What the courts giveth the Legislature taketh away. In 2012, California employers received an unexpected early Christmas gift when the California Supreme Court ruled in Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. that the prevailing party in cases alleging meal and rest break violations was not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees. Yet, the California Supreme Court left open the possibility that employers could recover attorney’s fees when they prevail on contractual claims for wages and it expressly rejected the employee’s argument that attorney’s fees should only be awardable to a prevailing plaintiff based on a public policy encouraging employees to bring such claims.
The post-Immoos celebration was short-lived. On August 26, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 462 which completely changes the playing field as far as attorney’s fees are concerned. Now, any employer who prevails in a case involving a claim for nonpayment of wages, benefits or pension contributions, must show that the employee brought the claim in bad faith. Employees who prevail need not show bad faith, however. The bill does not affect the Supreme Court’s ruling that attorney’s fees cannot be awarded to either party in meal and rest break cases.