What is the California Private Attorneys’ General Act?
In California, laws have been enacted that allow employees to sue employers for a wide range of employment-related legal violations. These types of lawsuits brought under the California Private Attorneys’ General Act (“PAGA”) are different from lawsuits in which an employee directly sues his or her employer. In a PAGA lawsuit, the employee is essentially stepping into the shoes of the California Attorney General to ensure fairness in the workplace. Because in PAGA lawsuits employees are basically acting as a “stand-in” for the Office of the Attorney General, these lawsuits may be brought in California even if an employee has signed a mandatory arbitration agreement that would otherwise prevent the employee from directly suing his or her employer.
What Kinds of Employment Law Violations Can Be Brought Under the Private Attorneys’ General Act?
Within California, an extensive list of employment-related legal violations may be pursued by individuals acting as “proxies” for the California Attorney General in ensuring safe and fair working conditions. Under this Private Attorneys General Act, or PAGA, the state has set up specific procedures for pursuing these violations, as well as specific penalties to remedy and discouraging these violations. The list of employment law violations that may form the basis of a Private Attorneys’ General Act Lawsuit includes, but is not limited to:
• Being paid salary for secretarial of administrative work;
• Being charged a fee every time you deposit a paycheck;
• Being paid less than other workers within the same company performing the same job;
• Not being given mandatory meal and/or rest breaks during the workday;
• Not being paid overtime in specific situations;
• Being paid less than promised in a sales position;
• Being paid less than minimum wage;
• Failure of an employer to provide comfortable seating and/or lighting in the workplace.
Do Courts in California Allow Lawsuits Under the Private Attorneys’ General Act Even When an Employer Has Signed a Mandatory Arbitration Agreement?
For many years now in California, however, employers have included arbitration agreements as conditions for employment which have been held to effectively preclude employees from bringing class action lawsuits to address employment-related workplace violations. Though California case law had initially held to the contrary, Federal Courts have since held that these arbitration clauses are enforceable against employees and have held PAGA to be preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”).
In 2012, however, the California Supreme Court ruled in the Iskanian case that the FAA could not be applied to prevent Private Attorneys General Act lawsuits as such lawsuits, in the Court’s opinion, were being brought not by individuals per se, but rather by individuals as “proxies” for the Attorney General’s office which simply lacks the funding and resources to pursue the volume of workplace-related claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court was recently asked to review the Iskanian opinion and hold that PAGA lawsuits are similarly barred by arbitration clauses.
More recently, a California appellate court held that PAGA lawsuits cannot be barred by mandatory arbitration agreements signed in connection with one’s employment. To learn more about this opinion, please click here.
How Do I Bring a Lawsuit Under the California Private Attorneys’ General Act?
Audet & Partners, LLP is currently investigating potential claims against a wide range of employers for PAGA violations. If you believe you have been treated unfairly in your employment or have had to endure unreasonably uncomfortable or dangerous conditions in your workplace, you are urged to contact a PAGA attorney at Audet & Partners, LLP for a free, confidential case evaluation either by calling (800) 965-1461, or by completing and submitting our confidential inquiry form on the right side of this page.