and rest breaks. Dailey cited the deposition testimony of several Sears corporate managers appearing to substantiate these assertions with respect to salaried managers, as opposed to hourly employees, for whom such policies apparently do exist. Dailey also submitted declarations from several proposed class members stating in identical language that they “did not regularly take an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period,” were “never even told [they were] allowed a meal period,” and were “never told that [they were] entitled to a 10–minute rest break.”

These submissions provide no evidence of a policy or widespread practice of Sears to deprive nonexempt employees of uninterrupted meal periods and rest breaks. Nothing in Dailey’s evidence indicates that Sears prohibits class members from taking uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, or that it has a uniform policy of requiring “on-duty” meal and rest breaks. Rather, the proposed class member declarations, at best, reveal that those individuals did not regularly take uninterrupted meal periods and personally were never told they were entitled to meals and rest breaks. Critically, these declarants do not aver that they are not free to take such breaks or that Sears requires them to be available for work during those periods.

(Dailey, supra, 214 Cal.App.4th at 1001 (emphasis added).)

In other words, Dailey found no meal break violation even though the employer never personally told its employees about their entitlement to take meal breaks. Dailey’s detailed analysis of this issue provides inferential support for the conclusion that this wage order’s suitable seating requirement also does not require employers to personally tell their employees about available seating.

Garvey v. Kmart Corp. (N.D. Cal., July 18, 2012, No. C 11-02575 WHA) 2012 WL 2945473, a non-binding district court case, is also distinguishable. There, the district court found that there was sufficient evidence to create an ascertainable class for purposes of a class action lawsuit alleging violation of the suitable seating requirement. In support of this finding, the district court pointed to, among other things, (1) testimony from Kmart’s HR director stating that associates are not provided seats and are not encouraged to sit, (2) evidence that requests for seats by cashiers were denied, and (3) the “little evidence showing that” Kmart’s seating policy “was actually told to cashiers.” The district court in Garvey cited the lack of disclosure as a factor in assessing a violation of a wage order. Garvey did not conclude that such disclosures were mandated. Moreover, the evidence in Garvey of a wage order violation was far more abundant than the present case.

In the absence of legal authority to the contrary, the Court agrees with AutoZoners that the word “provide” as used in this wage order means “make available” for the reasons set forth below.

First, Brinker is analogous in the sense that it too analyzed the word “provide” in the context of a wage order. Although providing a meal break is obviously not the same as providing a seat, the word “provide,” where possible, ought to be construed similarly. (See United Riggers & Erectors, Inc. v. Coast Iron & Steel Co. (2018) 4 Cal.5th 1082, 1090 (“To the extent possible, statutes relating to the same class of things, and sharing the same purpose or object, should be harmonized and construed similarly.”).)

Second, this definition makes perfect sense. Providing a seat to an employee logically entails means making that seat available to the employee. This definition also comports with the function of this suitable seating requirement — requiring employers to permit employees to take a seat when work conditions make it reasonable to do so.

Third, as Meda notes, the seminal case on this suitable seating requirement is Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (2016) 63 Cal.4th 1. There, the California Supreme Court examined several facets of this requirement but not the definition of the word “provide.” Nonetheless, Kilby is instructive because our High Court twice swaps the word “provide” for “available.”[5] Based on this language, a reasonable inference can be drawn that the High Court saw “provide” and “make available” as analogous in the context of these wage orders.

C. Whether AutoZoners Provided Suitable Seating

The final issue is whether AutoZoners made suitable seating available to Meda.

AutoZoners presents undisputed evidence that there were two stools located in the manager’s station area in the AutoZone store where Meda worked. (DUMF 3-4.) The provision of, at minimum, two stools for AutoZoner use (i.e., employee use) was company policy. (Stiller Decl. Ex. 4.) Meda had access to this station area. (DUMF 5.) Meda never asked anyone at AutoZone whether she could use the stools at the cash registers or the parts counters, i.e., the places where she believed stools would have been useful. (See DUMF 6, 22.) Further, nobody ever told Meda that she was not allowed to use the stools at the cash registers or parts counters. (DUMF 17.) Upon hurting her foot and needing a disability accommodation, her manager granted her a disability accommodation which allowed her to sit on one of the stools. (DUMF 8-9.) Meda sat on the stool for two days and was never told to stop doing so. (DUMF 12, 16.) Meda stopped doing so because “nobody made it known” to her that she could continue to do so. (DUMF 15.)

