In a decision that represents more good news for employers doing
business in California, the California Supreme Court recently held
that employees may not recover attorneys' fees for meal and
rest period claims. On April 30, the Supreme Court issued its
decision in Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc., holding
that employees may not recover attorneys' fees under California
Labor Code Section 1194 for meal and rest period claims. Section
1194 provides attorneys' fees for minimum wage and overtime
wage claims. The plaintiff, Anthony Kirby, argued that meal and
rest period claims are similar enough to statutory minimum wage
claims that they should fall within this attorneys' fee
statute. The court disagreed however, relying on legislative intent
and the plain meaning of the statute. The court held that the
statute applied only to minimum wage and overtime claims as those
terms are ordinarily defined.
Kirby, a former employee of Immoos Fire Protection, filed the
lawsuit on behalf of himself and other employees and subcontractors
similarly situated, alleging several wage claims, including unpaid
overtime, itemized wage statements, and failure to provide required
rest breaks. The case reached the Supreme Court after an appeals
court affirmed an award of fees to Immoos Fire Protection for a
rest break claim that the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed
While holding that employees may not recover attorneys' fees
for meal and rest period claims, the court also found the same was
true for employers. The court held employers also may not
pursue attorneys' fees under the shifting attorneys' fee
provision contained in California Labor Code Section 218.5, which
normally allows employers to recover fees if they successfully
defend claims alleging the nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or
health and welfare or pension fund contributions. On balance,
however, the decision is believed to be positive for employers.
Kirby comes on the heals of the California Supreme
Court's recent decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v.
Superior Court, in which the court held, among other things,
that employers are required to relieve employees of all duties
during an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break, but are not obligated
to police meal breaks and ensure that no work is performed during
the meal breaks.
It is hoped that the decision in Kirby, coupled with
the recent Brinker decision, will deter plaintiffs'
attorneys from pursuing so many meal and rest period claims or, at
a minimum, encourage them to be far more selective in the cases
they choose to litigate.
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Though the two guides are quite similar in form and content, the November publication further specifies the rights of applicants and employees under federal laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act when an employer runs a background check.