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Two Recent California Decisions Applying Brinker Affirm Denial of Class Certification For Meal And Rest Breaks

Published by on September 18, 2012

In Flores v. Lamps Plus, Inc. and Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., the California Court of Appeal Second District, Division Eight, initially affirmed the denial of class certification of meal and rest breaks claims while awaiting the California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp v. Superior Court.  The California Supreme Court granted review […]

In Flores v. Lamps Plus, Inc. and Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., the California Court of Appeal Second District, Division Eight, initially affirmed the denial of class certification of meal and rest breaks claims while awaiting the California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp v. Superior Court.  The California Supreme Court granted review of the cases and later remanded to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of the Brinker decision.  Following remand, the Court of Appeal has affirmed the two trial courts’ denial of motions for class certification of meal and rest break claims.  More after the break.

In Flores v. Lamps Plus, Inc., plaintiffs sought certification of approximately 2,608 hourly employees in 29 of the employer’s retail stores for their claims for failure to provide meal and rest breaks, failure to pay for off-the-clock work, failure to timely pay wages upon termination, and failure to provide itemized wage statements.  The Court of Appeal explained that in Brinker, the California Supreme Court determined that an employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure that no work thereafter is performed.  The Court of Appeal held that if employers were required to ensure breaks were taken, employers would have no choice but to terminate the employment of those who choose not to take their breaks which would contradict the Court’s duty to construe the Labor Code “with an eye to protecting employees.”  The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification because individual issue predominated as Lamps Plus had a meal and rest policy in compliance with the applicable law, Lamps Plus disciplined employees for failing to comply with the policy, and the breath of the alleged violations was highly variable.  The Court of Appeal also rejected plaintiffs’ reliance on Lamps Plus’ time records as there was no methodology, other than individual inquiry, for determining from the time records why breaks were not taken or abbreviated.  The Court of Appeal further affirmed the trial court’s denial of class certification as to plaintiffs’ off-the-clock and waiting time claims as individualized inquiry would be required.  In connection with plaintiffs’ itemized wage statement claims, the Court of Appeal held that plaintiffs had failed to establish an injury arising from the alleged missing information.

In Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., plaintiffs sought certification of approximately 3,000 hourly employees in about 130 California restaurants for their claims of failure to provide meal and rest breaks in accordance with California law.  The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying class certification as under Brinker, employers need only provide employees with meal and rest breaks and need not ensure that no work is performed during breaks.  The Court of Appeal held that to conclude otherwise would create perverse incentives for employee to violate company meal break policies.  The Court of Appeal also held that adopting the plaintiffs’ position would place an undue burden on large employers or employers who do not remain in contact with their employees during the day.  As Chipotle did not have a uniform practice with regard to breaks, the Court of Appeal concluded that plaintiffs would be required to present a restaurant-by-restaurant analysis in order to prove that Chipotle failed to provide meal and rest breaks.  The Court of Appeal also concluded that Chipotle’s time records could not be used to prove that it failed to provide meal and rest breaks.  The Court of Appeal found that there was substantial evidence that the time records may be unreliable because Chipotle paid employees for their meal period and therefore, employees lacked incentive to clock in and out for meal periods.  Therefore, the trier of fact would have to ascertain whether each employee actually missed their break or forgot to clock in and out as well as why employees missed breaks or went back to work before completing them.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court reasonably concluded that individual issues predominated, and therefore, class certification was not appropriate.

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