Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court, 168 Cal. App. 4th 1436 (2008)

Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and approximately 135,000 other Starbucks applicants who had sought jobs at some 1,500 Starbucks locations throughout California. Plaintiffs contended that the Starbucks application violated California Labor Code §§ 432.7 and 432.8, prohibiting employers from asking about marijuana-related convictions that are more than two years old, seeking statutory damages of $200 per applicant – a “whopping $26 million.” The trial court denied Starbucks’ motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeal granted its petition for a writ of mandate directing the trial court to enter summary judgment for Starbucks. The Court of Appeal held that plaintiffs’ lawsuit suffered from two “fundamental flaws” – first, Starbucks attempted to disclaim an interest in the prohibited information in language contained in the application itself; and, second, none of the plaintiffs had any marijuana-related convictions to reveal. As for the first point, the Court did note that while it had no problem with the language of the California disclaimer (advising California applicants that they could omit any marijuana-related convictions that were more than two years old), there was a “significant problem with its placement…[because it was] submerged in a veritable sea of boldface type.” Said the Court, “the unintended consequence of Starbucks’ one-size-fits-all style for its employment applications is a lack of clarity for which California law strives.” Cf. Crab Addison v. Superior Court, 2008 WL 5401587 (Cal. Ct. App. 2008) (employer required to provide plaintiff with names and contact information of putative class members).