Unpaid Wages May be Recovered Under PAGA -- Thurman v. Bayshore Transit Management, Inc.

Since its passage in 2004 the Labor Code Private Attorney General Act of 2004 (aka "PAGA") has been a persistent thorn in the side of the defense bar.  The statute created a private right of action to enforce almost every section of the Labor Code and also created new monetary penalties for violations where none had existed before. 

What was even worse (fom the Defendant's perspective) is that PAGA authorized a single person to bring a representative action on behalf of an entire group of similarly "aggrieved" employees without having to obtain a formal class certification from the court.  

The only mitigating factor was that while PAGA's procedural remedies were sweeping, its substantive remedies were limited to monetary penalties and injunctive relief  and did not include the recovery of actual unpaid wages . . . until now.  

The Fourth District Court of Appeal decision in Thurman v. Bayshore Transit Management, Inc. has just opened a whole new horizon for PAGA litigation by holding that the statute can serve as a vehicle for wage recovery.  (At least as to the wages covered by sections 500-556 of the Code, which includes both meal period premiums and overtime.) 

The opinion gets to this result in  two steps: First, the Court finds that Labor Code section 558 authorizes the award of a "civil penalty" for violating sections 500-556 that  may include "an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages."   Next, the Court finds that  this penalty (which would otherwise be enforceable solely by the Labor Commissioner), can be recovered in a private lawsuit under PAGA.    And . . . Voilà! 

Plaintiffs now have a brand new way to recover unpaid wages on a class-wide basis without class certification.