Williams v. Superior Court: Employer’s Perspective
By Julia Trotter and Delavan J. Dickson
Julie R. Trotter is the managing shareholder at Call & Jensen. Ms. Trotter devotes her practice to representing employers in all aspects of litigation with a particular focus on PAGA, class action wage and hour disputes, employment discrimination, retaliation, harassment, wrongful termination, and claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Delavan J. Dickson is an associate at Call & Jensen. Mr. Dickson’s business litigation practice focuses primarily on wage-and-hour disputes, as well as employment discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and wrongful termination cases. He is admitted to practice in California, New York, and Utah.
For employers, one of the most exasperating aspects of the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) is that, although PAGA was enacted in 2004, much uncertainty remains as to how a PAGA case should be litigated. What threshold standing requirement, if any, must a plaintiff meet; what is the permissible scope of discovery; what penalties are recoverable; can the penalties be stacked; what does a PAGA trial look like; and how do you get to a PAGA trial?1 The California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Williams v. Superior Court (Williams) answers at least one of these questions by falling back on traditional discovery tenets, holding in the process that there is no special discovery bar that a PAGA plaintiff must clear to receive contact information of others. Admittedly, much of the Williams decision is disappointing to employers, as well, perhaps, to trial court judges tasked with managing the onslaught of PAGA-only lawsuits filed over the past few years. Even so, employers’ hands are far from tied after Williams, as many of the tools they could use to protect themselves from PAGA claims are still available. Moreover, the silver lining in Williams may be the supreme court’s nod to the manageability standard in discussing a plaintiff’s burden heading into trial. Thus far, there have been no California appellate court decisions on this issue and many trial courts have struggled to find a vehicle for adopting the manageability standard in state court proceedings. The supreme court’s reference to manageability may breathe new life into employers’ efforts to challenge PAGA claims on the ground that a trial would involve a myriad of individualized issues of proof.
Brief Overview of PAGA