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Sargent v. Bd. of Trustees of the Cal. State Univ. (CA1 A153072 3/5/21) PAGA/CalOSHA Retaliation


Respondent Thomas Sargent is a health-and-safety technician at Sonoma State University (SSU or the University), which is part of the California State University (CSU) system.  He sued CSU and his supervisor Craig Dawson (appellants) for the way he was treated after raising environmental concerns at the University.  A jury found in his favor on claims alleging unlawful retaliation and on a claim under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (Labor Code, § 2698 et seq., PAGA), which was premised almost entirely on violations of the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 (Labor Code, § 6300 et seq., Cal-OSHA).  Among other relief, he was awarded more than $2.9 million in PAGA penalties and more than $7.8 million in attorney fees.  These consolidated appeals are from the judgment (A153072) and the award of fees (A154926).


Appellants offer several theories in arguing that CSU is not subject to PAGA as a matter of law, but we are not persuaded by them.  We first reject their theory that Education Code section 66606.2 bars PAGA claims against CSU.  We then reject their theory that CSU is categorically immune from PAGA penalties because it is a public entity.  On this point, we hold that viable PAGA claims can be asserted against CSU, but only when the statutes upon which the claims are premised themselves provide for penalties.  Here, Sargent brought some viable PAGA claims, but he ultimately failed to establish CSU’s liability for them because the jury found that he was not personally affected by the underlying statutory violations.  Thus, we reverse the award of PAGA penalties. 


In the unpublished portion of our opinion, we conclude that the trial court did not err in precluding certain evidence offered to defend Sargent’s retaliation claims, and we affirm the trial court’s award of attorney fees.

Alvarez v. Altamed Health Services Corp(CA2/8 B305155M mod. 3/4/21) Employment Arbitration  


Respondent Erendira Cisneros Alvarez sued appellants Altamed Health Services Corporation, Altamed Health Services Network, Inc. and Joumana Rechdan (collectively Altamed) on claims related to her employment with Altamed.  Altamed appeals from the trial court’s order denying its motion to compel arbitration of the claims.  Altamed contends the parties had a valid arbitration agreement which was not revocable due to procedural or substantive unconscionability or the failure of Altamed’s CEO to sign it.  We agree, although we do sever one provision.  We find the trial court erred in denying the motion to compel arbitration, order Paragraph 5 authorizing review by a second arbitrator severed, and remand the matter to enter an order granting the motion. 

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