Update: California Judge Ruling Dooming Meal And Rest Break Class Based On Brinker Becomes Final
We recently reported about a California trial court judge in Los Angeles issuing the first post-Brinker ruling denying class certification in a proposed meal and rest period class action. On Friday, the ruling became final when the judge issued his order. This appears to be the first ruling in California to deny class certification in a proposed wage-hour class action after Brinker. As previously reported, the ruling may be a good sign for employers as to how courts will interpret Brinker.
The Honorable John Shepard Wiley, a Los Angeles County Superior Court complex litigation judge, relied heavily on Brinker in ruling that class treatment for meal and rest breaks was inappropriate based on a lack of uniform evidence concerning policies and the diverse workplace situations of the workers. The court said that plaintiff's 43 "lawyer-drafted declarations" of putative class members, which described missed breaks, had to be "taken with a grain of salt, for the utter uniformity of experience they portray may stem both from similar workplace conditions and from the cut-and-paste function in the law firm's word processor." The court noted that plaintiff's 43 declarations only established that workplace conditions were similar for 6% of the putative class, while other declarations proffered by the defendants showed workplace situations varied drastically. Even if the plaintiff's 43 declarations were accepted on face value, the court said that would just mean there were 43 putative class members down with "716 left to go on the issue of liability." The court found this unacceptable, saying, "[a] civil defendant…enjoys the right to due process on the issue of civil liability."
The court further explained that, "There is no single way to determine whether [the defendant] is liable to the class for failure to provide breaks. Some workers did not get breaks. Other workers were on their own and at complete liberty to take breaks as they pleased, with no time or management pressure." The court indicated that it would take "hundreds of witnesses" to sort this out and determine whether there was or was not liability for improper breaks. The court went on to say, "This is not a practical trial. It is unworkable. The proposal to analyze these disputes as a class matter does not make common sense."
The court also rejected plaintiff's reliance on the concurrence in Brinker. The court said, "[plaintiff] repeatedly cites the Brinker concurrence. The concurrence commanded only two votes. It is not the law." This may be a good sign for employers who wondered how trial courts would interpret the Brinker concurrence, which seemed to suggest a lower bar for class certification in meal period cases than was provided by the actual unanimous decision.
Jon Meer and Brandon McKelvey of Seyfarth Shaw represented one of the defendants in this case and opposed class certification along with another defendant. Jon Meer was interviewed by the National Law Journal about the ruling and talked about the decision in Brinker and what it means for wage-hour litigation in California. To read the interview click here.