A Win for Workers in the Fourth District Court of Appeal

The attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law (HPL), along with co-counsel Feinberg, Jackson, Worthman & Wasow (FJWW) recently received a favorable decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeal in a case called Uribe v. Crown Building Maintenence Co. (September 30, 2021, Case No. G057836). HPL and FJWW represent Isabel Garibay, a worker who intervened in the Uribe case because the defendant in that case was attempting to engineer a “reverse auction”-a strategic move whereby a defendant tries to settle the case by appealing to the lowest bidder. HPL and FJWW were able to block that settlement, returning the case to the trial court where they will seek justice and victory on behalf of the workers.

The underlying facts in Uribe are as follows. In 2015, HPL and FJWW filed a class action in Alameda County called Gama v. Able Services, et al. The Plaintiff in that case sought to represent a class of 20,000 janitors who were forced to use their cell phones for work-related purposes. (As a point of reference regarding the value of the case, HPL and FJWW had certified a class and subsequently resolved a similar case against another janitorial company for over $5 million.)

In 2016, Josue Uribe filed his lawsuit against the same defendants. Mr. Uribe’s case was not a class action; rather, it was a representative action under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). Nor was it a cell phone case. Rather, Mr. Uribe’s case was originally about reimbursements for washing uniforms. (Mr. Uribe’s subsequent court filings seem to indicate that he later valued his uniform clam at zero dollars.)

HPL and FJWW litigated Gama aggressively, and were prepared to take the case to trial if it did not settle. However, once the defendants learned of this fact, they began to try to convince the lawyer who represented Mr. Uribe to settle the claims in the Gama case. Unfortunately, Mr. Uribe’s lawyer agreed to do that. He then tried to amend his case so that it included the claims at issue in Gama. Worst of all, Mr. Uribe’s attorney agreed to settle the janitor’s claims worth tens of millions of dollars for $370,000.

HPL and FJWW intervened in the Uribe case and tried to block the settlement at the trial court. However, they were unsuccessful in that regard, and were forced to file an  appeal. Fortunately, they prevailed before the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which reversed the judgment.

The appellate court began its analysis by noting that Ms. Garibay (the worker represented by HPL and FJWW) had standing to bring her appeal. Ms. Garibay had intervened in the Uribe case for the purpose of opposing the settlement, but the Fourth District noted that that was not enough. Instead, the court focused on the fact that Ms. Garibay’s case predated Mr. Uribe’s and that she had invested substantial time and resources to pursuing her PAGA claim.

The appellate court then adopted wholesale the argument that Ms. Garibay had made in her briefs: that Mr. Uribe had not properly exhausted his remedies prior to amending his case to add a PAGA claim based on the failure to reimburse for cellular phone expenses. This argument had fallen on deaf ears at the trial court, but the court of appeal found it to be compelling, reaching the following conclusion:

Having no basis to sue on that ground, any settlement Uribe reached with Crown could not include settlement of PAGA claims for unreimbursed cell phone costs, and the trial court could not enter judgment confirming such a settlement.

The court of appeal noted that the settlement provided that if the court did not approve it “as provided herein” it was null and void. The court then found that the settlement could not stand because it was not approved as written. The case will therefore return to the trial court, where HPL and FJWW will continue to fight on behalf of the 20,000 or so workers who are affected by this case.

By a strange twist of fate, on September 30 2021, the same date that Uribe was decided, the Second District Court of Appeal reached the opposite conclusion in the case of Turrieta v. Lyft (September 30, 2021, Case No. B304701). There, the court concluded that the objectors to a PAGA settlement did not have standing to appeal from a judgment approving that settlement. The attorneys in Turrieta have indicated that they are going to seek review at the California Supreme Court. Check back here for future developments as that effort continues.

If you have questions about your rights in the workplace, please feel free to contact the attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law. We can be reached at (510) 444-4400, at inquire@hunterpylelaw.com, or at www.hunterpylelaw.com.