A California federal judge on Friday tossed some claims from a putative class action seeking to hold McDonald’s liable as a joint employer for a franchisee’s failure to pay workers proper wages, but the fast food giant remains on the hook under an alternate theory of liability.
U.S. District Judge James Donato said although plaintiffs presented a “mountain” of documents in their efforts to show the great influence McDonald’s has on its franchisees such as co-defendant Edward J. Smith and Valerie S. Smith Family LP, all staffing decisions were solely made by the Smith family.
“Even when viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the record before the court compels the finding that the McDonald’s defendants do not directly employ the plaintiffs or the putative class, and are entitled to summary judgment on that issue,” the judge wrote in a 17-page order.
McDonald’s does not directly employ the plaintiffs. A jury may reasonably conclude that McDonald’s and the franchisee are joint employers.
However, Judge Donato said that plaintiffs could pursue claims against McDonald’s as a joint employer under the theory of ostensible agency, saying that issue would be resolved at trial.
“Because there is evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that McDonald’s and Smith shared an ostensible agency relationship, summary judgment is denied,” the judge said.
Judge Donato also tossed a negligence claim, saying it was barred by the new “right-exclusive remedy” doctrine in the California Labor Code.
McDonald’s, which is fighting a barrage of proposed wage class actions across the country, contends that there is no evidence that it got involved in or exerted any authority.
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