On June 16, 2020, several employees at a McDonald’s franchise in Oakland, California filed a lawsuit against their employer, in a matter entitled Hernandez v. VES McDonald’s (No. RG20064825, Superior Court of California, County of Alameda). The lawsuit consists of five plaintiffs, three of whom are employees who allege that they became sick with COVID-19 while working at the restaurant and “unknowingly” spread the disease to family and other members in their communities. The fourth is the infant son of one of the plaintiffs who allegedly contracted COVID-19 from his mother. The final plaintiff is an employee who worked in the same restaurant. At the time the complaint was filed, he had not yet tested positive for COVID-19 but “fears becoming infected and spreading the disease to others.”
The plaintiffs allege causes of action for public nuisance, unfair and unlawful business practices, and violations of Oakland’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. The Oakland lawsuit comes approximately one month after employees at a Chicago-area McDonald’s filed suit alleging that their employer failed to take measures to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 as a “public nuisance” is a novel theory being explored by a number of aggressive plaintiffs’ counsel in California. California Civil Code Section 3480 provides: “A public nuisance is one which affects at the same time an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.”
On June 22, 2020, Judge Patrick R. McKinney of the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda issued a temporary restraining order (TRO). Pursuant to the TRO, the Oakland franchise will remain closed until July 2, 2020, at which point the court will determine whether a preliminary injunction should be issued. The court ordered that the franchise may reopen and resume operations before July 2, pending approval from the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.