Akin Gump Obtains Denial of Class Certification Against American Film Institute

(Los Angeles) – A team of Akin Gump attorneys, in a pro bono representation, obtained denial of class certification in a putative class action case on behalf of the American Film Institute (AFI) in the Second District Court of Appeal of the State of California.

The plaintiff, who worked for four days as a volunteer for AFI, claimed that she and other volunteers were employees because AFI, a nonprofit, is not a “religious or charitable” organization that helped the “needy or suffering” and thus not permitted to use unpaid labor under California law. She filed a putative class action alleging that such workers should be entitled to minimum and overtime wages, meal and rest breaks, wage statements and other benefits as required by law.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court had denied class certification on the ground that common issues would not predominate over individual ones. The Court reasoned that a volunteer for a nonprofit organization cannot be classified as an employee unless the worker expects some compensation.

On December 17, 2021, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s reasoning and affirmed that “the trial court correctly decided that putative class members who expected no compensation were not employees under California law.” Further, the Court of Appeal rejected the plaintiff’s claim that only organizations serving the needy may use volunteers under California law stating that her position lacked "any legal support or policy justification."  

Akin Gump litigation senior counsel Aileen McGrath, labor and employment counsel Jonathan Slowik (who argued the appeal) and associate Victor Salcedo represented AFI. 

Founded in 1945, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a leading international law firm with more than 900 lawyers in offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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