Duran v. U.S. National Bank Association

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Duran v. U.S. National Bank Association (59 Cal. 4th 1 (2014) in California

Introduction

Without slamming the door to wage-and-hour recoveries based upon statistical sampling, Justice Carol A. Corrigan offers trial courts step-by-step guidelines to avoid the “profoundly flawed” approach that led to a $15 million verdict for a class composed of hundreds of loan officers who were seeking unpaid overtime on the claim they had been misclassified under the outside salesperson exemption. (See Cal. Lab. Code § 1171.) The carefully crafted opinion won the full support of the court, with a concurring opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu that appears to add nothing more than some consolation for the trial judge.

Annotations

Annotated by Andrew Whalen
FACTS
Loan officers employed by U.S. Bank brought a class action lawsuit against their employer. The employees claimed to have been misclassified under the outside salesperson exemption, resulting in lost wages.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Following a bench trial, the judge ruled for the plaintiffs and awarded damages. U.S. Bank appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded. Superseding the judgment of the Court of Appeal, however, the Supreme Court of California granted review.
ISSUES
This case presents issues concerning the certification of class actions in wage and hour misclassification litigation and the use of representative testimony and statistical evidence at trial of such a class action.
HOLDING
First, the trial court abused its discretion in relying on statistical sampling for a finding of liability and calculating damages, because the sample was neither appropriately assessed for size nor randomly selected. Second, the trial court abused its discretion in excluding evidence from outside of the sample, because it denied U.S. Bank the ability to raise affirmative defenses.
ANALYSIS
The outside salesperson exemption allows an employer to avoid paying overtime to workers who spend more than fifty percent of their time outside the place of employment attempting sales. The trial court certified a class of 260 plaintiffs based on the responses of 21 self-selected plaintiffs, and did not permit evidence from outside of the sample. U.S. Bank attempted to submit 75 sworn affidavits from plaintiffs who stated that they spent more than half of the time out on sales calls. This evidence was not admitted or considered when the trial court decided that the entire class had been misclassified. Accordingly, U.S. Bank was denied the right to assert affirmative defenses against members of the class. This constituted an abuse of discretion.
Furthermore, the trial court’s method of statistical sampling suffered from two fatal deficiencies: small sample size and non-randomness. After noting that the use of sampling is not clearly settled, the Supreme Court noted that the issues were so individual-specific that statistical sampling may not have been appropriate at all in this case.
Regardless, the sample size should have undergone a preliminary assessment to account for the variability of the population in order to arrive at any meaningful reflection of the population’s characteristics. This step was inappropriately omitted, resulting in a sample that was too small.
Additionally, several factors led to a non-random sample composition. First, the trial court excluded a member it considered an outlier, leading to increased uniformity. Second, the trial court excluded a member who failed to appear, which had the effect of allowing a member to opt out of the sample and yet still recover. Such a maneuver could permit those claims with less merit avoid scrutiny and reap the benefits of more meritorious claims. Third, and relatedly, the court allowed an explicit opting out after class counsel would have had a chance to evaluate the strength of each claim. Class counsel encouraged some to opt out. Fourth, the court relied on the named plaintiffs’ testimonies (in addition to those of the imperfectly random sample) when extrapolating its findings to the entire class.
The above mistakes rendered the findings from the sample unrepresentative. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal and ordered a new trial for liability and damages. The trial court was left with discretion over whether to reconsider class certification arguments.
TAGS
class certification, statistical sampling, sample, statistics, sample size, sample composition, Duran, U.S. Bank, abuse of discretion, employment, wage and hour, benefits, employment dispute, outside salesperson exception, outside sales exception
CONCURRENCE
Judge Liu authored the concurrence which offered more detailed applications of the majority principles to class certification.

LEGAL TERMS
Class Action: A lawsuit that brings together a number of plaintiffs or defendants who have common interests, claims, or goals.

The Opinion

We encounter here an exceedingly rare beast: a wage and hour class action

that proceeded through trial to verdict. Loan officers for U.S. Bank National

Association (USB) sued for unpaid overtime, claiming they had been misclassified

as exempt employees under the outside salesperson exemption. (Lab. Code,

§ 1171.) This exemption applies to employees who spend more than 50 percent of

the workday engaged in sales activities outside the office. (Ramirez v. Yosemite

Water Co. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 785 (Ramirez).)

After certifying a class of 260 plaintiffs, the trial court devised a plan to

determine the extent of USB‘s liability to all class members by extrapolating from

a random sample. In the first phase of trial, the court heard testimony about the

work habits of 21 plaintiffs. USB was not permitted to introduce evidence about

the work habits of any plaintiff outside this sample. Nevertheless, based on

testimony from the small sample group, the trial court found that the entire class

had been misclassified. After the second phase of trial, which focused on

testimony from statisticians, the court extrapolated the average amount of
overtime reported by the sample group to the class as a whole, resulting in a

verdict of approximately $15 million and an average recovery of over $57,000 per

person.

As even the plaintiffs recognize, this result cannot stand. The judgment

must be reversed because the trial court‘s flawed implementation of sampling

prevented USB from showing that some class members were exempt and entitled

to no recovery. A trial plan that relies on statistical sampling must be developed

with expert input and must afford the defendant an opportunity to impeach the

model or otherwise show its liability is reduced. Statistical sampling may provide

an appropriate means of proving liability and damages in some wage and hour

class actions. However, as outlined below, the trial court‘s particular approach to

sampling here was profoundly flawed.

I. BACKGROUND

USB is a nationwide financial services provider. During the relevant

period, it operated over 130 branches in California. This class action was brought

by USB employees who worked as business banking officers (BBOs).1 BBOs sell

bank products, including loans and lines of credit, to small business customers.

Their primary job is to cultivate new business. After a BBO acquires a new client,

a client manager handles the portfolio and maintains the relationship. A BBO can

be assigned to work with up to four bank branches. Although they typically use

one branch office as a home base, some BBOs work from multiple branches or

their homes.

A May 1997 job description states that BBOs were expected to develop and

manage customer relationships and to ―grow[] [USB‘s] business through

prospecting, networking, cross-selling and relationship management.‖ Among

1

This position was previously called ―Small Business Banker.‖ It was

renamed after a merger in 2001, but the duties of the position did not change. To
avoid confusion, we refer to all employees in this position, both before and after
2001, as BBOs.

2
several other ―essential functions,‖ BBOs were required to ―call[] on customers

and/or prospects.‖ They were expected to use a ―high degree of creativity and

independence in managing account relationships and developing new business.‖

This job description was essentially unchanged until May 2002, shortly after the

complaint here was filed. The new job description splits the list of a BBO‘s

essential functions into separate categories for ―Outside Sales Activity,‖

―Incidental Activity to Outside Sales,‖ and ―Other Activity,‖ and specifies that

more than 80 percent of a BBO‘s time should be spent on ―Outside Sales

Activity.‖ During all relevant times, USB has classified the BBO position as

exempt from overtime compensation, primarily based on the outside salesperson

exemption in Labor Code section 1171.2

A.

