In Barriga v. 99 Cents Only, Case No. E069288 (June 26, 2020), California’s Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision to deny class certification in a case involving employees of 99 Cents Only, after determining the trial court did not scrutinize employee declarations submitted by the defendant employer in opposition to class certification for coercion and abuse.
On an issue of first impression in our state’s courts, the Court of Appeal held that trial courts have a duty to closely scrutinize declarations filed by an employer defendant in opposition to class certification. If the employee declarations were obtained in potentially coercive or abusive circumstances, the trial court has the authority to strike or discount the weight to be given those declarations.
The Court also recognized that employer-employee relationships, by their very nature, carry a heightened potential for coercion or abuse: “Even if we were to disagree with the courts that have concluded a current employer-employee relationship between the class opponent and putative class members is inherently coercive, we cannot ignore the reality that such a relationship carries a heightened potential for coercion and abuse, and courts should be cognizant of the imbalance of power and interests when carefully reviewing employee statements.”
This duty and authority apply not only to declarations from employees who are putative class members, but to all employee statements used to oppose class certification because any coercion or abuse undermines “the integrity and fairness of the certification process . . . whether the statements come from putative class members or not.”
Boucher LLP and Law Offices of Sahag Majarian II represent Plaintiff Sofia Barriga and the putative class members in Barriga v. 99 Cents Only. Ms. Barriga’s case will now be sent back to the trial court for a reconsideration of whether class certification should be granted.