By: Jeffrey A. Berman and Jennifer R. Nunez

Seyfarth Synopsis: An unpublished Ninth Circuit opinion has held that an employer need not pay employees for time spent undergoing government-required security checks en route to their worksite within the Los Angeles International Airport. Cazares v. Host International, Inc.

The Facts

Jesus Cazares, an attendant in the Admirals Club lounge at the Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”), sued his employer, Host International, Inc., for unpaid wages, failure to provide meal and rest breaks, and failure to provide accurate wage statements. The main claim was that Host failed to pay for time spent going through TSA security procedures to enter LAX. Cazares also claimed that Host failed to provide meal breaks in that the security process left him no time to leave the airport on meal breaks. Cazares also alleged that Host failed to provide him full 10-minute rest breaks because he had to spend time walking through the terminal to reach designated rest areas.

The Trial Court Decision

In July 2020, the district court dismissed Cazares’s lawsuit for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Cazares appealed the court’s order to the Ninth Circuit.

The Appellate Court Decision

On August 18, 2021, a Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the order dismissing Cazares’s case.

The claim for unpaid work. The Ninth Circuit held that the time spent passing through federally-mandated airport security checks en route to work was not compensable because Cazares did not allege enough facts to show that Host had subjected him to any control during the security checks.

The claim for unprovided meal breaks. The Ninth Circuit held that Cazares had failed to allege facts to show that Host had discouraged him from taking meal breaks as he was not required to undergo a security check in order to leave his worksite (the Admirals Club) during meal breaks.  Host did not have to also ensure that Cazares could leave the secured area of the airport in order to satisfy its meal break obligation.

The claim for unprovided rest breaks. The Ninth Circuit rejected Cazares’s contention that his rest breaks were shortened by a walking requirement, as he failed to allege facts to show that Host made him take his rest breaks at a particular designated area several minutes away from his Admirals Club worksite.

The claim for inaccurate wage statements. Because the wage and break claims failed, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the derivative wage-statement claim also failed.

Seyfarth filed an amicus brief on behalf of a large employer association in support of Host.

What Cazares Means For Employers

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling, though unpublished, is nonetheless citable. It is a useful reminder that it is the level of the employer’s control over employees—not the mere fact that the work requires an activity—that determines whether an activity is compensable under California wage and hour law. The ruling also represents a common sense approach to California’s meal and rest period rules.