Pretrial Proceedings

On December 26, 2001, a putative class action complaint was filed alleging

USB had improperly classified BBOs as exempt, denying them overtime pay in

violation of Labor Code section 1194.3 Class counsel later replaced the original

named plaintiff with three new class representatives. In March 2005, when

dueling certification motions were pending, counsel replaced these representatives

with the two currently named plaintiffs, Samuel (Sam) Duran and Matt

Fitzsimmons. All replaced representatives had testified in deposition that they

spent more than 50 percent of their workday engaged in sales activities outside

USB offices, which would have brought them within the exemption.4

2

Labor Code section 1171 states that statutes governing wages, hours, and

working conditions, including the requirement of overtime pay, ―shall apply to and
include men, women and minors employed in any occupation, trade, or industry,
whether compensation is measured by time, piece, or otherwise, but shall not
include any individual employed as an outside salesman . . . .‖ (Italics added.)

3

Plaintiffs alleged the same conduct also violated Business and Professions

Code section 17200 and constituted conversion.

4

The original named plaintiff, Amina Rafiqzada, was replaced in February

2003. A little over two months later, Rafiqzada testified that she spent

3

1.

Initial Class Certification Proceedings

On January 6, 2005, plaintiffs moved to certify the case as a class action.

At that time, USB employed approximately 40 BBOs in California. There were

over 200 current and former BBOs in the putative class. Plaintiffs provided

declarations from 34 current and former BBOs, all averring that they worked

overtime hours and spent less than half of their workday engaged in sales-related

activities outside their branch office. USB opposed certification. It argued that

plaintiffs could not establish a predominance of common issues or that the class

action device was superior to other methods of adjudication. USB filed

declarations from 83 putative class members, 75 of whom5 said they typically

spent more than 50 percent of their workday engaged in outside sales.6 USB also

submitted deposition testimony from the four former class representatives stating

that they regularly worked more than half the day outside the office.

The trial court certified the class. Relying on Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v.

Superior Court (2004) 34 Cal.4th 319 (Sav-On), it found common questions of

law and fact predominated over individual issues based on evidence that: (1) the

BBO position was ―standardized‖; (2) USB classified all BBOs as exempt without

examining each employee‘s duties or work habits; and (3) USB failed to train or

monitor BBOs to ensure that exemption requirements were satisfied. The class

approximately 60 percent of her workday outside the branch office. The second
group of named plaintiffs (Vanessa Haven, Abby Karavani, and Parham
Shekarlab) testified in June 2003 that they spent from 60 to 90 percent of the
workday outside the office. These three were replaced in a second amendment to
the complaint on March 14, 2005, just days before the court ruled on the first
round of certification motions.

5

Four of the 75 individuals who gave declarations for USB later provided

contradictory declarations supporting the lawsuit. Although plaintiffs strenuously
challenge the authenticity of these declarations, they were not excluded from
consideration, at the certification stage or later, on this ground. (See post, fn. 10.)

6

We use the terms ―outside sales‖ or ―outside activities‖ to describe work

done away from a bank office.

4
was ultimately defined as all California-based BBOs who worked overtime for

USB at any time during the period from December 26, 1997 until September 26,

2005.7

2.

Trial Management Plan

About a year after certification, the parties presented competing trial

management plans. USB proposed to divide the class into 20 or 30 groups and

have special masters conduct individualized evidentiary hearings on liability and

damages. Plaintiffs opposed this idea, arguing that USB had no due process right

to assert its affirmative defenses against each individual class member.

As an alternative, plaintiffs proposed the use of surveys and random

sampling, as described in a declaration from statistics expert Richard Drogin.

First, the parties would identify all tasks performed by BBOs and classify which

were sales-related. Next, the amount of time class members typically spent on

outside activities would be assessed using a classwide survey. The parties‘ experts

would then jointly design a random sample of surveyed class members to proceed

through focused discovery and a phase one trial. Finally, aggregate, classwide

damages would be determined at a phase two trial. Once an aggregate damages

figure was established, the parties would agree upon a claims procedure to

distribute damages to individual class members.

USB strenuously objected to the use of representative sampling. If the

court rejected its proposal for focused trials of all class members, USB proposed

that the parties each select an equal number of class members for the trial sample.

USB argued that a survey would not yield a truly representative sample because

class members who were properly classified as exempt would have no interest in

participating in trial or returning the survey. Thus, any survey-based sample

would be skewed in plaintiffs‘ favor.

7

USB‘s petitions for writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal and for review

in this court were denied.

5

At a case management conference, the court also expressed concern about

the potential for biased survey results and proposed an alternative of its own

devising. The court suggested that it could select a random sample of 20 class

members to testify at trial. Any findings on liability and damages for this sample

would then be extrapolated to the remainder of the class. USB again objected that

an attempt to extrapolate liability from representative testimony would violate due

process. There was no precedent for using random sampling to establish liability

in a class action involving the outside sales exemption. Indeed, neither side was

aware of any such case even proceeding to a liability phase trial. The premier case

approving the use of representative testimony in an overtime class action, Bell v.

Farmers Ins. Exchange (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 715 (Bell), concerned the trial of

damages only, not liability. Finally, a declaration from USB‘s expert, Phillip

Gorman, explained that reliance on a small sample would present a high risk of

error.

Notwithstanding these objections, the court decided to proceed with its own

plan, taking testimony from 20 randomly selected class members in addition to the

two named plaintiffs (hereafter, the representative witness group, or RWG). The

court directed its clerk to draw names ―from the proverbial hat‖ to select 20 class

members plus five alternates.8 The record does not reflect how the court

determined that this number or method of selection was appropriate. The court

contemplated trying the case in two phases: Phase one would include testimony

from those in the RWG. Phase two would consider evidence, including expert

testimony, ―seeking to extrapolate the results of Phase I evidence to the class.‖

8

It appears these alternates were later used to replace RWG members who

opted out and one who was removed by the court. (See post, at pp. 7-8, 44.)

6

3.

Additional Pretrial Proceedings

a.

Dismissal of Legal Claims and Opt-out Proceedings

In November 2006, around the same time the trial court finalized the trial

management plan and selected the RWG, plaintiffs moved to dismiss their claims

under the Labor Code and proceed solely on a claim for equitable relief under the

unfair competition law (UCL). (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.) The court

allowed the amendment but also ordered that class members be notified and given

a second opportunity to opt out. USB objected that the randomness of the sample

would be compromised if members of the RWG withdrew. In total, nine people

opted out: Four were members of the RWG, and five were among the remaining

250 people in the class.

USB then asked the court to readmit the four RWG members. It produced

declarations from two RWG members stating they had opted out at class counsel‘s

urging. These declarants believed they had been properly classified as exempt and

felt the lawsuit was frivolous. In addition, a declaration from USB‘s expert

Gorman explained that the much higher opt-out rate for RWG members (20

percent, as compared with 2 percent for the rest of the class) was statistically ―very

unlikely to be attributable to random chance.‖ In his opinion, removal of the four

RWG members created a biased sample that, if extrapolated, could result in large

overestimates of the percentage of misclassified class members and of any

overtime pay owed to the class. The court denied the motion, observing that

questions about the admissibility of testimony from non-RWG witnesses would be

more appropriately addressed at trial. The final class was composed of 260

individuals.

