Here is our press release concerning the GMRI meal and rest period case:
Court Approves $9.5 Million Settlement For Red Lobster and Olive Garden Employees in Meal and Rest Break Class Actions (Irvine, California)
More than 40,000 current and former hourly workers at California Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants will share $9.5 million as part of a settlement involving claims that they were prevented from taking breaks, and that they were required to purchase and maintain their own employee uniforms. Red Lobster workers from more than 40 locations in California who worked there from February 21, 1998 to the present will share $5.5 million, while Olive Garden employees who worked from March 24, 1999 to the present will share another $4 million.
Two food servers at the Brea Red Lobster restaurant filed the first class action complaint in Orange County Superior Court in February 2002, alleging that Red Lobster refused to allow breaks to its non-exempt workers throughout the State of California. The complaint was subsequently amended to include damages and restitution for Red Lobster’s former policy of charging workers for uniforms, and for making the employees maintain their own uniforms. In March 2003, an Olive Garden employee filed a similar complaint, seeking certification of all GMRI workers, including both the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains. In May 2004, while the first case was on appeal from an Orange County Superior Court ruling denying the defendant’s motions for summary judgment and to compel arbitration, a third lawsuit was filed in Sacramento, California.
Under California Labor Code § 226.7 and Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order 5, employees are entitled to a paid ten-minute break for every four hours of work, or major fraction thereof. Employees working at least 3½ hours are entitled to one paid break, and earn a second paid break after six hours. Furthermore, employees who work more than five hour shifts are entitled to a 30 minute break which need not be paid. Under California Labor Code § 450 and Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order 5, employers are required to pay for the cost of purchasing and maintaining employee uniforms and may not require employees to purchase anything of value, including uniforms, from the company.
This is one of the largest rest period class actions ever certified in California. This case was hard fought for three years, in two counties, the Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. The Red Lobster case was settled more than two years after the first mediation session. A second mediation session was scheduled after the California Supreme Court denied review of a 4th District Court of Appeal ruling preventing Red Lobster from compelling the employees to arbitrate the Red Lobster class claims. Several weeks after the second mediation, before respected mediator Mark S. Rudy of San Francisco, the parties reached a tentative settlement agreement. The Olive Garden case settled shortly thereafter, and an integrated and final settlement of the three lawsuits was signed on June 25, 2005.
The settlement was given preliminary approval by the Sacramento County Superior Court earlier this year. Sacramento Judge Loren E. McMaster granted final approval to the settlement yesterday, October 18, 2005. Checks to class members will be mailed no later than December 6, 2005.
GRMI, Inc., a subsidiary of Darden Restaurants, Inc. (stock symbol DRI), which operates the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains in California, did not admit liability in the settlement. The settlement does not dictate any change in the restaurant chain’s practices. However, attorneys for the class do not foresee any ongoing problems with GMRI’s policies. Since 2002, the reports of employees missing their meal and rest breaks have been few, and we have seen instances in which restaurant managers who did not permit employees to take breaks have been subject to discipline by the company.