Based on this undisputed evidence, the Court agrees with AutoZoners that, as a matter of law, Meda cannot establish that AutoZoners failed to provide her with suitable seating. To reiterate, (1) AutoZone had a company policy of making stools available to employees like Meda, (2) Meda knew that two stools were located in the store, (3) Meda never asked AutoZoners whether she could use the stools, (4) nobody ever told Meda that she could not use the stools, (5) Meda was allowed to use a stool the only time that she ever expressed a desire to do so, and (6) Meda had access to the manger’s office where the chairs were located and there was no impediment to her using these chairs.

Meda’s responses to this evidence are founded on speculation or otherwise lack foundation. Her responses do not establish a triable issue of material fact.

For example, Meda claims that she was not allowed to use the stool other than in connection with her disability accommodation because “nobody in the store — no other employees would ever sit down.” (DUMF 18-19.) A similar rationale was considered and rejected in Dailey as insufficient to support a meal break claim: “[T]he proposed class member declarations, at best, reveal that those individuals did not regularly take uninterrupted meal periods and personally were never told they were entitled to meals and rest breaks.” The same is true here. This statement reveals, at best, that others did not sit down (not that they could not sit down as a matter of company policy) and that she personally was never told that she was entitled to sit. There is insufficient foundation to draw the conclusion that the company prohibited her from using one of the stools.

Meda claims that the fact that she had to request to sit as a disability accommodation calls into question AutoZoners’s claim that it provided suitable seating as a matter of course. The Court disagrees. A disability accommodation requiring seating is distinct from this wage order’s seating requirement because the former could presumably necessitate seating when the “nature of the work” does not reasonably permit it. In any event, the fact that Meda chose to ask to sit in the context of her disability accommodation and then voluntarily stopped doing so of her own volition is not proof that AutoZoners failed to provide employees seating outside of the disability accommodation setting. This claim rests, once again, on Meda’s speculation.

Meda claims that the stools were not readily accessible because they were located in the manager’s station area adjacent to raised workstations and one of them was in constant use by her manager. But Meda had full access to the manager’s station, could have used the stool not occupied by her manager, never mentioned her manager’s presence as an impediment (Pl. Depo. pp. 37-39), and never asked whether she could use the stools. Given these facts, Meda’s claim is speculative and insubstantial.[6]

Conclusion

AutoZoner’s motion for summary judgment is granted.


[1] AutoZoners’s objections to the Meda and Huerta Declarations are overruled.

[2] Notably, the wage order also states that “[e]very employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods.” (§ 12.) Case law, however, does not relieve the standing requirement with respect to employees asserting a rest period claim simply because an employer has violated this section with respect to other employees.

[3] Furthermore, assuming arguendo that Meda properly frames this standing question, her contention runs into the same problem discussed post. Namely, Meda has not presented evidence that AutoZoners failed to provide other similarly situated persons with suitable seating. To the contrary, if further seats were needed, AutoZoners’s written policy was that “additional stools” could be ordered “when needed.” (Stiller Decl. Ex. 4; see also PMK Depo. pp. 70-71.)

[4] The wage order requires employers to “keep a copy of” the wage order “posted in an area frequented by employees where it may be easily read during the workday.” (§ 22.) Doing so ostensibly gives employees sufficient notice of the wage order’s commands.

[5] (1) “In 1976, the IWC modified the relevant wage orders to expressly incorporate a reasonableness standard. Seating was to be made available ‘when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.’ ” (2) “Burden to Show Suitable Seating is Available.”

[6] At oral argument, Meda argued that a chair in a judge’s chamber, like a chair in a manager’s area, would not be accessible to a court employee. The court disagrees. In court it is common for a chair to be taken from chambers or the jury room if needed by a court reporter or other court employee.

Case Number: BC683600    Hearing Date: January 08, 2021    Dept: 32

MONICA MEDA,

Plaintiff,

v.

AUTOZONE, INC., et. al.,

Defendants.

Case No.: BC683600

Hearing Date: January 8, 2021

[TENTATIVE] order RE:

MOTION for summary judgment

Background

Plaintiff Monica Meda (Meda), on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, commenced this representative action against Defendants AutoZone, Inc. (AutoZone), AutoZoners LLC (AutoZoners), and AutoAnything, Inc. (AutoAnything) (collectively, Defendants) on November 16, 2017. The Complaint asserts one cause of action under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) for violations of Labor Code sections 1198 and 1199. Meda alleges that Defendants failed to provide Meda and other similarly situated employees with suitable seating pursuant to Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Order 7-2001 section 14.

