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State Supreme Court won’t hear Sonoma County’s appeal of wages ruling


In a closely watched case across California, the state Supreme Court has left in place a ruling that allows a home health care worker to sue Sonoma County for wages that her disabled client did not pay her.

The key issue was whether Sonoma County could be considered a “joint employer” of the caretaker and therefore responsible for her unpaid wages.

gavel1A lower court ruling left that question in the hands of a jury, prompting an appeal from the county. A statewide organization of counties and the state Attorney General’s Office joined the county in asking the high court to review the case. It turned down the request Wednesday.

The three-year-old case has drawn wide notice because it could allow an untold number of caretakers to pursue similar claims against counties for unpaid wages.

The statewide In-Home Supportive Services program, administered by counties and funded by state and federal dollars, pays nearly 360,000 workers to care for about 450,000 low-income, ill and disabled residents.

Advocates for home health care workers contend that thousands of the caretakers have been cheated out of their wages. But because attempts to reclaim that money from clients often are fruitless, some caretakers have turned to counties for their lost wages.

The lawsuit filed against Sonoma County by Adelina Guerrero emerged as a test case to see whether such claims could go forward.

Guerrero said she logged nearly 600 hours of work over four months in 2008 and 2009 helping Alejandra Buenrostro with personal care, housekeeping and other services. But she was never paid, she claimed.

Guerrero’s attorneys said Buenrostro submitted the time sheets to the county and collected Guerrero’s paychecks, totaling $10,300. Including penalties, the suit seeks approximately $20,000 from the county. Guerrero has also sued Buenrostro.

The county argued it wasn’t Guerrero’s employer because it was not involved in hiring or supervising her work.

But Guerrero’s attorneys, from California Rural Legal Assistance, argued that the county’s administrative role, including its say on her total work hours, constituted enough control over her post to be deemed an employer.

The case is now headed back to Sonoma County Superior Court, with a status hearing set for Aug. 6.

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)

6 Responses to “State Supreme Court won’t hear Sonoma County’s appeal of wages ruling”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    This is nuts. Caregivers should have their clients sign their timesheet from which they will be paid and the check should go DIRECTLY TO THE CAREGIVER. I did childcare in my home years and years ago and the state paid me directly from a timesheet that my daycare parents would sign. I’d send it in and a check came directly TO ME. I claimed it as income on my taxes and paid.

    To send it to clients who might have mental issues, who might not understand what the check was for, or who are just plain selfish is NUTS.

  2. David Stubblebine says:

    PROOF…that some people who post here do not understand the role of public sector unions.

    To deny proper representation to public employees is to require workers to completely trust the government to treat them fairly and equitably. Who would do this? In what other area is the government even capable of this? Without effective representation, every little grievance has only one avenue to seek resolution: Superior Court (and they have better things to do).

    PS: The notion that public unions “own” their governing bodies and are free to write their own contracts is a Tea-Party fabrication. Certainly some public unions have exerted some political influence within their sphere (as is their right under the constitution), but the level of public corruption implied by the Tea-Party lie is miles from the truth. Whatever the ills of government might be, the employees and their unions are not the villains.

  3. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    The supposedly “disabled” Alejandra Buenrostro should lose her right to a home health care worker in the In-Home Supportive Services program, if she did run away with several months of Adelina Guerrero’s wages.

    This article states that Adelina Guerrero logged nearly 600 hours of work over four months; and Alejandra Buenrostro submitted the time sheets to the county and collected Guerrero’s paychecks, totaling $10,300. That would make the hourly rate over $17 per hour.

    The original article said it was seven months of Guerrero’s wages, and didn’t name Alejandra Buenrostro.

  4. Follower says:

    PROOF… that Government employees don’t need unions!

  5. Anne V. says:

    Many of the disabled – who are approved for “in-home support” services – are mentally ill. They can not be expected to receive the payments and then to turn over the money to their caretakers, since they have a mental disability. The county has abdicated their responsibility to oversee this process, and the workers should be able to sue the county for the hardship this has caused them.

  6. Snarky says:

    Sounds to me like ANOTHER situation where the County of Sonoma will lose their case after wasting millions of tax dollars….

    Only to then violate State Law (Brown Act) again as they attempt to secretly make the payments without alerting the public.

    Speaking of being liable… how about those sidewalks all over the county that are in violation of the Federal American with Disabilities Act ?? Time to get those repaired before you have another set of litigants after you.