California Supreme Court Makes It Easier to Sue Over Seats

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 05, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California's highest court jumped into a surprisingly controversial area of the law yesterday: seating. The California Supreme Court provided guidance to the Ninth Circuit on Monday in a case brought by retail and banking employees trying to sue their bosses over lack of adequate seating -- and trying to form a class action to do it.

The row is over the proper interpretation of key California labor law requiring businesses to provide "suitable seats." So, just what on earth is a "suitable seat" anyway?

"Suitable Seat" -- Try Not to Smile

California's "suitable seat" requirement is seemingly straight forward:

"[E]mployees shall be provided with suitable seats when the nature of the work reasonably permits the use of seats."

But two suitable-seat-suits (Kilby v. CVS, and Henderson v. JPMorgan Chase Bank) caused a bit of confusion at the Ninth Circuit, leading the circuit to ask the California Supreme Court to chime in.

The California Supreme Court Weighs In

The central question at issue was whether the "nature of the work" that would reasonably permit seating referred to individual tasks performed throughout the workday, or to the entire range of duties. The focus, the Supreme Court ruled, ought to be placed on overall job duties, not individuals' particular circumstances. Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote that the "inquiry [did not] turn" on the individual circumstances of each employee, but on "consideration of the overall job duties performed at the particular location by any employee working there..."

So, does the court's suitable seating opinion matter? At least some employment lawyers feel that class certification could be made easier by the Court's opinion. Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP thinks that the ruling means that such cases can be adjudicated on behalf of workers across the state. Agreement is far from ubiquitous, though.

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