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Calif. Court Allows Worker Class Action

(CN) - Employees of a California grocery store can proceed with a class action claiming they were wrongfully denied unemployment pay during an 18-week lockout, a state appeals court ruled. The lockout took place in the fall of 2003, after negotiations broke down between Albertson's and the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

During the lockout, several of the grocer's employees filed claims with the California Employment Development Department for unemployment insurance benefits. The department denied the claims.

Two employees, Gayle Tarkington and Joel Straub, took their case to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Hundreds of workers attended the hearings, and Tarkington and Straub presented an appeal for class-wide relief.

The board denied the claim, citing the fact that the union had "struck the first blow" one day before the Albertson's lockout by going on strike against Von's, another grocery company.

The workers took their case to the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that Albertson's tried to break the union by allowing pharmacists to work and by urging its workers to resign from the union. Albertson also encouraged the locked-out workers to work under false names and Social Security numbers, the workers alleged.

The lower court ruled in favor of Albertson's, agreeing with the grocery chain that the workers' allegations were too broad and the plaintiffs did not qualify as a class.

Justice Bauer of the 2nd District Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling that trial court threw out the workers' case too soon.

"The putative class definition alleged in the petition," Bauer wrote, "is sufficient to move past the pleading stage."

The workers are now free to move forward with a class action.

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