SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) – The California Court of Appeal, Fourth District has affirmed most of a ruling in favor of delivery drivers of the San Diego Union Tribune in an employee classification case, but has asked the trial court to recalculate damages and attorneys fees.

The court issued its opinion July 7 Liliana Espejo's class action lawsuit brought against the paper in San Diego County Superior Court. There, Judge John S. Meyer had ruled in favor of a class of newspaper carriers against Copley Press Inc., the owners of the San Diego Union Tribune, in 2014 in the amount of $10 million. 

Attorneys for the carriers argued they were employees rather than independent carriers and they were entitled to reimbursement of expenses plus attorneys fees.

The key issue in the case, according to the plaintiffs' firm Callahan & Blaine, was whether the paper had the right to control the manner and means in which the carriers performed.

The class was awarded $3.1 million in damages and the defendant appealed, alleging that "the plaintiff class must be decertified because the class representatives were inadequate" and that "the court committed reversible error by not limiting the trial to certified tissues and by granting plaintiffs' motion to amend their second amended complaint according to proof," the appellate court's July 7 decision states.

"The portions of the judgment awarding the class members the principal sum of $3,188,445 plus prejudgment interest and attorney fees in the amount of $6,160,416 are reversed and the matter is remanded. 

"The court is directed to redetermine the amount of the class award and prejudgment interest consistent with the views expressed in this opinion, including reducing the award by the amount of any documented and readily identifiable payments, credits, or reversals in the subject expense categories that UT is able to show the class members received, and disallowing recovery for insert credits."

Michael Sachs, of Callahan and Blaine, said the decision addressed some new issues but did not change the basic law involving independent contractors.

"Indeed, published decisions don’t appear to have affected companies’ attitudes towards independent contractors,’’ Sachs said.

Sachs referred to a previous case in which carriers brought a similar case against the Antelope Valley Press, which the firm of Callahan and Blaine of Santa Ana, California, also was a part of.

"If case precedent affected conduct, newspapers (the Antelope Valley case) would have stopped the practice of using I.C.s. Most companies that flaunt the law appear to believe that the monetary savings are worth the risk,’’ Sachs said.

Sachs said the only surprising thing about the opinion related to relatively minor issues involving the amount of damages.

Sachs referred to a case in which the Orange County Register had to dole out more than $35 million to its carriers.

"The San Diego case was very similar to the Orange County Register case, as well as to actions we brought against the Sacramento Bee and Fresno Bee," Sachs said. "They all do business with regard to the carriers in a strikingly similar way. The biggest difference is simply the size of the workforce needed to deliver papers in the various areas."

This San Diego case was originally filed in 2009. On Sept. 21, 2011, the class was certified by the court, and in December 2013, the court found that the 1,235 class members who delivered newspapers between Jan. 29, 2005, and July 1, 2007, were employees of the Union Tribune and not independent contractors.

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