Court of Appeal Reiterates That PAGA Penalties Are Available For Wage Order Violations

As we previously reported here, in Bright v. 99¢ Only Stores (2010) 189 Cal.App.4th 1472, the California Court of Appeal held an employee may seek Private Attorney General Act ("PAGA") penalties for alleged violations of an Industrial Welfare Commission ("IWC") wage order requirement that employers provide employees suitable seats in the workplace when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats.  The court rejected the employer's argument that PAGA penalties are available only for violations of wage payment laws and concluded such penalties are available for violation of nonwage labor standards contained in the IWC's wage orders. The plaintiff in the case, Eugenia Bright, alleged 99¢ Only Stores violated Section 14 of Wage Order 7-2001 stating all working employees “shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits” such use.  She sought civil penalties under Labor Code section 1198, stating the employment of any employee “under conditions prohibited by” IWC wage orders is unlawful.  The court held civil penalties available under PAGA, consisting of $100 per each "aggrieved employee" per pay period for the first violation and $200 per "aggrieved" employee per pay period for each subsequent violation, could be recovered because no other penalties for violating the seating requirements were provided by law.  

In Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. v. Superior Court, which also involved the provisions of Wage Order 7-2001 stating the all working employees “shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits” such use, the California Court of Appeal again held PAGA penalties can be awarded for violations of IWC wage orders. In so holding, the court rejected Home Depot's contention that PAGA penalties are not available for violation of the wage order because PAGA penalties are available for violations of the Labor Code "except those for which a civil penalty is specifically provided," and the wage order contains its own civil penalty provisions (in lesser amounts than those provided by PAGA).  In response to that argument, the court held Wage Order 7-2001 does not specifically provide a civil penalty for violation of the wage order's seating requirements. Further, the court noted that the civil penalty provision of the wage order states its penalties are "'[i]n addition to any other civil penalties provided by law,'" which the court interprets to mean the the wage order "does not purport to establish a comprehensive scheme of penalties for violations of the wage order."

California courts have yet to squarely address the issue raised by Bright and now by Home Depot as to whether in some circumstances a plaintiff current or former employee could in some circumstances seek both wage order civil penalties and PAGA civil penalties.  Although we do not believe an award of such double penalties would be lawful, we think it is likely plaintiff attorneys will argue based on remarks contained in the Bright and Home Depot cases that such double recoveries are permitted.

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