The current Wheeler v Safeway Stores case has a lengthy history involving the settlement of two related wage and hour lawsuits following years of litigation, which began in 2001 and includes two prior appeals.
Safeway has managed the operations of a distribution center in Tracy California. Prior to 2003, the distribution center was operated by a third party, Summit Logistics, Inc, for Safeway’s benefit. The plaintiffs in this and related cases are truck drivers who worked out of that distribution center, delivering goods to Safeway stores in Northern California and Nevada.
The terms of the drivers’ employment were governed by successive collective bargaining agreements, which provided for meal periods and rest breaks and specified the manner in which wages were calculated.
Safeway provided its drivers with a “driver trip summary – report of earnings” (ROE) and an “earnings statement” with each paycheck. Safeway instructed the drivers to compare their earning statement and ROE with their trip sheets to ensure that they were paid the correct amount, and to speak with the transportation manager or a payroll clerk if they believed their pay was incorrect.
In two related cases, the plaintiffs in Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 949 and the plaintiff in Bluford v. Safeway Inc. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 864, brought suit against their former/current employer (Summit/Safeway), alleging violations of statutory and regulatory laws related to meal and rest periods and itemized wage statements. In Cicairos the court of appeal reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Summit. In May 2013, the court of appeal reversed the trial court’s order denying plaintiff’s motion for class certification in Bluford.
In December 2014, the parties agreed to settle all of the claims alleged in both Cicairos and Bluford. In February 2015, the parties executed a written settlement agreement memorializing the terms of the settlement.
Beginning on June 14, 2015, Safeway implemented certain changes to its rest break practices and wage statements.
Nonetheless, in January 2016, Wheeler and others filed this current wage and hour class action complaint against Safeway, alleging violations of statutory and regulatory laws related to rest periods and itemized wage statements as well as a derivative claim under the unfair competition law. The allegations supporting these claims were similar to the allegations supporting the claims alleged in Cicairos and Bluford.
In this action, the rest period claim is limited to Safeway’s conduct from March 10, 2015, to June 13, 2015–the three-month period from the preliminary approval of the Cicairos/Bluford settlement to the day before Safeway implemented changes to its rest break practices. The wage statement claim is limited to Safeway’s conduct after the preliminary approval of the settlement- – March 10, 2015, to the present. According to plaintiffs, Safeway’s wage statements continued to be inadequate after the settlement was approved. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the wage statements were deficient because they failed to indicate the rate of pay associated with each task performed.
In December 2018, the trial court granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, which, as relevant here, included certification of a subclass of “all current and former Safeway drivers not provided accurate itemized wage statements from March 10, 2015 to the present.”
In October 2020, the trial court granted summary adjudication in favor of Safeway on plaintiffs’ rest period claim. The court explained that, in December 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration determined that California’s meal and rest break rules were preempted under federal law and could not be applied to truck drivers.
In mid-April 2021, in anticipation of trial in early May 2021, Safeway filed two motions in limine. Motion in Limine No. 1 sought to prevent plaintiffs from presenting any evidence or argument regarding wage statements issued to members of the Cicairos/Bluford settlement class on or before October 8, 2015 – the date the judgment incorporating the settlement agreement became final.
Motion in Limine No. 2 sought to prevent plaintiffs from presenting any evidence or argument regarding wage statements issued on or after June 14, 2015. In support of this motion, Safeway argued that such evidence was irrelevant because the wage statements issued during this time period did not violate Labor Code section 226 as a matter of law, and that, in any event, plaintiffs could not establish injury as a matter of law.
Rulings on these motions rulings effectively limited relief on the wage statement claim to current class members who were not members of the Cicairos/Bluford settlement class and were employed by Safeway during the three-month period from March 10, 2015, to June 14, 2015.
Following the trial court’s in limine rulings, the parties agreed to settle the remaining claims. Thereafter, the matter was dismissed pursuant to stipulation. Judgment was entered in December 2021.
Plaintiffs timely appealed challenging the in limine rulings. The court of appeal concluded that the trial court erred and therefore reversed in the unpublished case of Wheeler v Safeway Stores -C095601 (January 2023).
Safeway argued, and the trial court apparently agreed, that section 226, subdivision (a) does not require an employer to explain the basis for how each piece-rate was determined. Rather, it only requires that wage statements include the applicable piece-rate and the number of piece-rate units earned. The court of appeal disagreed with this construction of the statute.
It concluded “that when, as here, an employee is subject to a piece-rate compensation system, the employer must provide the employee a wage statement that clearly explains how their compensation was calculated, including the applicable piece-rate formula for each specific task performed and any other information necessary to calculate the employee’s compensation for that task. Without such information, the core purpose of section 226 – to assist an employee in determining whether he or she has been properly compensated – would not be served.”