Law School Case Brief
Cortez v. Purolator Air Filtration Prods. Co. - 23 Cal. 4th 163, 96 Cal. Rptr. 2d 518, 999 P.2d 706 (2000)
Any business act or practice that violates Cal. Lab. Code § 17200 through failure to pay wages is, by definition, an unfair business practice. It follows that an action to recover wages that might be barred if brought pursuant to Cal. Lab. Code §1194 still may be pursued as an unfair competition law (UCL) action seeking restitution pursuant to Cal. Lab. Code § 17203 if the failure to pay constitutes a business practice. Nonetheless, the language of Cal. Lab. Code § 17208 admits of no exceptions. Any action on any UCL cause of action is subject to the four-year period of limitations created by that section.
Plaintiff appellant Rosalba Cortez, a former employee brought an action against defendant appellant former employer, Purolator Air Filtration Prods. Co. (“Purolator”), for failure to pay overtime wages. Cortez sought overtime pay that had accrued as a result of the failure of defendant's predecessor company to comply with certain regulations when it changed its workers' weekly schedules from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour or longer days. In addition to her individual cause of action, Cortez prosecuted an Unfair Competition Law (UCL) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.) claim for unfair business practices seeking restitution of the overtime wages withheld from her and the other employees. Cortez prevailed on her individual cause of action, since Purolator was unable to provide adequate documentation that the employees had agreed to a schedule that excepted the company from the requirement of paying overtime after eight hours in one day, and the trial court awarded her attorney fees. However, the trial court denied her request for restitution, finding that, since injunctive relief was not appropriate, restitution was unavailable. (Superior Court of Sonoma County, No. 206318, Mark Tansil, Judge.) The Court of Appeal, First Dist., Div. Two, Nos. A075456 and A078523, reversed the trial court's judgment insofar as it denied relief on the UCL cause of action, and otherwise affirmed.
In an action under the unfair competition law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §17200 et seq. in connection with defendant employer's failure to pay prevailing wages, was plaintiff Cortez entitled to unpaid wages?
The Supreme Court of California affirmed. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §17203 expressly authorized orders necessary to restore money or property to any person in interest from whom the money or property has been obtained through an unfair business practice. The court reasoned that once earned, unpaid wages became property to which Cortez was entitled. Failure to promptly pay those wages was unlawful and thus an unfair business practice. Therefore, Purolator could be compelled to restore unpaid wages to Cortez.
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