California Employer’s Policy Of On-Duty Meal Periods Will Be Litigated As A Class Action

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
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Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, Inc., No. G041702 (May 10, 2013): A California Court of Appeal recently changed its position on the class certification of claims for meal period, rest period, and off-the-clock violations in light of the California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. The court held that because the issue was whether the employer had uniform policies that were unlawful under California law, the claims were amenable to class treatment.

Boyd & Associates provides security guard services for gated residential communities, hospitals, commercial buildings, and retail stores. Josie Faulkinbury and William Levene were employed by Boyd & Associates as security guards. They brought a class action on behalf of themselves and approximately 4,000 current and former employees, claiming that they were denied off-duty meal and rest periods in violation of California law. According to the workers, they were required to sign an agreement to take on-duty meal periods when they were hired. They also claimed that the company failed to include certain reimbursements (e.g., the uniform allowance) and an annual bonus payment in calculating the hourly rate of overtime pay. 

After the trial judge denied class certification, the workers appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal affirmed the order denying certification on the meal and rest period claims, but reversed the order denying certification on the overtime claims. The California Supreme Court granted review of the case, issued its decision in Brinker, and then remanded the case to the lower court for reconsideration.

In light of the Brinker decision, the Court of Appeal held that: “The lawfulness of [the company’s] policy of requiring all security guard employees to sign the on-duty meal break agreement can be determined on a classwide basis.” Also, the claim that Boyd & Associates did not have a policy for providing rest periods was amenable to class treatment. The court also held that the workers’ claim that the company maintained a uniform practice of excluding certain amounts from its calculation of overtime compensation was amenable to class treatment—even though eligibility for recovery would have to be shown on an individual basis.

According to Betsy Johnson, the managing shareholder of the Los Angeles office of Ogletree Deakins: “The court's decision in Faulkinbury is somewhat of a ‘wake- up’ call for employers. Faulkinbury demonstrates that, while the holding in Brinker is helpful to employers that are defending meal period, rest period, and off-the-clock class actions, it is not a ‘silver bullet’ that will defeat class certification of all such claims. This decision reiterates the need for all employers to review and update their meal and rest period policies and their payroll practices. Further, it calls into question the validity of the ‘on duty’ meal period exception found in the applicable Wage Order. As such, employers that utilize the ‘on duty’ meal period exception are advised to review their practice for compliance with California law.”

Note: This article was published in the June 21, 2013 issue of the California eAuthority.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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