Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Julie Su to be California’s next Labor Commissioner. Some of you are very familiar with the role of the Labor Commissioner. If you’re not, the Labor Commissioner heads up the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, which adjudicates wage claims and enforces the Labor Code and Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders. They’re not supposed to make laws, only enforce those that exist. But with so much uncertainty about what the law requires, the ability to choose which interpretation to follow can have a huge impact on the outcome of wage disputes. This is especially true for meal period cases, where employers are required to divine what the law might be while they await a decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court.
Ms. Su is a civil rights lawyer (having led the federal prosecution of sweat shop operators in Southern California) and litigation director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. She has a B.A. from Stanford, a J.D. from Harvard, and received a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Su issued a statement saying, “I look forward to the challenge of ensuring a more fair and just workplace for both employees and employers.” [Emphasis mine, not hers.] Is it too much to hope that that includes providing clear guidance on what the law requires and not imposing penalties for technical violations that grossly exceed any arguable harm caused? That’s rhetorical. The appointment requires approval from the State Senate.