Miller Barondess Wins Summary Judgment on Behalf of LA County in Large Collective Action Lawsuit

Miller Barondess Wins Summary Judgment on Behalf of LA County in Large Collective Action Lawsuit

By Melissa Angell, Law360 – October 28, 2020 – A California federal judge ruled Tuesday that Los Angeles County is not an employer of home health care providers and is therefore not required to pay overtime compensation to a proposed class of workers.

In a 12-page order granting summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled that under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, only an employer is liable for paying overtime compensation, and the workers are not employed by the county.

“Because the court finds as a matter of law that the County is not an employer of [in-home supportive services] providers, the County cannot be held liable for failing to pay overtime compensation,” the order said. “Thus, plaintiffs cannot state a claim for violation of the FLSA against the County.”

In June 2017, Trina Ray and Sasha Walker sued the state of California and Los Angeles County for unpaid overtime under the FLSA, but the state was dismissed from the suit later that year.

The proposed class — which encompasses roughly 169,000 in-home supportive services providers — argue that the county holds some share of financial responsibility for their wages through an arrangement with the state. Counties have three options for assisting the state with the IHSS program and of those options, LA County uses a direct payment mode in which IHSS providers are paid directly by the state.

Judge Anderson denied Los Angeles County’s bid to toss the proposed class action in October 2017, saying that the county government is not an arm of the state and is not entitled to sovereign immunity from the lawsuit.

In Tuesday’s order, the judge pointed to the 1990 state appellate court decision in Service Employees International Union v. County of Los Angeles, which established that LA County does not employ or hold supervisory control over IHSS providers.

Judge Anderson also turned to the Bonnette rule, which stems from the 1983 Ninth Circuit decision in Bonnette v. California Health & Welfare Agency. The rule weighs four factors to determine joint employer status, including whether an alleged employer supervised and controlled work schedules of employees, determined payment methods and rates, maintained employment records, and had the authority to hire and fire employees

Under Bonnette, the judge found that the county did not meet any of the four factors to be considered an employer of IHSS providers.

An attorney for Los Angeles County, Mira Hashmall of Miller Barondess LLP, told Law360 that the ruling is important because it clarifies the role the county has in the IHSS program.

“The county of Los Angeles plays an integral role in the IHSS program, but we’ve always held firm that we are not the employer under the FLSA, and based on a very thorough analysis of the law and the record in the case, the district court agreed with us,” Hashmall said.

An attorney for the workers, Matthew Helland of Nichols Kaster LLP, told Law360 that they disagree with the judge’s ruling and intend to appeal the decision.

The workers are represented by Matthew C. Helland and Daniel Solomon Brome of Nichols Kaster LLP.

The county is represented by Mira Hashmall, Jason H. Tokoro and Jeffery B. White of Miller Barondess LLP.

The case is Trina Ray, et al. v. California Department of Social Services, et al., number 2:17-cv-04239, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.