7

b.

USB’s First Decertification Motion

In March 2007, USB moved to decertify the class action. Citing new case

law9 and deposition testimony from RWG members, its argued that individual

issues predominated. USB also submitted a declaration from statistician Andrew

Hildreth opining that the RWG sample size was too small to produce a reasonably

accurate estimate of classwide liability or damages. Hildreth explained that a high

margin of error was inherent in such a small sample size. As a result, it was very

likely that a classwide judgment would encompass some employees who were

properly classified, and the damages estimate extrapolated from the small sample

would be highly inaccurate. The motion was denied.

B.

Trial

1.

Phase One: Liability

There were many in limine motions, but one was particularly significant.

USB sought to introduce declarations10 and live testimony from class members

outside the RWG. These included formerly named plaintiffs, class members who

had previously given depositions supporting USB, and individuals who had opted

out of the class. The court substantially denied these requests, ruling: ―Defendant

may not introduce testimony[,] evidence[,] or argument related to BBOs who were

not selected in the RWG and/or were not supervising sales managers of the RWG

members where the purpose of such testimony or evidence is to impact the data or

analyses on the ultimate question of liability or damages. To the extent such

9

Walsh v. IKON Office Solutions, Inc. (2007) 148 Cal.App.4th 1440;

Dunbar v. Albertson’s, Inc. (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1422; Jimenez v. Domino’s
Pizza, Inc. (C.D. Cal. 2006) 238 F.R.D. 241.

10

These appear to be the same declarations USB offered when it opposed

class certification. Plaintiffs disputed the authenticity of these declarations and
asserted defense counsel had coerced some class members into signing them.
When the trial court later ruled on in limine motions, it did not exclude USB‘s
declarations but cautioned that their weight would be ―adjusted because of their
authorship, the circumstances of preparation[,] and internal inconsistencies and
ambiguities.‖

8
witnesses are shown to have admissible percipient witness or impeach[ment]

testimony as to RWG members, the testimony may be permitted by [the] Court

after determination of objections thereto.‖ Throughout the trial, the court refused

to hear any testimony about the work habits of BBOs not included in the RWG.

Phase one of the bench trial lasted 40 court days. The two named plaintiffs

and 19 of the 20 other RWG members testified.11 USB called several corporate

witnesses and the direct supervisors of some of the RWG witnesses.

a.

Summary of Evidence Presented

All RWG witnesses worked exclusively on sales. All set their own

schedules, deciding when and where they worked. They consistently testified that

USB never told them where to work, or that they were required to spend more than

half of their work time outside a branch office. USB kept no records of BBOs‘

working hours or the proportion of time spent either in or outside bank offices.

The RWG witnesses all testified that they generally spent more than half of their

workday inside bank offices.

The RWG testimony varied somewhat, however, on the subject of overtime

work. Some RWG witnesses testified that they typically worked no more than 40

hours per week. Some testified to relatively small amounts of overtime, reporting

workweeks of up to 45 hours. Others reported working more overtime. One

RWG member, Chad Penza, was something of an anomaly. At one point during

the three and a half years he worked for USB, Penza was the top-producing BBO

nationwide. He initially worked 10 and a half hours a day, but after a few months

he began working 12 to 13 hours a day, including several hours on weekends.

Penza explained that he chose to work long hours because he was trying to reach

11

One RWG member, Borsay Bryant, did not respond to a trial subpoena.

There was no indication why he ignored the court‘s order. The court found that
Bryant had not waived his claim for overtime compensation but would instead be
treated like other class members who did not testify, i.e., those outside the RWG,
and presumed to be nonexempt.

9
sales goals and succeed. Other RWG witnesses similarly testified that their work

schedules and habits were motivated by the desire to meet sales goals and not by

any expectation from the bank that they work overtime.

Some of the RWG members were impeached with contrary declarations

they had previously signed. For example, top producer Penza executed two

declarations, in 2002 and 2004, stating that he spent from 75 to 100 percent of his

time making outside sales calls. Another BBO, Adney Koga, signed a declaration

and testified in deposition that he typically spent 55 percent of his time away from

the office on sales calls.

USB called several witnesses. Ted Biggs, the western regional manager for

USB‘s small business group, testified that BBOs were expected to spend the

majority of their time making outside sales calls, networking, and visiting

customers‘ businesses. Biggs encouraged all his BBOs to meet sales goals using a

―15-3-1-1‖ model. According to this model, a BBO who makes an average of 15

customer contacts a week should obtain three loan applications, which will

normally yield one loan approval and one funded loan. Given the length of the

average sales call, Biggs estimated that BBOs should spend up to 30 hours a week

meeting with potential customers at the clients‘ businesses. Other USB managers

testified that they routinely counseled BBOs to spend a majority of their time

meeting with customers outside bank locations.

Managers also described their supervision of those in the RWG. District

manager Michael Lewis supervised RWG member Matthew Gediman for over a

year. He estimated that Gediman spent from 55 to 70 percent of his time outside

the office during the first six months. Later, when Gediman‘s production waned,

Lewis encouraged him to spend more time on outside sales. Similarly, sales

manager Pat Collins testified that she hired class representative Sam Duran and

told him he was expected to spend the majority of his time on outside sales calls.

When Duran failed to meet sales goals, she encouraged him to follow the 15-3-1-1

model and make more outside calls.

10

b.

Posttrial Motions

At the close of evidence in phase one, USB filed a due process motion

seeking to introduce deposition excerpts and over 70 declarations from class

members outside the RWG. The court barred this evidence as inconsistent with its

selected trial plan. The court also denied USB‘s motion for judgment under Code

of Civil Procedure section 631.8.

In anticipation of phase two, plaintiffs moved to amend the declaration of

their expert, Jon Krosnick, to permit trial testimony about the results of a

telephone survey Krosnick had conducted of class members‘ work hours. The

court allowed the amendment, and USB moved to exclude the survey evidence. In

opposition, plaintiffs filed a declaration from their statistics expert, Richard

Drogin. Drogin opined that phase one findings of liability and average weekly

hours of unpaid overtime could be ―reliably projected to the whole class‖ because

they were based on a random sample. Taking the court‘s indicated findings for

phase one, with adjustments for vacation time and other breaks in service, Drogin

calculated a weighted average of overtime for the RWG at 11.87 hours per week,12

with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.14 hours at a 95 percent confidence

interval. The relative margin of error for the overtime estimate was plus or minus

43.3 percent.13 Although this margin of error based on the RWG sample alone

was quite large, Drogin observed that Krosnick‘s survey had actually produced a

12

―Weight‖ simply reflects the total number of weeks the RWG members

worked overtime. So, for example, if one RWG member worked 10 hours of
overtime for three weeks and another worked 20 hours of overtime for one week,
the weighted average of their overtime would be 50 hours (30 hours for RWG
member 1 plus 20 hours for RWG member 2) divided by the four total weeks
worked, for an average of 12.5 overtime hours per week.

