July 25, 2008
On July 22, 2008, the California Court of Appeal issued a published decision in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court of San Diego County, holding that while California employers must make timely meal periods available to employees and may not impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal periods, employers are not obligated to police their workforce to ensure that employees take meal periods. The Court held that the determination whether employees were provided with an opportunity to take timely meal periods, under the facts presented, would require an individualized analysis into the circumstances surrounding each alleged missed or late meal period and accordingly reversed the trial court’s order certifying a meal period class. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement late Tuesday hailing the Brinker ruling: "[This] decision promotes the public interest by providing employers, employees, the courts and the labor commissioner the clarity and precedent needed to apply meal and rest period requirements consistently."
Plaintiffs will likely seek review in the California Supreme Court, but if the Brinker decision stands, it will have important implications for employers currently facing meal period class actions and for employers drafting meal period policies.
The Brinker Decision
The plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit against Brinker Restaurant Corporation on behalf of all nonexempt employees in Brinker-owned restaurants alleging that Brinker failed to provide meal and rest breaks, and also claimed that the company required them to work "off the clock" during meal periods.
The trial court held that the question whether meal period laws only require employers to provide the opportunity for timely meal periods, or alternatively whether meal period laws require employers to ensure that employees actually take timely meal periods, is a common legal question to be decided after class certification. The trial court certified a class of more than 59,000 employees.
The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s class certification order on the ground that the trial court erred in not determining the applicable legal standards before reaching the issue of class certification and articulated the following legal standards:
Having determined the correct legal standards, the Court of Appeal concluded that individual issues predominate as to each of these claims and thus that class certification was not proper. The Brinker Court said: "[O]ur conclusion that individual issues predominate does not dictate that claims asserting violations of rest break laws can never be certified as a matter of law. Rather, we are only concluding that under the facts presented to the trial court in this case, and the manner in which plaintiffs’ claims are defined, the claims in this case are not suitable for class treatment." The same applies to meal periods. However, in most cases, an individualized inquiry will be required, which would strongly indicate that class certification would be inappropriate under Brinker (and the three federal court decisions).
It is premature to determine the practical implications of Brinker because the decision may be reviewed by the California Supreme Court.
We would be happy to assist you regarding meal and rest breaks, time keeping, and other wage and hour issues and appropriate written policies in these areas.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Labor and Employment Practice Group is available to assist in addressing any questions you may have regarding these issues. Please contact the Gibson Dunn attorney with whom you work, or any of the following:
Scott A. Kruse – Los Angeles (213-229-7970, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Elisabeth C. Watson – Los Angeles (213-229-7435, email@example.com)
Pamela Hemminger – Los Angeles (213-229-7274, firstname.lastname@example.org)
William D. Claster – Orange County (949-451-3804, email@example.com)
Christopher J. Martin – Palo Alto (650-849-5305, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Eugene Scalia – Practice Chair, Washington, DC (202-955-8206, email@example.com)
© 2008 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
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