Litigation of Employment Lawsuits in California
It is not only the case that California state law favors employees rather than employers in a way which many other states do not, but the litigation of employment related lawsuits also presents a number of unique challenges along the way. Let’s look at these challenges in a little more detail.
In state courts within California, any motion for a summary judgement has to be filed and served a minimum of 75 days prior to the date set for the hearing. Due to the fact that a motion needs to be heard one month before the scheduled date of the trial this essentially means that motions have to be filed and served 105 days ahead of the trial. It is also a requirement that cases should be tried no later than 12 months of being filed. This means that defendants (in our case employers) have little preparation time to request summary judgement as in order to obtain this the employer needs to provide evidence that they are not liable for the claim.
Choice of Law Provisions in Contracts
The California courts are able to validate choice of law provisions in contracts of employment ,but only as far as saying all of the other regulations are valid in accordance with state law. As an example, an ex-employee who has been let go because they refuse to sign any contract of employment which features an illegal clause such as a covenant not to compete could still raise a wrongful termination claim.
Class Actions for Wage & Hours Disputes
The regulations regarding wages and hours, which are set out by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, tend not to be tried as a class action, instead they are enforced under collective action. However, collective action is only an option for employees who have opted in to the lawsuit. California state law does however, allow either a single employee or a group of employees to file for class action as a spokesperson for all affected employees unless they request exclusion from the lawsuit. This enables even a single disgruntled employee to bring about costly litigation for your company regardless of whether other employees are unhappy. However, if the employer successfully defends the case then the cost can be recovered and this is often a hefty sum.
Under section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code, any business practices which are fraudulent, unfair or unlawful are strictly prohibited. Business practices may be considered as being unlawful if they violate state law in any way. One example might be where wage & hours regulations have been broken. It is this theory that is used by Californian courts, to allow employees to claim for unpaid wages, overtime and vacation time. This is the preferred method of suing for these types of claim as it allows the employee a much lengthier statute of limitations (four years) than a standard claim under the Labor Code (three years).
Private Attorney General Act
Under the Private Attorney General Act of 2004, any employee who claims that an employer has violated regulations regarding hours and wages against an employer can bring a civil action against the employer instead of relying on the state to raise action on their behalf.