13

The relative margin of error is the percentage of deviation possible around

the point estimate at a specific confidence interval. Here, the point estimate was
11.87 hours, and deviation around this estimate ranged from 6.73 to 17.01 (i.e.,
plus or minus 5.14 hours) at a 95 percent confidence interval. The relative margin
of error is calculated by dividing the absolute margin of error by the point
estimate. In this case: 5.14/11.87 = 43.30 percent.

11
higher estimate of weekly overtime (14.39 hours per week). Drogin asserted that

Krosnick‘s study corroborated the accuracy of the RWG estimate. Nevertheless,

the court ruled Krosnick‘s survey evidence inadmissible unless it became relevant

for impeachment.

Shortly before the formal statement of decision was issued in phase one,

USB moved again to decertify the class. USB argued that because trial evidence

revealed wide variations among class members, individual issues predominated as

to both liability and restitution. The motion was denied. The court decided to

extend liability findings for RWG members to the class as a whole. It dismissed

as premature USB‘s objection to the calculation of restitution by extrapolation

from phase one evidence.

c.

Statement of Decision

The trial court issued a phase one statement of decision on September 22,

2008, approximately a year after the close of evidence. It found that, during all

relevant times, USB did not have a policy requiring BBOs to spend more than half

their time away from bank locations. Although some defense witnesses testified

the bank expected BBOs to spend most of their time away from the office, the

court discredited this testimony based on its assessment of the evidence and the

lack of documentary support. The court found that BBOs were never told they

were expected to spend time outside the bank. USB did not track the time BBOs

worked inside or outside of bank offices. Consistent with their classification as

exempt employees, the bank kept no record of BBOs‘ work hours. USB had no

compliance program to ensure BBOs were properly classified, and no BBO had

ever been disciplined for spending excessive time inside the bank. The trial court

also found that it was unrealistic for USB to expect BBOs to work more than half

their time outside the bank because many BBO job duties could only be

performed, or could most easily be performed, inside bank offices.

The court also found that the practice of working more than half the time

inside the bank did not diverge from USB‘s realistic expectations for work

12
performance because USB had no expectations concerning where the work would

be performed. ―[T]he only expectation [USB] had for its BBOs was that they hit

their production goals.‖ BBOs were evaluated, ranked, compensated, rewarded,

and disciplined based solely on their sales production. Where BBOs worked, or

even how they performed their job, did not matter to USB. The bank cared only

whether BBOs were generating and retaining business.

Accordingly, the court concluded USB did not carry its burden of proof on

the outside salesperson exemption. Based primarily on testimony from RWG

witnesses, the court ruled that the entire class of BBOs employed by USB between

December 26, 1997, and September 26, 2005, was misclassified as exempt, and all

class members were owed overtime in amounts to be determined in phase two of

the trial. The court provisionally accepted Drogin‘s assertion that RWG members

worked an average of 11.87 hours of overtime per week but deferred consideration

of the number‘s significance to phase two.

2.

Phase Two: Restitution

a.

Pretrial Motions

Before the start of evidence in phase two, plaintiffs filed an in limine

motion to prevent USB from introducing any evidence pertaining to liability

because that question had been resolved in the court‘s statement of decision for

phase one. The court granted the motion, noting that the purpose of phase one had

been to resolve USB‘s liability for misclassification. The court once again denied

USB‘s request to introduce declarations and deposition testimony from non-RWG

class members. The court thus barred any challenge to its phase one decision that

all class members were misclassified as exempt and all were entitled to overtime

compensation.14

14

The trial court also prohibited USB from introducing timesheets showing

that some class members spent time working in BBO training positions that were
properly classified as nonexempt. Even though the class members clearly had no
valid misclassification claim for these training weeks, the court reasoned that any

13

b.

Evidence

Plaintiffs‘ statistics expert Richard Drogin testified that the trial court‘s

methodology in phase one was statistically sound. Drogin conceded, however,

that the plan differed from his own proposal. Drogin had suggested that the entire

class be surveyed as to how much time each member spent on outside sales. No

such survey was ever conducted. Nor was the sample group entirely random. It

included the two named plaintiffs, who had been chosen by class counsel to

replace four apparently less satisfactory representatives. Nevertheless, Drogin

believed their inclusion did not skew the sample in favor of the class because his

calculations produced a higher average weekly overtime number when the named

plaintiffs were excluded. Drogin testified that the trial court‘s phase one findings

on liability could be extrapolated to the class with a 13 percent margin of error.15

In other words, based on the court‘s finding that all RWG witnesses were

misclassified, Drogin determined that at least 87 percent of the class was

misclassified. Under Drogin‘s own calculations, then, based on extrapolation

from a small and not entirely random sample, up to 13 percent of the class was

properly classified as exempt. This conclusion stood in contrast to the trial court‘s

determination that the entire class was misclassified.

As to restitution, Drogin testified that RWG members reported working an

average of 11.87 hours of overtime per week. He arrived at this figure by adding

the number of overtime hours the court found had been worked by the 21

testifying witnesses and dividing that total by the number of weeks they had

worked. If a witness reported a range of overtime hours, Drogin picked the

evidence pertaining to class members outside the RWG, even evidence directly
negating liability, violated its trial plan.

15

All such predictions by the experts were made at a 95 percent confidence

interval.

14
midpoint.16 He calculated that the margin of error for this figure was plus or

minus 5.14 hours per week, or 43.3 percent.

USB‘s statistics expert, Andrew Hildreth, identified several problems with

the trial court‘s sampling plan. He explained that simply drawing a random

sample is not sufficient to produce an unbiased and accurate estimate about an

underlying population. To be reliable, the sample must be sufficiently large and

free from bias caused by various sampling errors. Here, the sample size was too

small. Hildreth explained that, before a sample is selected, a pilot study is

typically done to determine the amount of variation in the underlying population.

Based on this pilot study, experts can estimate the standard deviation in the

population and then, using the desired margin of error, calculate the optimal

sample size. Although both sides‘ experts had proposed such a study, none was

done before the court decided to pick 20 class members for the sample.

Hildreth explained that a ―non-response‖ error occurred when a member of

the RWG, Borsay Bryant, failed to appear and testify at trial. The court responded

to Bryant‘s absence by eliminating him from the sample and treating him like an

absent class member. However, when members of a sample group leave or refuse

to participate for reasons relevant to the matter under consideration, the sample

participants who choose to remain may not accurately reflect the underlying

population.

In Hildreth‘s opinion, the sample was also seriously marred by selection

bias. When the court allowed a second round of opt-outs after random selection of

the RWG, it effectively created two groups with different motivations. If RWG

16

USB‘s expert criticized Drogin‘s use of a midpoint because these

calculations assumed, without foundation, that an employee worked the same
number of weeks at the high end of the stated range as at the low end. For
example, an employee who typically worked 10 overtime hours a week and only
occasionally worked 20 overtime hours would be assigned a midpoint of 15,
whereas a more accurate figure for the employee‘s average overtime would be
closer to 10.