In June 2018, the Court related this action to an earlier-filed lawsuit commenced by Meda entitled Meda v. AutoZone, Inc., et al. (Case No. BC667233). At the time, the related case was in arbitration. As such, the Court stayed the instant case until arbitration was completed in the related case.

On October 7, 2019, the Court granted Meda’s motion to lift the stay contingent on, among other things, the dismissal of AutoZone and AutoAnything in this case. Two days later, Meda dismissed AutoZone and AutoAnything from this action without prejudice.

Statement of Facts

Meda was employed at AutoZone as a part-time Sales Associate at AutoZone Store number 5224 located in Gardena, California from November 8, 2016 until her resignation on April 18, 2017. (DUMF 1.) As a Sales Associate, Meda was responsible for a variety of tasks, including assisting customers at the parts counter, retrieving parts, stocking shelves, operating cash registers, cleaning the store, moving the merchandise around the store, and stocking shelves. (DUMF 2.)

Since the first day of Meda’s employment, there were two stools located in the store. (DUMF 3.) The stools were kept in the manager’s station area in the store. (DUMF 4.) Meda had access to the manager’s area, an area that was not closed off and did not have a door. (DUMF 5.) The only places in the store where the use of the stools would have been useful, in Meda’s view, were the cash registers and the parts counter. (DUMF 6.) Both the registers and parts counter were located on elevated counters where a normally-sized chair would have been too low to be useful. (DUMF 7.)

Early in Meda’s employment, she dropped a battery on her foot and required a disability accommodation, namely, being allowed to sit at work. (DUMF 8.) Jaime Gomez (Gomez), Meda’s manager, granted the accommodation. (DUMF 9.) Meda did not have other communications with anyone else at AutoZone about the accommodation. (DUMF 10.) Meda did not recall whether the note said anything specifically about being allowed to sit, just that it talked about “light duty.” (DUMF 11.) During the period of Meda’s disability accommodation, she used one of the stools at the cash register, but only for a couple of days. (DUMF 12.) Meda did not recall whether the store manager offered to let her use the stool at the registers as part of her accommodation request. (DUMF 13.)

Other than using the stool during the first few days of her disability accommodation, Meda did not use a stool at the parts counter or the cash register. (DUMF 14.) At deposition, when asked why she stopped using the stool, Meda testified, “I was never given the option” and “I guess nobody made it known that I was — I had that option, that I was able to use a chair to sit down.” (DUMF 15.) Nobody told Meda that she was not allowed to use the stool other than in connection with her accommodation. (DUMF 16.) Nobody told Meda that she was not allowed to use the stools at the cash registers or the parts counter. (DUMF 17.) Meda testified that she formed the belief, however, that she was not allowed to use the stools other than in connection with her disability accommodation. (DUMF 18.) Meda’s basis for drawing this conclusion was that “[n]obody in the store — no other employees would ever sit down.” (DUMF 19; Meda Depo. pp. 34-35.)

Meda recalled that there was someone else who she saw at the store using a smaller black stool when stocking shelves. (Meda Depo. pp. 40-42.) Although Meda testified that she thought it was to accommodate the woman’s pregnancy, Meda admitted that she did not know how it came about that the employee was allowed to use the stool. (DUMF 21.) Other than her conversation with Gomez about the use of a stool in connection with her disability accommodation, Meda did not recall any other discussions with anyone at AutoZone about stools. (DUMF 22.)

Meda did not recall ever reporting her concerns she had regarding the stools or seating when she worked at AutoZone. (DUMF 23.) Meda had no reason for not making such a report. (Meda Depo. p. 37 (“No, there’s no reason.”).) When asked what Meda felt was problematic about the seating at the store, Meda testified, “[o]ther than the fact that it wasn’t provided and it wasn’t really known that it was an option, nothing else.” (DUMF 25.)

Meda was able to do all the jobs of a cashier while sitting on the stool. (DUMF 26.) Meda estimated that she spent about 40 percent of her time at the cash register. (DUMF 27.) She also estimated that she spent about 40 percent of her time working at the parts counter. (DUMF 28.) Meda estimated that, while at the parts counter, about half of her time was spent sitting at her computer compared to the time spent getting the parts. (DUMF 29.)

Discussion[1]

Defendant AutoZoners moves for summary judgment of Meda’s lone cause of action for PAGA penalties. AutoZoners contends that Meda cannot show that she has standing to maintain this cause of action because she is not an “aggrieved employee.”

