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Statewide Class of Janitors Certified in Wage Case

A California appeals court re-wrapped its pre-Christmas decision, allowing a class-action to proceed on behalf of janitorial workers for wage violations.

In the ABM Industries Overtime Cases, the First District Court of Appeals certified the class action on Dec. 11, 2017. But the court made a minor modification and published the decision on Jan. 10, 2018.

For some 35,000 janitors, it was all's well that ends well. But for the trial judge, maybe not so much.

35,000 Janitors

In their complaint, the class representatives said they routinely worked through lunch time but the employer deducted their pay for that time. Some workers said they were not reimbursed for travel expenses and other wage violations.

The trial court denied class certification, however, and excluded the plaintiff's expert witness. The judge said the expert's evidence was inadmissible because "his declarations failed to qualify him as an expert on anything material" and "doesn't prove anything."

Aaron Woolfson, a provider of database services, analyzed more than 1 million timekeeping and payroll records in the case. He said that 94 percent of the time records showed an automatic deduction for 30-minute meals without any record that employees actually took the time.

"Just because you might have a common question in here somewhere doesn't mean it's appropriate to have this case proceed as a class action," the judge said in dismissing the claims.

"Somewhat Mystified"

The appeals court said the trial judge abused his discretion. He said Woolfson had expertise "in creating, managing and analyzing large databases," but had no "formal training or degrees that would qualify him as an expert to review the timekeeping and payroll data at issue."

Citing Brown v. Colm, the First District said there is no "hard and fast rule" on whether a witness can give expert assistance to a fact-finder. But the panel noted that Woolfson had qualified as an expert in 40 state and federal cases, including payroll and timekeeping database analysis and numerous wage and hour class action cases.

"Frankly, we are somewhat mystified by the trial court's wholesale exclusion of the entirety of Woolfson's evidence in this matter," the appellate judges said.

They reversed and remanded with instructions that the plaintiffs' allegations presented predominantly common questions to certify the class.

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