Employer Prevails in Wage and Hour Litigation Brought by Former Employee Based On Its Legally Compliant Policies and Procedures

In Joana David v. Queen of the Valley Medical Center (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 653, the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District affirmed a trial court’s ruling granting summary judgment in favor of an employer in a wage and hour litigation bought by a former employee on the basis that the employer’s policies and procedures were legally compliant on their face and in practice. 

The Facts

Joana David (“David”) worked as a registered nurse at Queen of the Valley Medical Center (“QVMC”) from 2005 to 2015 as an hourly employee.  David worked two 12-hour shifts per week and clocked in and out of work using an electronic timekeeping system that automatically rounded time entries up or down to the nearest quarter-hour.  After her employment ended, David filed a lawsuit against QVMC for missed meal and rest periods and failure to pay minimum wages.  David alleged that she was not paid for off-the-clock hours, and that her meal and rest periods were interrupted by co-workers who asked her work related questions.  David also claimed she was not paid all wages because of QVMC’s time-rounding policy.

QVMC moved for summary judgment arguing that its meal and rest period policies complied with California law, and that whenever David reported a missed rest period, she received an extra hour of pay.  QVMC contended it could not be held liable for missed meal or rest periods of which it was unaware.  In addition, QVMC argued that David was paid for all time worked, and that its rounding policy was legal. 

The trial court granted QVMC’s motion.  With regard to David’s meal and rest period claims, the trial court summarized QVMC’s extensive evidence that David’s supervisors did not urge her to work during meal or rest periods and that she did not report missing a meal or rest period to her supervisors.  The trial court also held that QVMC was entitled to judgment on David’s claim that she was not paid for all time worked.  It noted that QVMC produced evidence that it did not allow employees to perform off-the-clock work and that David’s evidence did not create a triable issue of fact.  Finally, the trial court ruled in favor of QVMC on David’s rounding claim.  It determined QVMC made a prima facie case that its rounding policy was neutral, and that David failed to rebut this showing.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s ruling and rejected David’s argument that the trial court “ignored” her evidence and violated California law by adjudicating her meal and rest period claims, and her time-rounding claim in favor of QVMC.

QVMC provided meal periods as required by law.  QVMC provided one meal period for every five hours of work, and a second meal period for those who worked more than 10 hours.  David waived her second meal period. At her deposition, David testified a break nurse or a charge nurse relieved her for meal periods and that she always received a meal period by the end of her shift. David did not recall missing a meal period or notifying a supervisor about a missed meal period.  David could not remember a supervisor interrupting her meal periods with work-related questions or requests.  David’s supervisors never told her to end a meal period early; she was never discouraged from taking a meal period. 

QVMC also provided rest periods as required by law.  Employees received a 15-minute rest period for every four hours of work.  At her deposition, David admitted her supervisors did not discourage her from taking rest periods; she acknowledged her supervisors did not tell her to cut her rest periods short.  David could not remember a supervisor interrupting her rest periods with work-related questions or requests.  When David’s co-workers asked her questions, David told them she was on a rest period, and they left her alone.  David did not recall complaining to a supervisor about rest periods.  The few times that David did miss a rest period, she reported it and received an extra hour of pay pursuant to QVMC’s practice of paying a premium for a missed rest period “whenever . . . requested.” 

QVMC’s rounding policy was neutral on its face and in practice.  QVMC’s rounding policy did not systematically undercompensate David: sometimes in a given pay period, she gained minutes and compensation; sometimes she lost minutes and compensation, and her overall loss of .26 percent in compensation over the relevant time period was statistically meaningless according to the court.  Therefore, QVMC satisfied its burden of establishing its rounding policy was lawful.

Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of QVMC and ruled that QVMC was entitled to it costs on appeal.

Conclusion

David is a critical reminder that employers must have legally compliant wage and hour policies in place.  It is equally important that management enforce those policies to ensure their employees remain in compliance.  David also highlights the importance of preparing for and obtaining key admissions in employee depositions that may assist the employer in obtaining an early dismissal of the lawsuit.   

Employers with questions regarding the implications of this case or wage and hour policies in general may contact the authors or their usual employment counsel at AALRR.

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

©2020 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

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