To have standing under PAGA, a plaintiff must be an “aggrieved employee.” (See Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 745, 757.) PAGA defines an “aggrieved employee” as “any person who was employed by the alleged violated and against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.” (Lab. Code § 2699(c).)

A. Formulation of the Standing Question

The parties’ first dispute is how to formulate the standing question in this case.

AutoZoners argues that the standing requirement, as applied to this case, requires Meda to show that she “individually experienced” a violation of IWC Wage Order 7-2001 section 14(a). (Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC (review granted) (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 1068, 1102; Opp. at 9 (alleging that AutoZoners violated only section 14(a).) Section 14 of that wage order provides in full: “(A) All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats. (B) When employees are not engaged in the active duties of their employment and the nature of the work requires standing, an adequate number of suitable seats shall be placed in reasonable proximity to the work area and employees shall be permitted to use such seats when it does not interfere with the performance of their duties.”

Meda argues that the standing question is broader than whether she alone was provided with a seat. According to Meda, AutoZoners must show that all employees were provided with seats because the wage order refers to “all working employees.” Meda presents undisputed evidence that the AutoZone store where she worked had two stools and typically more than two employees working there at any one time. (DUMF 3, PUMF 1.)

Meda’s argument misses the mark. Regardless of the wage order’s reference to “all working employees,” Meda must still show that she is an “aggrieved employee” to pursue her PAGA claim. (Lab. Code § 2699(a), (c).) To show she is an “aggrieved employee,” she must show that she “individually experienced” or was “affected by” the wage order violation. (Donohue, supra, 29 Cal.App.5th at 1102 (emphasis added); Huff v. Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 745, 757.) Meda does not individually experience or become affected by AutoZoners’s alleged failure to provide seating to “all working employees” generally. Meda must individually experience or be affected by AutoZoner’s alleged failure to personally provide her with seating.[2][3] Meda’s interpretation of the standing requirement reads the “aggrieved employee” requirement out of the statute.

B. Definition of “Provide”

AutoZoners does not dispute in this motion that the nature of Meda’s work “reasonably permits the use of seats.” Instead, AutoZoners contends that there was no violation of this wage order provision because it provided Meda with suitable seating.

To resolve this issue, the Court must determine what the definition of the word “provide” is as that term is used in the wage order.

Relying upon Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, AutoZoners argues that the word “provide” means “make available.” In Brinker, the California Supreme Court evaluated what it means for an employer to “provide” a nonexempt employee with a meal period. The employee argued that an employer is obligated to “ensure that work stops for the required thirty minutes,” and the employer argued that the employer is obligated only to “make available” meal periods. The California Supreme Court adopted the employer’s position. (See Dailey v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 974, 1000; Koval v. Pacific Bell Telephone Co. (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 1050, 1058.) Our High Court specifically held: “An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks under both section 512, subdivision (a) and Wage Order No. 5 is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”

Meda responds that Brinker is not analogous because an employer can “provide” a meal break by simply letting employees go on break. Meda states that “providing” suitable seating, by contrast, requires that “employees be both (1) informed of the availability of seating … and (2) that every employee who is entitled, receive a seat.” (Opp. at 13.)

The Court disagrees with Meda. Her interpretation of the word “provide” is not grounded in the language of the wage order (or any other law for that matter). The wage order does not impose an affirmative duty upon employers to inform employees of available seating. The wage order imposes a duty upon employers to “provide” suitable seating.[4]

Meda’s reliance on Godfrey v. Oakland Port Services Corp. (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 1267 is misplaced. There, the Court of Appeal assessed a meal period claim in light of Brinker. The Court of Appeal quoted extensively from the trial court opinion, stating in pertinent part:

“The recent Brinker decision provides two examples of unlawful discouragement — a scheduling policy that makes taking breaks ‘extremely difficult’ and creating an anti-meal-break policy enforced through ridicule or reprimand. The Class established both unlawful scenarios exist here....

“In addition, the evidence shows AB [i.e., the employer] neither maintained, nor provided drivers, any ‘formal’ meal period policy. The first example of unlawful discouragement provided in Brinker presumes the existence of a formal meal period policy. AB does not meet the ‘provide’ standard because it provided no evidence showing drivers were, at a minimum, informed in any meaningful or consistent way that they could take a meal period, or the definition of any such meal period. As AB had no meal period policy to ‘undermine,’ and the evidence presented shows that, beyond that, AB regularly discouraged the taking of legally protected breaks, AB has not shown it provided meal periods to the Class.

