Northern California Record

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

CELC counsel discusses PAGA reform in wake of $12 million Safeway settlement

State Court

By Rich Peters | Nov 1, 2019


SAN JOSE – Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Kuhnle approved a $12 million settlement late October against Safeway for failing to provide seats to more than 30,000 store cashiers.

The Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) settlement is set to give the employees nearly $2 million for labor code violations, but attorneys will get $4.2 million and the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency will receive $5.6 million. This ruling, in the end, will pay out the plaintiff class members a maximum of $66.66 each.

Signed in 2004 by then-Gov. Gray Davis, PAGA authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the state of California for Labor Code violations, but has since then grown into a litigious monster for the state. As businesses are becoming more burdened by PAGA lawsuits such as this one, experts are calling for reform.

“This just emphasizes the need for the one-sentence amendment to PAGA that the California Employment Law Council (CELC), the organization for which I am general counsel, has proposed: ‘The amount of penalties and attorneys’ fees awarded, if any, must bear an appropriate relationship to the harm, if any, caused by the practice(s) at issue,’” said Paul Grossman in a statement. “Employers should not be burdened with huge verdicts/settlements that are totally disproportionate to any harm.”

But rather than reforming the bill’s clarity, Gov. Gavin Newsom has widened the bill’s already broad scope by approving the likes of the recently signed Senate Bill 142, which expands the rights of lactating mothers in the workplace, requiring employers to set aside a space to pump breast milk. The passing of workplace-related bills such as this one are expected to only add to the already copious corporate litigation across the Golden State.

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