15
members opted out, they would no longer have to testify at trial, and their

testimony would no longer influence the sample results. However, if class

members outside the RWG opted out, this choice would not change their

participation in the trial nor affect the sample results. The two groups did, in fact,

behave differently: Less than 2 percent of the non-sample group opted out,

whereas 20 percent of the sample group did so. Hildreth explained that the second

round of opt-outs gave members of the RWG an opportunity to self-select into the

sample group, compromising the randomness of the sample.17 In Hildreth‘s

opinion, the court compounded the selection bias problem when it refused to hear

testimony from plaintiffs who had opted out of the RWG. Inclusion of the two

named plaintiffs in the sample group also created selection bias. These plaintiffs

were selected by class counsel, not a random draw. This meant approximately 10

percent of the already small sample group had been selected by interested parties.

Including nonrandom plaintiffs in the sample group had an obvious potential to

bias the results.

Hildreth also opined that there was no statistical basis to conclude from the

court‘s phase one findings that 100 percent of the class was misclassified. Even if

all the sampling errors he identified could be ignored, and all those in the random

sample were correctly found to be misclassified, it was still statistically possible

that 13 percent of the class was properly classified as exempt. For a sample of

19,18 Hildreth calculated that up to 14 percent of the class, or 36 members, could

have been properly classified.19

17

In other words, a member of the RWG who had worked little overtime, or

worked outside the office frequently enough to be exempt, could remove herself
from the sample group in the hope that her replacement would offer testimony
more favorable for the class.

18

Nineteen is the number of RWG members who testified at trial and

excludes testimony from the non-randomly selected named plaintiffs.

19

At an average compensation of $57,000, an unsupported award to 36 class

members amounts to over $2 million.

16

c.

Statement of Decision

On May 20, 2009, the trial court issued a statement of decision for phase

two. Consistent with its remarks at the close of phase one, the court found that the

class worked 11.8620 overtime hours per week, with a margin of error of 5.14

hours, or approximately 43 percent. Accordingly, the court calculated the total

amount of overtime restitution owed to the class at $8,953,832.21 With

prejudgment interest, the total award as of May 15, 2009, came to $14,959,565.

Despite the high margin of error, the court concluded its weekly overtime estimate

was reliable based on factors identified by the Court of Appeal in Bell, supra, 115

Cal.App.4th 715. The court also applied a relaxed standard of proof for damages

because USB had failed to maintain legally required time records. (See Anderson

v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co. (1946) 328 U.S. 680, 687-688 (Mt. Clemens).)

C.

Posttrial Proceedings

In a motion for new trial, USB argued it was denied due process by the

court‘s refusal to admit non-RWG class member declarations or depositions and

its refusal to hear non-RWG testimony offered in USB‘s defense. The motion was

denied.

On appeal, the judgment was unanimously reversed.22 The Court of

Appeal held the trial plan‘s reliance on representative sampling to determine

liability denied USB its due process right to litigate affirmative defenses. Due

process concerns were also implicated by the high margin of error. Finally, the

court concluded the trial court had abused its discretion in denying USB‘s second

motion to decertify the class. Even if certification had once appeared appropriate,

20

Although Drogin‘s calculations yielded an estimate of 11.87, the court

found that class members worked an average of 11.86 hours of overtime per week.
We therefore use 11.86 in all further discussion of the overtime estimate.

21

The court separately awarded $25,373 to the named plaintiffs for meal and

rest break violations.

22

The same court, Division One of the First District Court of Appeal, had

previously decided Bell, supra, 115 Cal.App.4th 715.

17
it should have been apparent after phase one that individual issues predominated to

such an extent that they rendered class treatment impossible. In addition to

reversing the trial court‘s judgment, the Court of Appeal ordered the class

decertified. We granted review.

II. DISCUSSION

During the past decade, California courts have seen an increasing number

of class action lawsuits alleging workers were wrongly classified as exempt from

overtime laws and other labor regulations. Employers often treat all workers

within a job position as either exempt or nonexempt. In actuality, however, Labor

Code exemptions frequently depend on how individual employees perform their

jobs. When an exemption defense turns on such individualized issues, questions

about how, or whether, the case can proceed as a class action become particularly

thorny.

Faced with the potential difficulties of managing individual issues in

misclassification cases, many trial courts have denied certification or decertified

the class before trial. (See post, at pp. 24-26.) Under deferential appellate review

for abuse of discretion (see Linder v. Thrifty Oil Co. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 429, 435-

436), such decisions have been routinely upheld. Conversely, other trial courts

have granted certification in misclassification actions, and these decisions, too,

have been upheld. (See, e.g., Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th 319; Bell, supra, 115

Cal.App.4th 715; see also post, at p. 26 & fn. 28.) As far as we are aware,

however, this is only the second misclassification case in California certified as a

class action and tried to verdict.23

This appeal highlights difficult questions about how individual issues can

be successfully managed in a complex class action. After reviewing the

requirements of the outside salesperson exemption, we discuss the trial court‘s

23

The first was Bell, supra, 115 Cal.App.4th 715, which resulted in a

classwide verdict that was almost entirely upheld on appeal. As we will discuss,
however, this case differs from Bell in significant particulars.

18
obligation to consider the manageability of individual issues in certifying a class

action. In particular, we hold that a class action trial management plan must

permit the litigation of relevant affirmative defenses, even when these defenses

turn on individual questions. Next, we explain how the trial court ignored

individual issues here, hamstringing USB‘s ability to defend itself. Finally, we

describe the flaws in the trial plan‘s implementation of statistical sampling as

proof of USB‘s liability to the class.

A.

The Outside Salesperson Exemption

USB‘s primary defense was that plaintiffs were exempt from overtime laws

because they were outside salespeople. Labor Code section 1171 provides that the

overtime pay requirements of Labor Code section 1194 apply to those ―employed

in any occupation, trade, or industry, whether compensation is measured by time,

piece, or otherwise, but shall not include any individual employed as an outside

salesman . . . .‖ (Italics added.) The applicable wage order24 also states that its

provisions ―shall not apply to outside salespersons.‖ (Industrial Welfare Com.,

Wage Order No. 4-2001 (Jan. 1, 2001), Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040,

subd. 1(C) (hereafter Wage Order No. 4-2001).) An ― ‗[o]utside salesperson‘ ‖ is

one ―who customarily and regularly works more than half the working time away

from the employer‘s place of business selling tangible or intangible items or

obtaining orders or contracts for products, services or use of facilities.‖ (Wage

Order No. 4-2001, subd. 2(M).)25 The employer bears the burden of proving that

24

Pursuant to authority granted by various Labor Code provisions, the

Industrial Wage Commission regulates wages and working hours in various
industries through wage orders. (See Harris v. Superior Court (2011) 53 Cal.4th
170, 176-177; Martinez v. Combs (2010) 49 Cal.4th 35, 55-57.)

