Post-Brinker Class Certification Decisions – Where are they now?

Brinker continues to impact meal and rest period and off-the-clock cases as lower courts continue to grapple with the contours of its application.  Several cases at the appellate level were remanded after the California Supreme Court’s Brinker decision, and those cases are now working their way through the lower courts.  On our July 6, 2012 blog post, we identified three post-Brinker decisions denying class certification in meal period cases.  Below is a brief summary of post-Brinker decisions issued since our last update. Read More

Post-Brinker Class Certification Decisions

On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004 (2012) issued a critical decision regarding break and off-the-clock class claims and the standards governing an employer’s obligation to provide breaks under California law. Since the Supreme Court issued its opinion, employers have been eagerly awaiting its application by the lower courts in determining the suitability of class treatment for break and off-the-clock claims. Below is a brief summary of post-Brinker class certification decisions that are helpful to employers.

Benton v. Tanintco, BC349267, Los Angeles County Superior Court: On May 2, Judge Wiley denied certification to a class of technicians who were allegedly misclassified as independent contractors. The court found that individualized issues predominated on the break and overtime claims and that there was no single way to determine liability. The court noted that there were no uniform break or overtime policies and that the declarations the employer submitted demonstrated that workplace experiences varied drastically. The court further stated that the plaintiff’s 43 “substantively identical…lawyer-drafted” declarations should be taken “with a grain of salt” and that at most, they established similar work conditions for only 6% of the putative class. Judge Wiley also reiterated that the Brinker concurrence, which only commanded two votes, is not the law.

Kimani v. Healthcare Investments, Inc., Case No. BC432360, Los Angeles County Superior Court: On May 11, Judge Strobel denied certification to a class of nurses on plaintiffs’ claim that the nurses were not provided a second meal break when working double shifts. The court had previously denied certification of plaintiffs’ overtime, first meal break and rest break claims. In analyzing the remaining double shift/second meal break claim and the derivative wage statement, final pay, unpaid wages and penalties claims, the court cited Brinker and found that determining liability would require individualized inquiries as to each class member and each double shift worked. Accordingly, individualized issues predominated, rendering class treatment inappropriate.

Peters v. Wells Fargo Bank NA, Case No. BC429408, Los Angeles County Superior Court: On June 20, citing Brinker, Judge Palazuelos denied certification of a class of personal bankers, finding that without a classwide policy impacting overtime and breaks, individualized issues predominated on plaintiff’s break and overtime claims and related off-the-clock allegations.

Upcoming Decisions

After granting review of Brinker, the California Supreme Court also granted review of many other class certification decisions involving break claims. See Brinkley v. Public Storage, Inc., Tien v. Tenet Healthcare, Inc., Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Assoc., Bradley v. Networkers Int’l LLC, Brookler v. Radioshack Corp. and Flores v. Lamps Plus. These cases are in the process of being sent back to the appellate courts for reanalysis in light of Brinker and we can expect decisions on these cases in the coming months.

 

California Supreme Court Concludes No Attorney’s Fees For Meal and Rest Break Suits

California’s highest court held that a party who prevails on a claim for an alleged failure to provide meal or rest breaks is not entitled to attorney’s fees under either Section 1194 or Section 218.5 of the California Labor Code. Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc., Cal. Sup. Ct. S185827 (April 30, 2012). Section 1194 is a “one-way fee-shifting statute” that authorizes an award for attorney’s fees only to employees who prevail on minimum wage or overtime claims. By contrast, Section 218.5 is a “two-way fee-shifting statute” that authorizes either an employee or an employer to recover attorney’s fees as a prevailing party in an action brought for the nonpayment of wages.

The court concluded that neither of those sections is applicable to claims for unpaid meal or rest breaks as such claims do not fit under the terms “minimum wage” or “overtime” specified in Section 1194, or the terms “nonpayment of wages” used in Section 218.5. Thus, employers cannot recover attorney’s fees for failed meal and rest break actions. On the other hand, neither can employees. Reading this decision in the context of the California Supreme Court’s April 12, 2012 Brinker decision, plaintiffs’ lawyers may be more cautious as to which meal and rest break claims they pursue as they will not be entitled to recover attorney’s fees as a result of those in which they prevail.

Brinker‘s Effect on California Meal and Rest Periods

In a highly anticipated decision largely hailed as a victory for employers, the California Supreme Court, in Brinker v. Superior Court, No. S166350 (Cal. April 12, 2012), clarified employers’ obligations to provide meal and rest periods under California law and provided guidance regarding class certification issues in wage-and-hour litigation. On the most contentious of the issues raised in Brinker—the nature of an employer’s duty to provide meal periods under California law—the court held that an employer’s obligation is simply to relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, with the employee free to use the time for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done. Thus, if an employer relieves an employee of all duty, but the employee continues to work, the court held that the employer will not be liable for premium pay. The court cautioned, however, that an employer may not undermine a formal policy of providing meal periods by coercing employees to skip breaks, creating incentives for employees to forego breaks, or otherwise encouraging employees not to take legally protected breaks. Read More