California Supreme Court to Hear Wage-and-Hour Case

On November 8, 2011 the California Supreme Court heard arguments in Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court, a case dealing with the laws about meal and rest breaks for California employees. Many eagerly await the court's decision in the case, since it will determine to what extent large employers are subject to wage-and-hour class action lawsuits.

Facts of the Case

Brinker Restaurant Corporation owns and operates 137 restaurants in three different chains in California-Chili's Grill & Bar, Romano's Macaroni Grill and Maggiano's Little Italy. In 2008, employees of restaurants owned by Brinker Restaurant Corporation filed a class action lawsuit claiming that the managers made them work off-the-clock on their rest and meal breaks and altered employees' timesheets in violation of the California's employment laws. The trial court certified a class of about 59,000 employees from all of Brinker's restaurants in the state.

Brinker challenged the trial court's class certification, arguing that the law only required rest breaks to be permitted, not that the employer needed to ensure that employees took them, and Brinker had a written policy allowing rest breaks. Brinker argued that the reason that each employee did not take rest breaks would be too much of an individualized inquiry to allow for a class action suit.

The Court's Decision

The appellate court reviewed the trial court's class certification and held that the lower court improperly certified the class. The court agreed with Brinker that the issues were not suited for class action treatment because the reasons that each employee missed his or her breaks would vary from person to person. The court also held that the lower court misinterpreted the law and that employers only need to make breaks available to employees, not that employers are required to ensure that employees take their breaks.

The appellate court reversed the trial court's class certification and ordered that the plaintiffs' suit be dismissed with prejudice, meaning that the plaintiffs could not bring those same claims in the trial court again. The plaintiffs appealed to the California Supreme Court.

Impact on Future Lawsuits

The California Supreme Court's decision in this case could have a huge impact on employees looking to bring wage-and-hour class action lawsuits. If the court adopts the appellate court's opinion that the reasons that employees missed rest and meal breaks were too individualized to warrant class action, employers may face fewer wage-and-hour suits; it will be too difficult for employees to get a class certification from the court.

Employment laws exist to protect employees from abuse by their employers. Many employers disregard employees' rights, hoping that employees are not aware of their rights. If your employer has violated your workplace rights, contact an experienced employment law attorney who can discuss your situation with you and advise you of your options.