(Godfrey, supra, 230 Cal.App.4th at 1285.)

Godfrey is unavailing for, at least, two reasons.

First, the appellate court characterized this text as the “trial court’s findings in the [statement of decision] concerning meal and rest periods, which AB does not dispute were supported by substantial evidence.” (Emphasis added.) The appellate court cited this text to “understand the evidence with respect to liability” which would inform its review of “the trial court’s damages award.” In reciting the trial court’s findings, the appellate court did not purport to hold that an employer must inform employees of meal periods.

Second, Meda’s reliance on this text to show that an employer must inform employees of their right to take a meal break runs directly contrary to Dailey v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 974, 1001 which examined essentially the same issue:

In the trial court, Dailey [i.e., the employee] argued that Sears has no formal written policy regarding meals and rest breaks for its salaried employees at its auto centers, does not provide training on that subject to those employees, and does not keep track of whether those employees took their meal and rest breaks. Dailey cited the deposition testimony of several Sears corporate managers appearing to substantiate these assertions with respect to salaried managers, as opposed to hourly employees, for whom such policies apparently do exist. Dailey also submitted declarations from several proposed class members stating in identical language that they “did not regularly take an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period,” were “never even told [they were] allowed a meal period,” and were “never told that [they were] entitled to a 10–minute rest break.”

These submissions provide no evidence of a policy or widespread practice of Sears to deprive nonexempt employees of uninterrupted meal periods and rest breaks. Nothing in Dailey’s evidence indicates that Sears prohibits class members from taking uninterrupted meal and rest breaks, or that it has a uniform policy of requiring “on-duty” meal and rest breaks. Rather, the proposed class member declarations, at best, reveal that those individuals did not regularly take uninterrupted meal periods and personally were never told they were entitled to meals and rest breaks. Critically, these declarants do not aver that they are not free to take such breaks or that Sears requires them to be available for work during those periods.

(Dailey, supra, 214 Cal.App.4th at 1001 (emphasis added).)

In other words, Dailey found no meal break violation even though the employer never personally told its employees about their entitlement to take meal breaks. Dailey’s detailed analysis of this issue provides inferential support for the conclusion that this wage order’s suitable seating requirement also does not require employers to personally tell their employees about available seating.

Garvey v. Kmart Corp. (N.D. Cal., July 18, 2012, No. C 11-02575 WHA) 2012 WL 2945473, a non-binding district court case, is also distinguishable. There, the district court found that there was sufficient evidence to create an ascertainable class for purposes of a class action lawsuit alleging violation of the suitable seating requirement. In support of this finding, the district court pointed to, among other things, (1) testimony from Kmart’s HR director stating that associates are not provided seats and are not encouraged to sit, (2) evidence that requests for seats by cashiers were denied, and (3) the “little evidence showing that” Kmart’s seating policy “was actually told to cashiers.” The district court in Garvey cited the lack of disclosure as a factor in assessing a violation of a wage order. Garvey did not conclude that such disclosures were mandated. Moreover, the evidence in Garvey of a wage order violation was far more abundant than the present case.

In the absence of legal authority to the contrary, the Court agrees with AutoZoners that the word “provide” as used in this wage order means “make available” for the reasons set forth below.

First, Brinker is analogous in the sense that it too analyzed the word “provide” in the context of a wage order. Although providing a meal break is obviously not the same as providing a seat, the word “provide,” where possible, ought to be construed similarly. (See United Riggers & Erectors, Inc. v. Coast Iron & Steel Co. (2018) 4 Cal.5th 1082, 1090 (“To the extent possible, statutes relating to the same class of things, and sharing the same purpose or object, should be harmonized and construed similarly.”).)

Second, this definition makes perfect sense. Providing a seat to an employee logically entails means making that seat available to the employee. This definition also comports with the function of this suitable seating requirement — requiring employers to permit employees to take a seat when work conditions make it reasonable to do so.

Third, as Meda notes, the seminal case on this suitable seating requirement is Kilby v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc. (2016) 63 Cal.4th 1. There, the California Supreme Court examined several facets of this requirement but not the definition of the word “provide.” Nonetheless, Kilby is instructive because our High Court twice swaps the word “provide” for “available.”[5] Based on this language, a reasonable inference can be drawn that the High Court saw “provide” and “make available” as analogous in the context of these wage orders.