25

Early in the litigation, USB argued BBOs could also fall within the

administrative and commissioned salesperson exemptions (Wage Order No. 4-
2001, subds. 1(A)(2), 3(D)). These affirmative defenses were dismissed before
trial on plaintiffs‘ motion for summary adjudication. The trial court also ruled that
California law does not permit the ―tacking‖ of time worked under multiple
exceptions to meet the required 50 percent threshold for exempt time. These

19
the outside salesperson exemption applies. (Ramirez, supra, 20 Cal.4th at pp. 794-

795.)26

Ramirez also involved the outside salesperson exemption. (Ramirez, supra,

20 Cal.4th 785.) Unlike the corresponding federal provision, California‘s wage

order definition ―takes a purely quantitative approach‖ and focuses exclusively on

whether the employee spends more than half of the workday engaged in sales

activities outside the office. (Id. at p. 797.) The exemption requires scrutiny of

both the job description and an employee‘s own work habits. (Id. at pp. 801-802.)

The trial court must inquire ―first and foremost, how the employee actually spends

his or her time.‖ (Id. at p. 802, italics added.) Ancillary questions include

―whether the employee‘s practice diverges from the employer‘s realistic

expectations, whether there was any concrete expression of employer displeasure

over an employee‘s substandard performance, and whether these expressions were

themselves realistic given the actual overall requirements of the job.‖ (Ibid.)

The Ramirez dispute centered on whether the plaintiff spent more than half

his working time engaged in sales. (Ramirez, supra, 20 Cal.4th at pp. 802-803;

see also Walsh v. IKON Office Solutions, Inc., supra, 148 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1445-

1446.) Here, the parties agree that BBOs spent most or all of their workday in that

fashion. The dispute concerns where they typically did the work. As the courts

below recognized, the wage order‘s approach to this question is just as quantitative

as it was in Ramirez. For the exemption to apply, a BBO must ―customarily and

regularly work[] more than half the working time away from the employer’s place

rulings were challenged in the Court of Appeal, but that court did not reach them.
They are not before us here.

26

Ramirez construed the 1980 predecessor to present Wage Order No. 7-2001

(Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11070 (Jan. 1, 2001)), which governs wages, hours, and
working conditions in the mercantile industry. Although this case is governed by
a different regulation, the wage orders‘ definitions of ―outside salesperson‖ are the
same.

20
of business selling . . . or obtaining orders or contracts . . . .‖ (Wage Order No. 4-

2001, subd. 2(M), italics added.)

We have observed that some common questions about the exemption ―are

likely to prove susceptible of common proof‖ in a class action. (Sav-On, supra, 34

Cal.4th at p. 337.) Job requirements and employer expectations of how duties are

to be performed may often be established by evidence relating to a group as a

whole. (Ramirez, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 802.) But litigation of the outside

salesperson exemption has the obvious potential to generate individual issues

because the primary considerations are how and where the employee actually

spends his or her workday. (Sav-On, at pp. 336-337; Ramirez, at p. 802.) Of

course, the questions of actual performance and employer expectations can be

intertwined. For example, evidence that most members of a company‘s sales force

actually spend the majority of their time working in the office might be relevant to

show that the employer‘s expectations regarding outside sales work were

unreasonable. Yet, as noted, the question is ―first and foremost‖ how the

employee‘s time is actually spent. (Ramirez, at p. 802.) Given California‘s

uniquely quantitative approach to this exemption (see id. at p. 801), some proof

about how individual employees use their time will often be necessary to

accurately determine an employer‘s overtime liability.

B.

Certification of Misclassification Class Actions

Although putative class actions alleging misclassification are increasingly

common, these cases are only rarely tried to verdict.27 Settlement should never be

treated as a foregone conclusion, however. In the misclassification context, as in

27

The vast majority of cases settle after a class action is certified. In a 2010

study conducted by the Administrative Office of the Courts, 89 percent of cases
certified as a class action ended in settlement, compared with 15 percent of cases
in which certification was denied. (AOC Off. of Ct. Research, Class Certification
in Cal. Second Interim Report from the Study of Cal. Class Action Litigation (Feb.
2010) p. 23
(as of May 29, 2014).)

21
other types of cases, trial courts deciding whether to certify a class must consider

not just whether common questions exist, but also whether it will be feasible to try

the case as a class action. Depending on the nature of the claimed exemption and

the facts of a particular case, a misclassification claim has the potential to raise

numerous individual questions that may be difficult, or even impossible, to litigate

on a classwide basis. Class certification is appropriate only if these individual

questions can be managed with an appropriate trial plan.

1.

Class Certification Principles

a.

Predominance of Common Issues

A class action may be maintained if there is ―an ascertainable class and a

well-defined community of interest among the class members.‖ (Washington

Mutual Bank v. Superior Court (2001) 24 Cal.4th 906, 913 (Washington Mutual);

see Code Civ. Proc., § 382.) As part of the community of interest requirement, the

party seeking certification must show that issues of law or fact common to the

class predominate. (Richmond v. Dart Industries, Inc. (1981) 29 Cal.3d 462, 470.)

We have observed that the ―ultimate question‖ for predominance is whether

―the issues which may be jointly tried, when compared with those requiring

separate adjudication, are so numerous or substantial that the maintenance of a

class action would be advantageous to the judicial process and to the litigants.‖

(Collins v. Rocha (1972) 7 Cal.3d 232, 238; see Lockheed Martin Corp. v.

Superior Court (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1096, 1104-1105, 1108.) ―The answer hinges

on ‗whether the theory of recovery advanced by the proponents of certification is,

as an analytical matter, likely to prove amenable to class treatment.‘ (Sav–On,

[supra, 34 Cal.4th] at p. 327.) . . . ‗As a general rule if the defendant‘s liability

can be determined by facts common to all members of the class, a class will be

certified even if the members must individually prove their damages.‘

[Citations.]‖ (Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th

1004, 1021-1022 (Brinker); see also Employment Development Dept. v. Superior

Court (1981) 30 Cal.3d 256, 266; Vasquez v. Superior Court (1971) 4 Cal.3d 800,

22
809, 815.) However, we have cautioned that class treatment is not appropriate ―if

every member of the alleged class would be required to litigate numerous and

substantial questions determining his individual right to recover following the

‗class judgment‘ ‖ on common issues. (City of San Jose v. Superior Court (1974)

12 Cal.3d 447, 459.)

The granting of class certification thus requires a determination that group,

rather than individual, issues predominate. Such a finding, however, does not

preclude the consideration of individual issues at trial when those issues

legitimately touch upon relevant aspects of the case being litigated.

b.

Manageability of Individual Issues

Although predominance of common issues is often a major factor in a

certification analysis, it is not the only consideration. In certifying a class action,

the court must also conclude that litigation of individual issues, including those

arising from affirmative defenses, can be managed fairly and efficiently.

(Washington Mutual, supra, 24 Cal.4th at pp. 922-923.) ―[W]hether in a given

case affirmative defenses should lead a court to approve or reject certification will

hinge on the manageability of any individual issues. [Citation.]‖ (Brinker, supra,

53 Cal.4th at p. 1054 (conc. opn. of Werdegar, J.).) In wage and hour cases where

a party seeks class certification based on allegations that the employer consistently

imposed a uniform policy or de facto practice on class members, the party must

still demonstrate that the illegal effects of this conduct can be proven efficiently

and manageably within a class setting. (Brinker, at p. 1033; Dailey v. Sears,

Roebuck & Co. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 974, 989.)

