Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Aleksik v. 7-Eleven (Cal. Ct. App. - May 8, 2012)

I get what Justice McConnell is saying here.  Yes, the employees worked at 7-11, and yes, all franchises were required by 7-11 to use 7-11's payroll system.  But that doesn't mean that 7-11 is liable for errors in the payroll process.  Even systemic errors.  If there's a problem, maybe you can sue your employer.  But not 7-11.

That's an understandable point.

It's also colored, I imagine, by the underlying substantive claim.  Which lots of people would find trivial.

Plaintiffs contend that 7-11's payroll system shorts its workers.  That's a serious charge.  It's also totally correct; indeed, essentially undisputed.  Employees have to "clock in" at 7-11 electronically, and 7-11 then calculates the number of hours they've worked.  That's all fine.

But 7-11 ignores all hours after two decimal places.  So if you work 7.353 hours, you only get paid for 7.35.  You lose the .003.

So that's wrong.  But not much.  For example, 7-11 hired an economist to pull 158 random employees, and found out that only 348 pay periods were truncated.  Still, that's 348, right?  But of those 348, 336 involved no difference in pay even after truncation.  (That's the benefit, I imagine, of paying almost all of your people minimum wage and having them work part-time.)

That leaves, however, eight employees who were shorted for twelve total time periods.  How much pay did they lose?  An average of 4 cents per week.  With the largest loss in the sample of less than fifty cents.

So you can see why the trial court and the Court of Appeal probably aren't that excited about the case.  Who cares?!

That said, I must admit that I'm baffled as to why 7-11 elects to truncate the decimals rather than round them.  Sure, you could say that it's administrative ease.  But it's all computers.  You can round just as easily as truncating; indeed, probably more so.  And I'll bet dollars to Slurpees that 7-11 makes sure to round lots and lots of figures -- including the amounts it charges customers at the gas pump -- rather than truncate the numbers.  A penny here and a penny there, after all, adds up.

So I must say that I'm sympathetic with the plaintiff here.  And think that maybe claims like this are precisely why we have class actions.  Maybe there's only $1000 (or $10,000, or whatever) at stake.  But if people are getting ripped off for that amount, and its easy to do the right thing (as it is here), that seems like something we'd want to remedy.

The Court of Appeal holds that maybe plaintiffs can go after the individual employers -- the franchises.  Okay. 

Mind you, at that point, we're talking about maybe $10 per store, so I'm not sure it's economical.  But that's apparently what the law requires.  Which means that there's no remedy.

Which I'm not too sad about.  If 7-11 changes its policy.  But I gotta say that if, even after this action, 7-11 kept calculating pay this way, I'd be more than willing to slam them.

Because it's wrong.  Even if it's only a quarter.