C. Whether AutoZoners Provided Suitable Seating

The final issue is whether AutoZoners made suitable seating available to Meda.

AutoZoners presents undisputed evidence that there were two stools located in the manager’s station area in the AutoZone store where Meda worked. (DUMF 3-4.) The provision of, at minimum, two stools for AutoZoner use (i.e., employee use) was company policy. (Stiller Decl. Ex. 4.) Meda had access to this station area. (DUMF 5.) Meda never asked anyone at AutoZone whether she could use the stools at the cash registers or the parts counters, i.e., the places where she believed stools would have been useful. (See DUMF 6, 22.) Further, nobody ever told Meda that she was not allowed to use the stools at the cash registers or parts counters. (DUMF 17.) Upon hurting her foot and needing a disability accommodation, her manager granted her a disability accommodation which allowed her to sit on one of the stools. (DUMF 8-9.) Meda sat on the stool for two days and was never told to stop doing so. (DUMF 12, 16.) Meda stopped doing so because “nobody made it known” to her that she could continue to do so. (DUMF 15.)

Based on this undisputed evidence, the Court agrees with AutoZoners that, as a matter of law, Meda cannot establish that AutoZoners failed to provide her with suitable seating. To reiterate, (1) AutoZone had a company policy of making stools available to employees like Meda, (2) Meda knew that two stools were located in the store, (3) Meda never asked AutoZoners whether she could use the stools, (4) nobody ever told Meda that she could not use the stools, and (5) Meda was allowed to use a stool the only time that she ever expressed a desire to do so.

Meda’s responses to this evidence are founded on speculation or otherwise lack foundation. Her responses do not establish a triable issue of material fact.

For example, Meda claims that she was not allowed to use the stool other than in connection with her disability accommodation because “nobody in the store — no other employees would ever sit down.” (DUMF 18-19.) A similar rationale was considered and rejected in Dailey as insufficient to support a meal break claim: “[T]he proposed class member declarations, at best, reveal that those individuals did not regularly take uninterrupted meal periods and personally were never told they were entitled to meals and rest breaks.” The same is true here. This statement reveals, at best, that others did not sit down (not that they could not sit down as a matter of company policy) and that she personally was never told that she was entitled to sit. There is insufficient foundation to draw the conclusion that the company prohibited her from using one of the stools.

Meda claims that the fact that she had to request to sit as a disability accommodation calls into question AutoZoners’s claim that it provided suitable seating as a matter of course. The Court disagrees. A disability accommodation requiring seating is distinct from this wage order’s seating requirement because the former could presumably necessitate seating when the “nature of the work” does not reasonably permit it. In any event, the fact that Meda chose to ask to sit in the context of her disability accommodation and then voluntarily stopped doing so of her own volition is not proof that AutoZoners failed to provide employees seating outside of the disability accommodation setting. This claim rests, once again, on Meda’s speculation.

Meda claims that the stools were not readily accessible because they were located in the manager’s station area adjacent to raised workstations and one of them was in constant use by her manager. But Meda had full access to the manager’s station, could have used the stool not occupied by her manager, never mentioned her manager’s presence as an impediment (Pl. Depo. pp. 37-39), and never asked whether she could use the stools. Given these facts, Meda’s claim is speculative and insubstantial.

Conclusion

AutoZoner’s motion for summary judgment is granted.


[1] AutoZoners’s objections to the Meda and Huerta Declarations are overruled.

[2] Notably, the wage order also states that “[e]very employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods.” (§ 12.) Case law, however, does not relieve the standing requirement with respect to employees asserting a rest period claim simply because an employer has violated this section with respect to other employees.

[3] Furthermore, assuming arguendo that Meda properly frames this standing question, her contention runs into the same problem discussed post. Namely, Meda has not presented evidence that AutoZoners failed to provide other similarly situated persons with suitable seating. To the contrary, if further seats were needed, AutoZoners’s written policy was that “additional stools” could be ordered “when needed.” (Stiller Decl. Ex. 4; see also PMK Depo. pp. 70-71.)

[4] The wage order requires employers to “keep a copy of” the wage order “posted in an area frequented by employees where it may be easily read during the workday.” (§ 22.) Doing so ostensibly gives employees sufficient notice of the wage order’s commands.

[5] (1) “In 1976, the IWC modified the relevant wage orders to expressly incorporate a reasonableness standard. Seating was to be made available ‘when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.’ ” (2) “Burden to Show Suitable Seating is Available.”

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