Safeway Beats Employment Class Action in Maryland

Safeway Beats Employment Class Action in Maryland Photo: Chrishyson90/Flickr.

Maryland’s highest court has rejected an employment class action against Safeway Inc. but also ruled that employees have a private right of action against employers for miscalculations of pay exempt from garnishment.

Judge Alan Wilner wrote that the state Legislature had shifted responsibility from state labor officials to individual employees, but that the representative of the putative class had waited too long to seek class certification. The ruling sustained the judgment of a trial judge.

Putative class representative Bonita Marshall had argued she delayed in moving for class certification until 15 months after she filed her lawsuit because of Safeway’s delays in turning over discovery regarding members of the putative class.

Wilner, however said the motion for class certification was untimely and there was another remedy in Maryland law besides a class action to challenge the amount withheld from Marshall’s paycheck.

Marshall alleged that Safeway wrongfully deducted $29.64 from her wages “in response to two writs of garnishment issued by the District Court of Maryland.”

“We have a class action suit that has been in litigation for 3 1/2 years, all but two weeks of which has been after Safeway at least tacitly acknowledged its error, tendered the excess deduction to Ms. Marshall, and changed its corporate policy to apply thenceforth the correct garnishment exemption standards,” Wilner wrote.

The garnishment involved a $1,070 Capital One Bank judgment against Marshall. Judge Sally Adkins agreed with the outcome but argued that Marshall enjoyed no private cause of action under a state law that shifted responsibility for pursuing such cases from the state labor commission to private plaintiffs.

Judge Robert McDonald also agreed with the outcome but wrote that “other claims under the Wage Payment and Collection Law may be amenable to prosecution as class actions. These are often cases in which multiple individual employees may each have a claim—claims that are small compared to many that we see, but that may be very significant to the individual employees—against the same defendant for very similar reasons.”

Amaris Elliott-Engel is a contributor to