California Labor &
Employment Law Blog
Nov 9, 2012

Class Certification Improper on Claims for Expense Reimbursement for Uniforms and Travel

Topics: Class Actions, Court Decisions, Wage & Hour Issues

This week, a California court affirmed a victory for clothing retailer Wet Seal, who successfully defeated class certification on wage and hour claims for alleged failure to reimburse uniform expenses and alleged failure to compensate employees for expenses associated with using their personal vehicles to travel between store locations.  The plaintiff and proposed class of retail employees alleged that Wet Seal required employees to purchase and wear Wet Seal clothing at work, but failed to reimburse employees for the cost of this alleged "uniform."  The employees further alleged that Wet Seal at times required them to use their own cars to travel from one store location to another for meetings or other business reasons, but did not reimburse employees for mileage or other travel expense.  In seeking to have a class of some 12,000 employees certified, the plaintiff submitted declarations of several employees stating that they purchased Wet Seal clothing without being reimbursed and used their car to travel to stores without reimbursement.  In opposing the motion, Wet Seal presented its expense reimbursement and work attire policies, which on their face made very clear that employees are entitled to reimbursement for travel expenses in accordance with law and that employees are not required to purchase Wet Seal clothing but rather simply expected to dress in the fashion style of the store.  Wet Seal also offered employees a generous discount on the cost of store merchandise.  Wet Seal additionally presented declarations of numerous employees confirming that they understood they did not have to buy or wear Wet Seal clothing, and that they had submitted documentation of travel expense and been reimbursed in accordance with company policy.

In concluding that class certification was not appropriate on these claims, the court explained that Wet Seal's policies were facially lawful and thus could not supply the necessary "common policy" or "common method of proof" needed to support a determination of liability on a class wide basis.  Instead, a determination of liability would depend on individualized testimony of employees that, for example, their particular supervisor required them to purchase Wet Seal clothing and/or told them that they could not be reimbursed for travel expenses.  In the circumstances, any trial of liability would require numerous individualized inquiries, making class certification unmanageable and inappropriate.  The case is Morgan v. Wet Seal.

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