Trial Court Order Requiring Starbucks to Identify and Disclose Job Applicants with Marijuana Convictions Violates the Privacy Rights Sought to be Redressed by Putative Class Action California Appellate Court Holds
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Starbucks for allegedly violating California marijuana laws by asking prospective employees to disclose, on a preprinted form, whether they had suffered any marijuana convictions. Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Cal.App. April 25, 2011) [Slip Opn., at 2]. The class action complaint was premised on the fact that “[I]n the mid-1970s, the California Legislature reformed the state’s marijuana laws to require the ‘destruction’ by ‘permanent obliteration’ of all records of minor marijuana convictions that were more than two years old. Employers were prohibited from even asking about such convictions on their job applications, with statutory penalties of the greater of actual damages, or $200 per aggrieved applicant.” Id. The class action sought $26 million on behalf of 135,000 job applicants, alleging that Starbucks “failed to adequately advise job applicants not to disclose minor marijuana convictions more than two years old.” Id., at 2-3. During the litigation, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute the class action “because none had any marijuana convictions to reveal.” Id., at 2 (citing Starbucks Corp. v. Superior Court (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1436). Accordingly, the trial court subsequently granted Starbuck’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the named plaintiffs as class representatives. Id. However, rather than dismissing the lawsuit, the trial court ruled that plaintiffs could “file a first amended complaint to include only job applicants with marijuana convictions” as class members, and could “conduct further discovery to find a ‘suitable’ class representative.” Id. Toward that end, Starbucks was ordered “to randomly review job applications until it identifies job applicants with prior marijuana convictions” and to then disclose those names to plaintiffs’ counsel “unless they affirmatively opt out to a neutral administrator.” Id. Starbucks again sought writ review and the Court of Appeal reversed.
This case is surprisingly simple. As the Court of Appeal summarized its opinion, “By providing for the disclosure of job applicants with minor marijuana convictions, the discovery order ironically violates the very marijuana reform legislation the class action purports to enforce. We fail to understand how destroying applicants’ statutory privacy rights can serve to protect them.” Starbucks, at 2-3.
By way of background, the trial court believed plaintiffs had standing to prosecute this putative class action: “None of the plaintiffs had been convicted of a marijuana-related crime. But they contended that California law allowed any job applicant to receive a minimum statutory penalty of $200 per applicant if they filled out an improper job application.” Starbucks, at 3. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, and found that every job applicant was entitled to receive the $200 statutory penalty “even those who never had sustained a marijuana conviction,” id. The appellate court disagreed, holding that “neither plaintiffs nor the tens of thousands of job applicants they purported to represent were entitled to recover statutory penalties where they did not have any marijuana convictions to disclose.” Id. Rather, “Only an individual with a marijuana-related conviction falls within the class of people the Legislature sought to protect.” (168 Cal.App.4th at 1449.)