• Lojack Revisited: Commuting Time Can Be (Surprise) Compensable Under California Law
  • April 13, 2010 | Author: Noel P. Tripp
  • Law Firm: Jackson Lewis LLP - Melville Office
  • The Ninth Circuit recently revised and reissued its earlier opinion in Rutti v. Lojack Corp., No. 07-56599 (9th Cir. Mar. 2, 2010), holding upon further review that the Plaintiff’s commuting time is compensable under California law, while continuing to find that such time  is not compensable under the FLSA. The Court did not change its ruling that time spent on the required post-shift activity at issue in the case -- the daily transmission of data -- was compensable.

    The Plaintiff, an automotive technician, installed and repaired vehicle recovery systems for the employer. Because technicians perform most of their duties at the clients’ locations, the employer required Plaintiff to use a company-owned vehicle to travel to clients’ sites. The employer prohibited technicians from carrying passengers in the company vehicles and from using the vehicles for personal business. The technicians also were required to keep their cell phones on while driving.

    The employer paid Plaintiff on an hourly basis for the period beginning when he arrived at his first job and ending when he completed his final job, but not any commuting time. Plaintiff, on behalf of himself and all technicians, sued the employer to recover compensation for commuting time and for alleged preliminary and post-shift activities.

    Addressing Plaintiff’s claim that the commuting time should be compensable under California law, the Court concluded that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the employer. California law requires that employees be compensated for all time “during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer.” Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal. 4th 575, 578 (2000). In Morillion, the California Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs were “subject to the control” of their employer during a mandatory bus commute because “plaintiffs could not drop off their children at school, stop for breakfast before work, or run other errands requiring the use of a car.” The California Supreme Court reasoned the “[p]laintiffs were foreclosed from numerous activities in which they might otherwise engage if they were permitted to travel to the fields by their own transportation.”

    Similarly, in Lojack, Plaintiff was required to drive the company vehicle, could not stop off for personal errands, could not take passengers, was required to drive the vehicle directly from home to his job and back, and could not use his cell phone while driving, except to answer calls from the company dispatcher. Accordingly, the Court found that “Plaintiff was under Lojack’s control while driving the Lojack vehicle en route to the first Lojack job of the day and on his way home at the end of the day.” Thus, the Court held that his commute was compensable under California law.

    Employers that provide company vehicles and have restrictions regarding their use should expect increased challenges to their policies and claims that employees’ commutes are “compulsory,” rather than ordinary.