Law School Case Brief
Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court - 168 Cal. App. 4th 1436, 86 Cal. Rptr. 3d 482 (2008)
The legislature intended in enacting Lab. Code, § 432.7, subd. (c), to minimize or eliminate the lingering social stigma flowing from what is now perceived to be a relatively minor form of criminal activity. The intent is to insure that once the offender has paid the prescribed debt to society, he or she not be further penalized by curtailment of opportunities for rehabilitation, education, employment, licensing, and business or professional advancement. Only an individual with a marijuana-related conviction falls within the class of persons the legislature sought to protect. There is nothing in the statute to support a claim that the legislature intended to protect the privacy interests of job applicants who have no marijuana convictions in their background. An interpretation will not be adopted that would turn the statute into a financial bonanza for litigants who have no fear of being stigmatized by marijuana convictions. Section 432.7, subd. (c), is narrowly interpreted in accordance with the traditional principle that an applicant be a person who has been aggrieved by the statutory violation.
Plaintiffs Erik Lords, Hon Yeung, and Donald Brown filed a lawsuit that seek statutory damages of $ 200 per applicant. Plaintiffs Erik, Hon, and Donald alleged that they represent a class of some 135,000 unsuccessful job applicants at Starbucks. They alleged that the Starbucks employment application contained an “illegal question” about prior marijuana convictions that are more than two years old. The application's first page includes a question, which asks: “Have you been convicted of a crime in the last seven (7) years?” It further explains: “If Yes, list convictions that are a matter of public record. A conviction will not necessarily disqualify you for employment.” Plaintiffs Erik et al. contended the convictions question on the Starbucks application is illegal under California law, which prohibits employers from asking about marijuana-related convictions that are more than two years old. The trial court denied Starbuck’s motion for summary judgment. Starbucks filed a petition for a writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order and declared that the litigation posed great monetary risks to Starbucks (at least $ 26 million) in that it may be forced to settle rather than risk an adverse judgment.
Were the plaintiffs entitled to recover from defendant employer for including the conviction history question on its application form?
The court granted the employer’s petition for a writ of mandate, directing the trial court to vacate its order denying the employer's motion for summary judgment and to issue a new and different order granting the motion for summary judgment. Although the court could not say, as a matter of law, that the employment application unambiguously directed applicants not to disclose prohibited marijuana-related convictions, it concluded that the lawsuit suffered from two fundamental flaws. First, the employer attempted to disclaim an interest in such prohibited information, and plaintiffs Erik Lords and Hon Yeung understood the employer not to be seeking it. There was no evidence that either of them was confused and believed that they were being asked to disclose marijuana-related convictions that were more than two years old. Second, no plaintiff had any marijuana-related convictions to reveal, and thus they were not members of a legally protected group. Plaintiffs were not similarly situated to persons whose minor drug histories were wrongly revealed on improper job applications, or who refused to disclose such offenses in response to the convictions question, and who therefore might be entitled to actual damages or the statutory minimum. Nothing in Lab. Code, §§ 432.7 and 432.8, authorized job applicants to automatically recover $ 200 per person without proof they were aggrieved persons with an injury that the statutes were designed to remedy.
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