In Johnson v. Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc., Cal. Ct. App. 4th Dist., No. D077599, July 21, 2021 (“Johnson”) (slip op. available here), the California Court of Appeal addressed whether an employee whose individual claim is time-barred may still pursue a representative claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) (Cal. Lab. Code § 2698, et seq.). The courtheld the fact that the individual claims of a PAGA representative may be time-barred does not nullify the alleged Labor Code violations or strip her of her standing to pursue PAGA remedies. Slip 7. Johnson illustrates that the facts necessary to confer standing under PAGA are only that a plaintiff must have suffered at least one of the Labor Code violations on which the PAGA claim is based and have been employed by the alleged violator. Cal. Lab. Code § 2699(c). Standing under PAGA does not depend on the continued viability of the plaintiff’s individual claims under the Labor Code.

While employers may cry foul based on the appearance that Johnson revives time barred claims to confer PAGA standing, it does not. Johnson necessarily follows the California Supreme Court’s decision in Kim v. Reins International California, Inc., 9 Cal.5th 73 (2020). Johnson also reflects the statutory reality that a “PAGA claim is legally and conceptually different from an employee’s own suit for damages and statutory penalties.” Slip op. at 4.

In Kim, the California Supreme Court held that an aggrieved employee who settled and dismissed his individual Labor Code claims does not lose standing to pursue a PAGA claim. Kim, 9 Cal.5th at 84. Relying on Kim, the Johnson court reflected that to be an “aggrieved employee” under PAGA a plaintiff must be a person “‘who was employed by the alleged violator’ and ‘against whom one or more of the alleged violations was committed.’” Slip op. at 6 (quoting Kim, 9 Cal.5th at 83-84). Kim held that a plaintiff who is an “aggrieved employee” does not lose standing by settling his Labor Code claims and accepting compensation for his injury. Id. Following Kim, the Johnson court found that “the fact that Johnson’s claim is time-barred places her in a similar situation as a plaintiff who settles her individual claims or dismisses her individual claims to pursue a stand-alone PAGA claim.” Id. at 7.

To be sure, Johnson differs from Kim in that the plaintiff’s individual claims in Kim were not time-barred when she initially filed her PAGA action. However, that is a difference without a distinction under the California Supreme Court’s interpretation of the PAGA. PAGA standing does not depend on maintaining an individual Labor Code claim. Slip. op. at 7. As the Court has stated, every PAGA claim is “a dispute between an employer and the state.” Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348, 384, 386 (2014). Furthermore, “[r]elief under PAGA is designed primarily to benefit the general public, not the party bringing the action.” Slip op. at 4 (citing Arias v. Superior Court, 46 Cal.4th 969, 986 (2009)).

Considered within the statutory framework, whether a PAGA representative’s individual claims are time-barred is irrelevant. As long as the statutory prerequisites for maintaining a PAGA action are met, the plaintiff has standing to pursue the PAGA claims as the proxy or agent of the state. Arias, 46 Cal.4th at 986. As Johnson observed, “[t]he rule from Kim is an ‘aggrieved employee’ has standing to pursue a PAGA claim, irrespective of whether that employee maintains a separate Labor Code claim.” Slip op. at 7.

Authored by:
Robert Friedl, Senior Counsel

The post Johnson v. Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc.: Statute of Limitations on Individual Claim No Bar to Aggrieved Employee Standing Under PAGA first appeared on Impact Litigation Journal.