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.