Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings, 231 Cal. App. 4th 362 (2014)

Roberto Martinez and three other current or former employees of Joe’s Crab Shack (“JCS”) filed this putative class action asserting that they and similarly situated salaried managerial employees had been misclassified as exempt employees and were entitled to unpaid overtime and related wages. Plaintiffs alleged they worked more than 55 hours per week and that JCS’s hiring and training practices, operations manuals, managerial evaluations, policies and procedures, etc., were all uniform and that when nonexempt employees were absent, plaintiffs were required to fill in for them. Plaintiffs claimed they spent from 50 to 95 percent of their time performing nonexempt duties. Defendants submitted declarations (more than half of which came from general managers) showing variation in the ways the putative class members were treated and stating that only a third or less of their time was spent on nonexempt duties. The trial court denied certification based on plaintiffs’ inability to estimate the number of hours spent on individual exempt and nonexempt tasks and their admission that the amount of time spent on particular tasks varied from day to day. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the class is adequately represented by plaintiffs and that the trial court’s “analysis suffers from an overly focused examination of the facts that concentrated on individual differences rather than commonality.” Further, the Court held that “the crux of the matter, therefore, lies in whether a typically nonexempt task becomes exempt when performed by a managerial employee” based on the employer’s realistic expectations and classification of tasks rather than an employee’s recollection in retrospect of whether he or she was engaged in an exempt or nonexempt task.