Wednesday, June 25, 2008, 11:41 AM

Judge Takes Steam Out of Case Against Starbucks

As we have reported, Starbucks, the Seattle coffee giant, has continued to be hit with numerous lawsuits filed by employees and former employees alleging violations of various wage and hour laws. In a case filed by two employees in California, a United States District Court Judge denied class certification and granted summary judgment in favor of Starbucks, providing Starbucks with its first reprieve in quite a while. Roya Koike and Adam Odnert, both employed as assistant managers at Starbucks locations in California, filed claims seeking class certification alleging Starbucks failed to pay them for "off the clock" work in violation of the California wage and hour laws.

The Court granted Starbucks' motion for summary judgment and dismissed Odnert's claims in their entirety. Odnert argued that Starbucks misrepresented the proper legal standard the Court should apply when determining whether an employer is liable for “off the clock” work. He argued that the standard required "an employee to be compensated for all time spent subject to the control of the employer or when the employee is suffered or permitted to work . . . It does not matter under California law whether or not the employer knows that the employee has properly recorded all of his or her working time." The Court found that Odnert's argument was not valid and that he misunderstood California law. In order to prove a violation of wage and hour laws, Odnert must prove that Starbucks knew or should have known that he was performing work for which he was not being compensated. The Court found that the words "suffer" and "permit" as used in the California statute mean “with the knowledge of the employer." (This is the same interpretation given to the words "suffer" and "permit" under the Fair Labor Standards Act.)

Odnert failed to submit evidence that Starbucks knew or should have known of his "off the clock" work. In fact, Odnert's deposition testimony supported that he usually attempted to conceal his "off the clock" work from other Starbucks employees. Furthermore, while Odnert claimed he would work prior to clocking in, the evidence showed that on numerous occasions, he was disciplined for being tardy, a direct contradiction to his claim of pre-shift "off the clock" work. Odnert also received overtime nearly every pay period. For these reasons, the Court found that Odnert put forth little more than speculation and conjecture that Starbucks had knowledge of his alleged "off the clock work." As no genuine issue of material fact existed with regard to his claims, the Court dismissed Odnert's claims. As Odnert could not state a claim on his own, his motion for class certification was also denied.

Koike also filed a motion for a class certification which was denied by the court. Koike made very general statements regarding the reasons assistant managers felt compelled to work "off the clock," but did not offer any evidence that a single assistant store manager had actually worked "off the clock." Koike was not able to establish that common issues predominated since her allegations required individual determinations. Therefore, she could not establish the prerequisites for class certification and her motion was denied.

To read more of this opinion, click here.

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