Zuniga v. Alexandria Care Ctr., LLC, 2021 WL 3560665 (Cal. Ct. App. 2021)

Rosalinda Zuniga was employed by Alexandria Care as a housekeeper who filed a PAGA claim, alleging her former employer failed to provide required meal and rest breaks, to indemnify employees for expenditures and to maintain required records.  The trial court excluded the expert testimony of Zuniga’s expert witnesses on the grounds that one of them (Dean Van Dyke) was not qualified as an expert to testify about computer data processing and the other (Richard Drogin, Ph.D.) sought to offer opinions that had not been disclosed during his deposition, and his analysis was undertaken after his deposition and trial testimony.  Without the expert testimony, the trial court ruled in favor of the employer.  In this opinion, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

The Court held that Zuniga was an “aggrieved person” under PAGA even though she already had settled her individual claims after they had been ordered to arbitration.  The Court further held that the trial court had abused its discretion by excluding Dr. Drogin’s expert testimony because it was based upon spreadsheets created by Van Dyke’s company (iBridge LLC), which the trial court had found to be inadmissible, citing Cal. Evid. Code § 801(b) which states that the basis for the expert opinion must be reliable, “whether or not admissible.”  However, the Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the iBridge spreadsheets, which had not been properly authenticated.  See also Johnson v. Maxim Healthcare Servs., Inc., 66 Cal. App. 5th 924 (2021) (employee of healthcare staffing company could proceed with PAGA claim arising from employer’s requirement that employees sign a Non-Solicitation, Non-Disclosure and Non-Competition Agreement in violation of Cal. Lab. Code § 432.5; claim not barred by statute of limitations because employee was an “aggrieved employee” with standing to pursue claim); Mauia v. Petrochem Insulation, Inc., 5 F.4th 1068 (9th Cir. 2021) (California state law regarding meal and rest periods does not apply to employees working on oil platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf).