On Sept. 12, 2019, the California Supreme Court in ZB, N.A. v. Superior Court of San Diego County (Lawson) delivered a victory for California employers, clarifying that a plaintiff bringing a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) action may not recover as a “civil penalty” the “wages” referenced in Cal. Labor Code section 558, and thereby limited the monetary recovery workers can seek under PAGA.
PAGA allows a plaintiff-employee to seek civil penalties on behalf of the plaintiff and other “aggrieved employees” for a Labor Code violation, if the Labor Commissioner first receives proper notice of the claim and declines to take action on it. Among the Labor Code sections often relied on by plaintiffs in such cases is Labor Code section 558, which enables the Labor Commissioner to collect $50 and $100 in civil penalties against employers that unlawfully deny overtime compensation to workers, and allows the Commissioner to recover “an amount sufficient to recover underpaid wages.” Though PAGA provides that amounts recovered by a private litigant are to be distributed 75% to the state and 25% to “aggrieved employees,” section 558 provides that any wage-based recovery under section 558 goes entirely (100%) to the workers.