Talitha de la Cruz worked as a senior development assistant at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for a period of about six months, writing thank you letters to donors, helping manage events and entering donor information into a database.
She is now the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the aquarium and affiliated institutions (the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium Support Services), filed Oct. 10 in Monterey County Superior Court.
De la Cruz worked for the aquarium until last spring, according to the suit, and alleges that as an hourly, non-exempt employee she did work off the clock that was beyond her eight-hour days and 40-hour work weeks but which she was not compensated for as overtime.
"Defendants had, and continue to have, a company-wide policy and/or practice requiring plaintiff and class members to perform tasks off-the-clock, such as depositing letters and documents at the mailroom."
As an example, the lawsuit alleges a task that took just five to 10 minutes once or twice per week, but that occurred after clocking out: walking to the mail room to drop off donor acknowledgment letters for executives' signatures.
In California, employers with 26 or more employees—such as the aquarium—must treat workers earning less than $49,920 (based on a formula doubling the minimum wage) as hourly, non-exempt employees, meaning rules regarding meal breaks and overtime apply.
In an emailed statement, the aquarium claims they adhered to California labor law: "We take all legal claims seriously and we will, of course, fully investigate the specific allegations in the complaint. However, we are confident that we are compliant with the required wage and hour laws."
De la Cruz is represented by the firm Capstone Law, based in Los Angeles. The lawsuit states that the class is likely to have more than 100 members across the aquarium's various institutions.
The first hearing in the case is set for Feb. 11, 2020.