Further Down the Rabbit-Hole we go: California’s Troubling Treatment of Incentive-Based Compensation Systems

On July 17, 2013, the California Supreme Court denied review of the Second Appellate District’s decision in Gonzalez v. Downtown LA Motors, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 257 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Mar. 6, 2013), which addressed minimum-wage requirements for piece-rate workers. The Court of Appeal held that the employer had to pay a separate hourly rate of at least minimum wage during work time when piece-rate employees are engaged in compensable activity that does not directly produce piece-rates.  Read More

California Supreme Court Allows See’s Candy Time Rounding Decision to Stand

Earlier last month, the California Supreme Court denied petitions to review and depublish the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District’s decision in See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court, 210 Cal. App. 4th 889 (2012), a case of first impression on whether an employer can round an employee’s clocked time under California law. As a result, the Court of Appeal’s decision on the topic of employers’ rounding of employee time entries remains the law of the land in California.

On October 29, 2012, the California Court of Appeal confirmed that California law—like federal law—permits an employer to implement a policy rounding its employees’ recorded time so long as the policy is neutrally applied and does not systematically under-compensate employees for time worked.

The plaintiff in See’s Candy hoped to blunt this helpful precedent by asking the California Supreme Court to depublish the Court of Appeal’s ruling. However, thanks to the Supreme Court’s denial of the plaintiff’s petitions, employers and courts may continue to look to See’s Candy for guidance in the implementation of their timekeeping policies.

California Supreme Court Eliminates Damages in FEHA Discrimination Cases Where Employer Proves Mixed Motive Defense

Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling clarifying details of the “mixed-motive” defense applicable to discrimination claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). Harris v. City of Santa Monica, Case No. S181004 (Cal. Feb. 7, 2013). The Harris opinion is undoubtedly positive news for employers and provides much-needed guidance to trial courts in California handling mixed-motive cases (i.e., cases where legitimate and illegitimate factors motivated the decision). Read More

California Supreme Court to Clarify Standard of Proof in FEHA Discrimination Cases

Last month, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that will clarify the standard of proof required for “mixed-motive” discrimination claims under the California Fair Housing and Employment Act (“FEHA”). Harris v. City of Santa Monica, No. S181004 (Cal. Dec. 4, 2012). In mixed-motive cases, both legitimate and illegitimate factors may have contributed to the employment action. Read More

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

California Supreme Court Confirms Work Product Protection for Attorney-Directed Investigations

The California Supreme Court recently clarified the extent of the attorney work product privilege under California law regarding recorded witness statements and the identities of witness interviewed by counsel, resolving a split of authority in the court of appeal. In Coito v. Superior Court, et al., Case No. S181712 (June 25, 2012), the court held that recorded witness statements—including statements made to an attorney’s agent at the direction of an attorney—are entitled to at least a qualified work product protection as a matter of law, and may be entitled to absolute protection upon proper showing. Furthermore, the court held that the identity of witnesses from whom counsel have obtained statements is not entitled to automatic work product protection as a matter of law, but may be entitled to the work product privilege upon proper showing. Read More

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