The repackaged opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2008) __ Cal.App.4th __ was finally published today. The opinion is 53 pages long, and as interesting as it is, I'm going to have to pass on the opportunity to do an in-depth analysis for the same reason that I missed a wage and hour class action mediation today - my son's birth. The opinion is just as pro-employer and just as adverse to class action litigation as the original opinion, which was vacated shortly after a petition for review was filed last October. The case can be summed up with the following excerpts from the opinion:
In this action involving alleged violations of laws governing rest and meal breaks, we are presented with the following question: Did the trial court err in certifying this matter as a class action without first determining the elements of plaintiffs and real parties in interest Adam Hohnbaum, Illya Haase, Romeo Osorio, Amanda June Rader and Santana Alvarado's (collectively plaintiffs) claims against defendants Brinker Restaurant Corporation, Brinker International, Inc., and Brinker International Payroll Company, LP (collectively Brinker)?
Reconsidering the matter following a transfer from the California Supreme Court and our vacating of the original opinion in this matter, we first recognize that "in light of the remedial nature of the legislative enactments authorizing the regulation of wages, hours and working conditions for the protection and benefit of employees, the statutory provisions are to be liberally construed." (Industrial Welfare Com. v. Superior Court (1980) 27 Cal.3d 690, 702.) We also recognize mandatory rest and meal breaks have "have long been viewed as part of the remedial worker protection framework" designed to protect workers' health and safety. (Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094, 1105, 1113 (Murphy).) In addition, we note that in construing the applicable statutes and regulations, we look to the plain language of the laws and interpret them in a manner consistent with the Legislature's intent. (Fitch v. Select Products Co. (2005) 36 Cal.4th 812, 818.)
With these principles in mind, we conclude the class certification order is erroneous and must be vacated because the court failed to properly consider the elements of plaintiffs' claims in determining if they were susceptible to class treatment. Specifically, we conclude that (1) while employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking rest periods, they need only provide, not ensure, rest periods are taken; (2) employers need only authorize and permit rest periods every four hours or major fraction thereof and they need not, where impracticable, be in the middle of each work period; (3) employers are not required to provide a meal period for every five consecutive hours worked; (4) while employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal periods, they need only provide them and not ensure they are taken; and (5) while employers cannot coerce, require or compel employees to work off the clock, they can only be held liable for employees working off the clock if they knew or should have known they were doing so. We further conclude that because the rest and meal breaks need only be "made available" and not "ensured," individual issues predominate and, based upon the evidence presented to the trial court, they are not amenable to class treatment. Finally, we conclude the off-the-clock claims are also not amenable to class treatment as individual issues predominate on the issue of whether Brinker forced employees to work off the clock, whether Brinker changed time records, and whether Brinker knew or should have known employees were working off the clock. Accordingly, we grant the petition and order the superior court to vacate its order granting class certification and enter a new order denying certification of plaintiffs' proposed class.
You can download the full text of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court here in pdf or Word format. If you do any wage and hour work, or any class action work, this is must reading until and unless the Supreme Court grants review.
Glancing over the opinion, I couldn't help but think that if this had been the first appellate decision in California concerning wage and hour class actions, there might never have been a second wage and hour class action. However, it was not the first, and Brinker disagrees with many prior opinions, most specifically, Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 949, 962-963, which it discussed at length, and Bufil v. Dollar Financial Group, Inc. (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1193, which it did not even mention, and more generally, a string of cases which promote class actions as an efficient way to resolve wage and hour disputes and a string of cases which discuss the remedial nature of wage and hour laws in California. With Brinker and Cicairos presenting such starkly contrasting views on California law, with Brinker presenting so many novel ideas regarding wage and hour claims and class actions, and with so many U.S. District Court cases disagreeing with Cicairos and each other, this case looks like an outstanding candidate for Supreme Court review.