Minimum Wage, Public Employees, and the University of California

The University of California (referred to in this post as “the Regents”) employs more than two hundred thousand people. Determining which laws apply to the Regents can be challenging. Gomez v. Regents (2021) 63 Cal.App.5th 386 provides some guidance with respect to California’s wage and hour laws.

In Gomez, the plaintiff challenged the Regents’ policy and practice of rounding time punches (usually down) and automatically deducting 30 minutes for meal periods regardless of whether the employees actually took them. The issue before the court was whether the Regents were subject to California’s minimum wage laws. The superior court held that they were not, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed.

The court of appeal began its analysis by noting that California’s minimum wage requirements apply to employees of the State and its political subdivisions, including cities, counties, and special districts. However, the court concluded that the Regents is not a political subdivision. Rather, it is a public trust. See People v. Lofchie (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 240, 254.

The Gomez court then distinguished the Regents from other types of political subdivisions in California. For example, in Marquez v. City of Long Beach (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 552, the Second District Court of Appeal had concluded that minimum wage laws applied to California Charter cities, because:

[L]legislation setting a statewide minimum wage, generally applicable to both private and public employees, addresses the state’s interest in protecting the health and welfare of workers by ensuring they can afford the necessities of life for themselves and their families.

However, the Gomez court noted that the Regents are not a charter city, and that there were no allegations that the Regents had set hourly wages below the state minimum wage. Accordingly, it concluded that Marquez did not apply.

The Gomez court also addressed Sheppard v. North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 289. In that case, the court of appeal concluded that minimum wage laws applied to a regional occupational program established by a public school district. Unlike the Regents, such entities are political subdivisions because they were established under Education Code section 52301.

Finally, the Gomez court concluded that the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) did not apply, because the Regents could not be considered to be violators under that statute. See Labor Code § 2699(c).

Accordingly, California’s minimum wage laws do not apply to employees of the Regents. However, all is not lost. The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, applies to public employees.  FLSA is a federal law dating back over half a century which establishes certain minimum requirements for employees’ hours of work, wages, premium overtime and payroll records. To be clear, the federal minimum wage is much lower than California’s. Furthermore, unlike California law, the FLSA does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks.  Nor does it require that employers pay overtime if employees work more than eight hours in a day.  (California law does.  See Labor Code § 510.)

The attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law represent both public and private employees in individual and class actions throughout California.  If you have a question about your situation at work, please feel free to contact us for a confidential initial intake.  We can be reached at (510) 444-4400 or