Woods v. American Film Institute, 2021 WL 5978072 (Cal. Ct. App. 2021)

Laurie Woods worked for four days as a volunteer at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles. She alleges that she worked between 12 and 14 hours each of those days and that she and the other volunteers she purported to represent in this putative class action were unpaid. Woods further alleged that AFI is not a charitable organization that is permitted to use volunteers under California law. AFI opposed Woods’ motion to certify a class action and argued that common questions would not predominate over individual issues for the claims that Woods sought to certify for class treatment. AFI also argued that as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization dedicated to the film industry, AFI is permitted to use volunteers who have no expectation of getting paid as employees. The trial court denied Woods’ motion to certify the class on the ground that workers are not employees unless they expect compensation for their services, and determining whether particular class members were actually employees (based upon such expectations) would create individual issues that would dominate the trial. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order, holding that the putative “class might include persons with a variety of intentions, including those who freely volunteered; those who were promised compensation; and those who believed they would receive some compensation.” The Court further held that “volunteers for nonprofit entities are not employees.”