After a class has been certified, the court‘s obligation to manage individual

issues does not disappear. ―[O]nce the issues common to the class have been tried,

and assuming some individual issues remain, each plaintiff must still by some

means prove up his or her claim, allowing the defendant an opportunity to contest

each individual claim on any ground not resolved in the trial of common issues.‖

(Johnson v. Ford Motor Co. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1191, 1210.) In Sav-On, supra, 34

23
Cal.4th at page 332, we upheld the certification of an overtime class action even

though the defendant complained that calculation of each class member‘s recovery

would likely ― ‗degenerate into a multitude of mini-trials[.]‘ ‖ There, we found

substantial evidence of common issues based on class members‘ allegations that

they were all required to work overtime and perform nonexempt tasks pursuant to

uniform company policies and practices. (Id. at pp. 327-328.) We upheld the trial

court‘s certification order even as we acknowledged that individualized proof of

class members‘ nonexempt status and overtime amounts might ultimately be

required. (Id. at pp. 332-334.) In so doing, we stressed that ―[i]ndividual issues

do not render class certification inappropriate so long as such issues may

effectively be managed.‖ (Id. at p. 334, italics added.)

Trial courts must pay careful attention to manageability when deciding

whether to certify a class action. In considering whether a class action is a

superior device for resolving a controversy, the manageability of individual issues

is just as important as the existence of common questions uniting the proposed

class. If the court makes a reasoned, informed decision about manageability at the

certification stage, the litigants can plan accordingly and the court will have less

need to intervene later to control the proceedings.

Trial courts also have the obligation to decertify a class action if individual

issues prove unmanageable. (Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 335; Washington

Mutual, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 927.) In the context of overtime class actions,

some courts have decertified when individual issues related to an exemption

defense threaten to overwhelm the litigation. For example, in Walsh v. IKON

Office Solutions, Inc., supra, 148 Cal.App.4th at pages 1445-1448, the court

certified an overtime class action involving the outside salesperson exemption. It

later decertified the class when discovery revealed that the circumstances of each

class member‘s employment differed significantly. The Court of Appeal affirmed

this ruling, noting that differences in time spent on sales activities and work

outside the office meant that adjudication of the exemption would require

24
individual hearings on liability and damages. (Id. at p. 1456.) Similarly, Keller v.

Tuesday Morning, Inc. (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1389 upheld the decertification of

an overtime class action brought by retail store managers. Although the trial court

initially certified a class based on our opinion in Sav-On, two years later it

determined that individual inquiries concerning how managers spent their time

would overwhelm the issues susceptible to classwide proof. (Keller, at p. 1399.)

2.

Management of Individual Issues in Misclassification Class Actions

Employers in misclassification cases typically argue their exemption

defense raises issues unique to each individual class member. As a result,

misclassification class actions can pose difficult manageability challenges.

In her concurring opinion in Brinker, Justice Werdegar drew an instructive

distinction between the types of affirmative defenses that can undermine

manageability: ―For purposes of class action manageability, a defense that hinges

liability vel non on consideration of numerous intricately detailed factual

questions, as is sometimes the case in misclassification suits, is different from a

defense that raises only one or a few questions and that operates not to extinguish

the defendant‘s liability but only to diminish the amount of a given plaintiff‘s

recovery.‖ (Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1054 (conc. opn. of Werdegar, J.), fn.

omitted.) Defenses that raise individual questions about the calculation of

damages generally do not defeat certification. (Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th at

p. 334.) However, a defense in which liability itself is predicated on factual

questions specific to individual claimants poses a much greater challenge to

manageability. This distinction is important. As we observed in City of San Jose

v. Superior Court, supra, 12 Cal.3d at page 463: ―Only in an extraordinary

situation would a class action be justified where, subsequent to the class judgment,

the members would be required to individually prove not only damages but also

liability.‖

Unless an employer‘s uniform policy or consistent practice violates wage

and hour laws (see, e.g., Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1033), California courts

25
have been reluctant to certify class actions alleging misclassification.28 (E.g.,

Arenas v. El Torito Restaurants, Inc. (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 723, 734; Dunbar v.

Albertson’s, Inc., supra, 141 Cal.App.4th 1422, 1431; see also Soderstedt v. CBIZ

Southern California, LLC (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 133, 153-154 [certification

denied, despite employer‘s uniform policies, due to variations in how the policies

were implemented with different employees].)

However, individual issues will not necessarily overwhelm common issues

when a case involves exemptions premised on how employees spend the workday.

In Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th 319, for example, we upheld certification of an

overtime class action based on a showing that all plaintiffs performed jobs that

were highly standardized. As a result, class members performed essentially the

same tasks, most of which were nonexempt as a matter of law. (Id. at pp. 327-

328.) Further, the defendant‘s corporate policy required all class members to work

overtime. (Id. at p. 327.) Where standardized job duties or other policies result in

employees uniformly spending most of their time on nonexempt work, class

treatment may be appropriate even if the case involves an exemption that typically

entails fact-specific individual inquiries.

Moreover, if sufficient common questions exist to support class

certification, it may be possible to manage individual issues through the use of

surveys and statistical sampling. Statistical methods cannot entirely substitute for

common proof, however. There must be some glue that binds class members

together apart from statistical evidence. While sampling may furnish indications

of an employer‘s centralized practices (see Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 333),

no court has ―deemed a mere proposal for statistical sampling to be an adequate

28

In regard to other wage and hour claims, some courts have held that the

absence of a uniform policy supports certification if such a policy is required by
law. (See, e.g., Benton v. Telecom Network Specialists, Inc. (2013) 220
Cal.App.4th 701, 724-725 [failure to adopt policy authorizing meal and rest
breaks]; Bradley v. Networkers Internat., LLC (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 1129,
1150-1151 [same].) We express no opinion on this question.

26
evidentiary substitute for demonstrating the requisite commonality, or suggested

that statistical sampling may be used to manufacture predominate common issues

where the factual record indicates none exist.‖ (Dailey v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.,

supra, 214 Cal.App.4th at p. 998.) In addition, as we will discuss, a statistical plan

for managing individual issues must be conducted with sufficient rigor.

If statistical evidence will comprise part of the proof on class action claims,

the court should consider at the certification stage whether a trial plan has been

developed to address its use. A trial plan describing the statistical proof a party

anticipates will weigh in favor of granting class certification if it shows how

individual issues can be managed at trial. Rather than accepting assurances that a

statistical plan will eventually be developed, trial courts would be well advised to

obtain such a plan before deciding to certify a class action. In any event,

decertification must be ordered whenever a trial plan proves unworkable.

3.

