California Court Denies Certification of Meal and Rest Break Classes

Adding to the body of case law that has been developed pending the Supreme Court's decision in the Brinker Restaurant case, a California appellate last week sided with the employer's arguments they need only “provide” meal periods under state law and not “ensure” that they are taken. The court in Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill accordingly upheld an order denying certification of a proposed meal break class on this basis.

In the Chipotle case, the employer informed its employees that they were entitled to meal breaks, and paid them for the time the employees took them. A class of employees nevertheless sued for missed meal and rest breaks, contending that they were denied breaks or that their breaks were interrupted by their managers. Based on employee declarations showing that some employees were always provided breaks, that some missed them, and that others may have chosen to willingly forego them, the court concluded that the “requisite community of interest [wa]s missing” and that certification of the proposed “missed meal break class” was improper. The court noted that the only evidence of a company-wide policy and practice was the “employer’s evidence that it provided employees with meal and rest breaks as required by law,” and that no evidence common to all class members could establish liability on that claim.

The case is also noteworthy because it recognized that certification of meal and rest break classes could be improper even if the employer did not require the employees to record their break times. The court noted that because employees are relieved of all duty and free to leave the premises, there was “no financial incentive to record all breaks accurately.” The court also noted that the law does not require employers to keep records of paid rest breaks, and denied certification of the proposed meal break class even through the employer paid the employees for their meal breaks and did not require employees to record them. This is important in view of the fact that employers are often challenged in these cases for failing to record the meal breaks as required by the state wage orders.

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