Kyla Asbury Jan. 8, 2014, 4:17pm

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - A California appellate court has reversed an order denying certification of a class of restaurant managers who claimed they were misclassified as exempt employees and denied overtime pay.

On Dec. 4, the 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the trial court incorrectly focused on factual disputes regarding how the managers at Joe's Crab Shack spent their time, rather than on the employer's policies, which the managers claimed resulted in their misclassification.

In doing so, the trial court improperly shifted the burden of proving the exemption to the employees, according to the appellate court.

"The larger problem with the adequacy of plaintiffs to represent the class as defined arises from the antagonism voiced by general managers, who overwhelmingly opposed the litigation," the decision stated. "Again, this conflict is not unexpected: A general manager is hardly likely to share the duties of assistant managers, many of whom worked exclusively as kitchen- or front-managers."

The appeals court found that although there was variance in the amount of time spent by managers in non-managerial duties, the main question of typicality came down to the issue of tasks not changing once they became managers, which was typical of the class.

The plaintiffs - Roberto Martinez, Lisa Saldana, Chanel Rankin-Stephens and Craig Eriksen - are current and former employees of Joe's Crab Shack restaurants in California.

Martinez filed the original complaint in September 2007, seeking to represent a class of salaried managerial employees who worked at Joe's Crab Shack restaurants in California on claims they had been misclassified as exempt employees and were entitled to overtime pay.

In March 2010, the trial court denied Martinez's motion for class certification on the ground that he was not an adequate class representative. Martinez did not appeal the order.

The trial court then permitted Saldana, Eriksen and Rankin-Stephens to join the lawsuit as named plaintiffs and in June 2011, the plaintiffs moved for certification of a class consisting of all persons employed by Joe's Crab Shack at any time since Sept. 7, 2003.

The trial court again denied a motion for class certification, finding that the claims of the plaintiffs were not typical of the claims of the class, that the plaintiffs had not proven they could adequately represent the class and that plaintiffs had not proven class action was the best way of resolving the lawsuit. The plaintiffs then filed an appeal.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. They are being represented by John Glugoski and Matthew Righetti of Righetti Law Firm PC.

Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven case number: B232807

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