California Employment Law Blog

Time Is of the Essence: Navigating PAGA Standing and Summary Judgment

Posted by Timothy B. Del Castillo | Dec 06, 2023 | 0 Comments

California's Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) enables employees to sue employers for Labor Code violations, imposing a one-year time limit for claims. To expedite resolution and avoid trial expenses, employers often pursue summary judgment, contingent on the absence of material disputes.

In Arce v. Ensign Group, Inc. (2023), Cecilia Arce, a certified nursing assistant, filed a PAGA claim against Ensign Group, Inc., alleging Labor Code violations tied to missed meal and rest breaks amid challenging working conditions marked by understaffing.

After her last shift on November 8, 2018, Arce's final wage statement on November 21, 2018, lacked premium wages for missed breaks. A year later, on November 15, 2019, she submitted a pre-filing notice to pursue PAGA claims against Ensign.

Ensign moved for summary judgment, contending Arce lacked PAGA standing as her alleged violations occurred over a year before her November 15, 2019 notice. Stressing her last workday on November 8, 2018, Ensign argued any break violations after November 15, 2018 were impossible as she had already ceased working.

The trial court favored Ensign, citing Arce's failure to provide sufficient evidence of a Labor Code violation within the one-year statutory timeframe. Arce appealed, asserting Ensign, as the party seeking summary judgment, carried the burden to prove her lack of PAGA standing.

The Court of Appeal sided with Arce, finding that Ensign had the burden to demonstrate Arce hadn't experienced any violations during her employment or alternatively, that all her missed meal and rest break premiums were paid when her violations occurred. Reviewing the evidence, the Court found that Labor Code violations due to understaffing and workload issues had likely occurred, as supported by Ensign's own deposition evidence.

The Court then examined whether Arce received the required premiums for her missed breaks at the time of violation. California deems these unpaid premiums as "wages" owed upon termination. With no overdue premiums in Arce's November 21, 2018 wage statement and considering her November 15, 2019 PAGA pre-filing notice, Ensign's missed premium payment constituted a Labor Code violation within the one-year statutory limit for PAGA claims. 

The Court of Appeal concluded Ensign failed to prove a non-disputable issue of material fact, leading to the reversal of the trial court's summary judgment grant.

Arce v. Ensign Group, Inc. underscores PAGA's significance for both parties. Employers must adhere to Labor Code requirements, offer accurate wage statements, and be mindful of the one-year statute of limitations. Employees should promptly report violations, maintain records, and understand their PAGA rights. The case emphasizes PAGA's intricacies and the role of evidence in summary judgment. Both parties should stay informed, promote compliance, and seek legal advice in PAGA-related matters.

About the Author

Timothy B. Del Castillo

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


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