California Employment Law Blog

PAGA Claims Without Individual Lawsuits: Lessons from Balderas v. Fresh Start

Posted by Timothy B. Del Castillo | Apr 22, 2024 | 0 Comments

In a new decision, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in Lizbeth Balderas v. Fresh Start Harvesting, Inc. (2024), has established an important legal precedent concerning the standing of employees to bring representative actions under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). This ruling not only counters the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Viking River Cruises but also underscores PAGA's broad protective intent.

Lizbeth Balderas, a former employee of Fresh Start Harvesting, Inc., initiated a lawsuit seeking civil penalties for multiple California labor law violations, including failures to provide required meal and rest breaks and timely wage payments. Notably, Balderas filed her lawsuit solely on a representative basis under PAGA, without pursuing any individual claims. The trial court originally dismissed her complaint, asserting that without an individual claim, Balderas lacked the necessary standing to launch a PAGA action on behalf of others.

The core legal question centered on whether an employee must file an individual claim to maintain a representative PAGA action. This issue was significantly influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (2022), which suggested that PAGA plaintiffs need an individual claim to pursue non-individual PAGA claims. 

On appeal, Balderas contended that the trial court mistakenly followed the Viking River precedent, arguing that it misinterpreted California law concerning PAGA standing requirements and that its findings should not constrain California courts.

The Court of Appeal emphatically agreed with Balderas, clarifying that the Viking River decision does not govern the interpretation of California state law and reaffirming that PAGA should be interpreted expansively to fulfill its purpose: to enable employees to act as private attorneys general and collectively address labor law violations. The Court emphasized that PAGA aims to facilitate labor law enforcement broadly, rather than linking it to individual claims, thereby ensuring more comprehensive protection for workers and greater adherence to regulations by employers. The Court of Appeal overturned the trial court's ruling, restoring Balderas's ability to pursue a representative PAGA action without an individual claim. 

This judgment implies that employees may bring PAGA actions without individual claims, expanding the range of potential legal actions against employers for labor violations. This development could increase litigation risks for employers, necessitating stringent compliance with labor laws to circumvent PAGA lawsuits. The decision also highlights a judicial resistance to constraining PAGA's scope based on federal interpretations, suggesting that California courts are likely to continue interpreting PAGA liberally.

Looking ahead, employers should closely monitor their labor practices, while employees empowered by this decision can approach grievance resolution with renewed confidence, knowing they have robust legal avenues available for addressing labor law violations.

About the Author

Timothy B. Del Castillo

Tim Del Castillo is Founding Partner of Castle Law: California Employment Counsel, PC.


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