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See’s Candies secured a victory when the California Court of Appeals rejected a proposed statewide employment class action based on alleged meal and rest period violations.

The lead plaintiff, Debbie Salazar, alleged claims for unpaid overtime, unpaid minimum wages, failure to provide rest and meal periods, failure to provide wage statements and to maintain payroll records, failure to timely pay wages on termination, and unfair and unlawful business practices under Business and Professions Code section 17200.

Salazar sought certification of two classes: a “single staffing class” and a “meal break class.” With respect to the meal break class,

Salazar acknowledges that See’s official meal break policy complies with California law. Salazar’s theory is that, despite that policy, See’s consistent practice was to deny second meal periods when shifts exceeded 10 hours. Salazar claims that she can prove this consistent practice, and therefore establish liability, through common proof.

In opposition to the motion, See’s argued that See’s did not rely only on the Scheduling Form to provide second meal breaks, but also provided employees with training on its policies and required its shop managers to implement those policies.

In support of its opposition, See’s submitted declarations from 55 employees, including both managers and shop employees. The managers testified generally about See’s policy of providing a second meal break for shifts over 10 hours. Most of the employee declarants testified that they were aware of this policy. More than half of the employee declarants had worked shifts longer than 10 hours, and almost all of these testified that they took second meal breaks during such shifts at least some of the time. Four employees testified that they occasionally chose not to take a second meal break so that they could leave work earlier or get overtime pay.

The trial court denied certification of the meal break class on two grounds. First, the court found that Salazar had failed to show that she could prove through common evidence that See’s had a consistent practice to deny second meal breaks. Second, the trial court found that Salazar’s proposed trial plan was inadequate to manage these individual issues.

The court of appeal affirmed denial of class certification in the published case of Salazar v Sees Candy.

Class actions are authorized “when the question is one of a common or general interest, of many persons, or when the parties are numerous, and it is impracticable to bring them all before the court.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 382.) To certify a class, “[t]he party advocating class treatment must demonstrate the existence of an ascertainable and sufficiently numerous class, a well-defined community of interest, and substantial benefits from certification that render proceeding as a class superior to the alternatives.”

The community of interest factor in turn has three requirements: (1) common questions of fact or law that predominate over individual issues; (2) class representatives with claims or defenses typical of the class; and (3) class representatives who can adequately represent the class.

Class certification is generally inappropriate if liability can be established only through individual proof. When common issues predominate over individual issues, a class should not be certified if there is no way to manage the remaining individual issues “fairly and efficiently.”

Under the substantial evidence standard, the court of appeal must credit the trial court’s reasonable inferences, even if a competing inference could be drawn.