Trial Plan Did Not Manage Individual Issues Arising from USB’s

Exemption Defense

Here, the trial court found a predominance of common questions based on:

(1) standardization of the BBO position, (2) USB‘s classification of all BBOs as

exempt, without inquiry into their work habits,29 and (3) USB‘s failure to train or

monitor BBOs to ensure compliance with the exemption. The primary

consideration in a misclassification case pertains to ―the realistic requirements of

the job.‖ (Ramirez, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 802.) The trial court ultimately made

detailed findings to the effect that the BBO position was essentially a

telemarketing job, most easily performed in the office. However, at the

certification stage, it should have been apparent that litigation of the outside

29

Federal courts have observed that the uniform application of an exemption,

standing alone, ―does nothing to facilitate common proof on the otherwise
individualized issues.‖ (In re Wells Fargo Home Mortg. Overtime Pay Lit. (9th
Cir. 2009) 571 F.3d 953, 959.) While we agree with this principle, here the trial
court identified additional common issues supporting certification.

27
salesperson defense would also involve significant inquiry into how each of the

class‘s 260 members ―actually spen[t] his or her time.‖ (Ibid.)

Evidence presented in connection with the certification motions showed

that BBOs enjoyed exceptional independence. The bank did not tell them when,

where, or how to do their work. It focused exclusively on whether BBOs achieved

their sales targets. Consistent with this independence, declarations offered by both

sides showed significant variation in the time individual BBOs worked outside the

office. The trial court was of course entitled to discredit USB‘s declarations.

However, it received no evidence establishing uniformity in how BBOs spent their

time. (See Ramirez, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 802.) Wide variation among class

members is a factor informing whether the exemption question can be resolved by

a simple ―yes‖ or ―no‖ answer for the entire class.

Thus, USB‘s exemption defense raised a host of individual issues. While

common issues among class members may have been sufficient to satisfy the

predominance prong for certification, the trial court also had to determine that

these individual issues could be effectively managed in the ensuing litigation.

(See Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1054 (conc. opn. of Werdegar, J.); Sav-On,

supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 334.) Here, the certification order was necessarily

provisional in that it was subject to development of a trial plan that would manage

the individual issues surrounding the outside salesperson exemption.

In general, when a trial plan incorporates representative testimony and

random sampling, a preliminary assessment should be done to determine the level

of variability in the class. (See post, at p. 40.) If the variability is too great,

individual issues are more likely to swamp common ones and render the class

action unmanageable. No such assessment was done here. With no sensitivity to

variability in the class, the court forced the case through trial with a flawed

statistical plan that did not manage but instead ignored individual issues.

28

This result cannot stand. Although courts enjoy great latitude in structuring

trials, and we have encouraged the use of innovative procedures, any trial must

allow for the litigation of affirmative defenses, even in a class action case where

the defense touches upon individual issues. As we will explain, the trial plan here

unreasonably prevented USB from supporting its affirmative defense.

Accordingly, the class judgment must be reversed. The trial court is of course free

to entertain a new certification motion on remand, but if it decides to proceed with

a class action it must apply the guidelines set out here.

C.

Class Action Trial Must Permit Adjudication of Affirmative Defenses

We have encouraged trial courts to be ―procedurally innovative‖ in

managing class actions. (City of San Jose v. Superior Court, supra, 12 Cal.3d at

p. 453.) We have remained open to the appropriate use of representative

testimony, sampling, or other procedures employing statistical methodology. (See

Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th at pp. 339-340.) However, the trial plan here was

seriously flawed. First, without following a valid statistical model developed by

experts, the court improperly extrapolated liability findings from a small, skewed

sample group to the entire class. Second, in pursuing this extrapolation, the court

adamantly refused to admit relevant evidence relating to BBOs outside the sample

group. These rulings significantly impaired USB‘s ability to present a defense.

Although the trial court‘s certification decision was apparently influenced

by Sav-On, supra, 34 Cal.4th 319, the court overlooked our advisements about the

need to manage individual issues in a class action. Although we found substantial

evidence of common issues supporting certification in that misclassification case,

we also articulated an important caveat: ―Unquestionably, . . . defendant is

entitled to defend against plaintiffs‘ complaint by attempting to demonstrate wide

variations in the types of stores and, consequently, in the types of activities and

amounts of time per workweek the [class members] in those stores spent on

different types of activities.‖ (Id. at pp. 329-330.) In rigidly adhering to its flawed

29
trial plan and excluding relevant evidence central to the defense, the court here did

not manage individual issues. It ignored them.

We have long observed that the class action procedural device may not be

used to abridge a party‘s substantive rights. ―Class actions are provided only as a

means to enforce substantive law. Altering the substantive law to accommodate

procedure would be to confuse the means with the ends—to sacrifice the goal for

the going.‖ (City of San Jose v. Superior Court, supra, 12 Cal.3d at p. 462.)

While class action defendants may not have an unfettered right to present

individualized evidence in support of a defense, our precedents make clear that a

class action trial management plan may not foreclose the litigation of relevant

affirmative defenses, even when these defenses turn on individual questions.

For example, in Granberry v. Islay Investments (1995) 9 Cal.4th 738, 742-

743, we held that a landlord sued for excess rent by a class of former tenants was

entitled to set off amounts the tenants owed for unpaid rent, repairs, and cleaning.

(Id. at p. 743.) The tenants objected that ―to allow setoff would be inappropriate

in class actions . . . because of numerous practical difficulties,‖ such as the need

for setoff amounts to be litigated individually in thousands of cases. (Id. at

p. 749.) In rejecting the plaintiffs‘ argument that these difficulties should bar the

landlord from raising the set-off defense, we stressed that ―it is inappropriate to

deprive defendants of their substantive rights merely because those rights are

inconvenient in light of the litigation posture plaintiffs have chosen.‖ (Ibid.)

We voiced similar concerns in Washington Mutual, supra, 24 Cal.4th 906.

There, the trial court had certified a nationwide class action challenging a bank‘s

practice of forcing homebuyers to purchase expensive replacement policies when

the hazard insurance on their properties lapsed. (Id. at p. 912.) The bank argued

common questions did not predominate because choice-of-law provisions in the

loan documents would require the application of different state laws to different

plaintiffs‘ claims. (Id. at p. 913.) We held that, when deciding whether to certify

a nationwide class, trial courts must consider the potential for individual issues

30
arising from choice-of-law clauses. (Id. at p. 926.) Although the Court of Appeal

had suggested businesses should not be allowed to rely on choice-of-law clauses to

escape involvement in a nationwide class action, we disagreed. (Id. at p. 918.)

Instead, stressing that class action procedure must conform to substantive law, not

vice versa, we explained that ―an otherwise enforceable choice-of-law agreement

may not be disregarded merely because it may hinder the prosecution of a

multistate or nationwide class action . . . .‖ (Ibid.)

Similarly here, the trial court could not abridge USB‘s presentation of an

exemption defense simply because that defense was cumbersome to litigate in a

class action. Under Code of Civil Procedure section 382, just as under the federal

rules, ―a class cannot be certified on the premise that [the defendant] will not be

entitled to litigate its statutory defenses to individual claims.‖ (Wal-Mart Stores,

Inc. v. Dukes (2011) 564 U.S. __, __ [131 S.Ct. 2541, 2561].) These principles

derive from both class action rules and principles of due process. (See Lindsey v.

Normet (1972) 405 U.S. 56, 66; Philip Morris USA v. Williams, (2007) 549 U.S.

346, 353.)

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