"Suitable Seating" Class Action Goes Forward

Retailers must provide "suitable seating" in accordance with the California Industrial Welfare Commission's Wage Order 7-2001, section 14. It says: "All working employees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats."

Eugina Bright worked for 99 Cents Only Stores. She brought a class action alleging that, as a cashier, the company could reasonably have provided her with a seat suitable for cashiering. She sought penalties under PAGA (Private Attorneys General Act of 2004), claiming that the Wage Order violation supported PAGA penalties.

The trial court held that Ms. Bright was not "underpaid" and, therefore, could not collect penalties under Section 20 of the Wage Order. She also could not collect PAGA penalties, the trial court believed, because PAGA's extra "catchall" penalty does not apply when there is an applicable penalty in place. Sort of a "gotcha" ruling, which I admire.

But the court of appeal did not share my sense of irony, holding that PAGA penalties are available for wage order violations, even if Wage Order Section 20 penalties do not apply:

Section 2699, subdivision (f) makes its civil penalty applicable to violations of “all provisions of this code except those for which a civil penalty is specifically provided.” (§ 2699, subd. (f).) Section 1198, the code section Bright contends was violated, contains no civil penalty. (See § 1198.) Nowhere in the Labor Code is a civil penalty specifically provided for violations of the suitable seating requirement incorporated in section 1198. Thus, section 2699, subdivision (f), by its terms, allows for a civil penalty for violations of section 1198 based on failure to comply with the suitable seating requirement.
The case is Bright v. 99 c Only Stores, Inc. and the opinion is here.