California Supreme Court Rules Against Attorney Fee Awards in Meal and Rest Break Lawsuits

First Brinker, now Kirby? The California Supreme Court recently gave employers in the state what could amount to another break on meal and rest break disputes.

In Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, the Court held that attorney’s fees may not be awarded under the California Labor Code to a party that prevails on a claim for meal and rest break violations. While the ruling applies to both parties in the dispute, it is likely to have a greater benefit for employers by reducing the financial incentives of meal and rest period suits for plaintiffs.

For your convenience, a roundup of legal commentary on the ruling:

Supreme Court of California Deals Another Blow to State Meal and Rest Break Cases (Kilpatrick Townsend)

“The plaintiffs in this case claimed that only prevailing employees should be entitled to recoup attorneys’ fees in actions brought under Section 226.7, whereas the defendant employer argued that, because it was the prevailing party in the lawsuit, it should be allowed to recover its attorneys’ fees from the plaintiffs.” Read the full update>>

California Supreme Court Denies Fee-Shifting on Meal and Rest Period Claim (Proskauer)

“… the defendant moved for attorney’s fees under [California Labor Code] section 218.5 upon plaintiffs’ dismissal of their meal and rest break causes of action. Thus, the Court set out to determine two questions: (i) whether meal and rest break claims fall within the ambit of section 1194 and are thereby excluded from section 218.5 attorney’s fees and, if not, (ii) whether section 218.5 authorizes an award for meal and rest break claims. Judge Liu, writing for a unanimous Court, held that while section 1194 does not apply to meal and rest break claims, such claims are not authorized by section 218.5.” Read the full update>>

California Supreme Court Addresses The Award of Attorney’s Fees in Meal and Rest Period Actions (Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP)

“Justice Liu explained for the unanimous Court that an action for rest periods is really an action for nonprovision of rest periods, to be contrasted with an action where an employer has refused to pay employee his wages for the hours the employee worked. The remedy for the non-provision of rest periods just happens to be a wage (at least for purposes of calculating the statute of limitations), but the action is still not an action for ‘nonpayment of wages’ even if it is, in effect, an action for recovery of wages. In other words the Court held that the recovery of wages is just a remedy, but the action is not for the ‘nonpayment of wages’ much in the manner that a personal injury tort action is not an action for the ‘nonpayment of damages.’” Read the full update>>

California Supreme Court Attempts To Clarify Entitlement To Attorneys’ Fees In Wage And Hour Claims (Bryan Cave)

“… employers should be aware that Kirby does not immunize them from having to pay attorneys’ fees if an employee prevails on a meal or rest break claim against them. Instead it seems to encourage employees to seek a more complicated and more expensive type of claim so they can still obtain the attorneys’ fees that incentivize their attorneys to move forward, regardless of the merits of the claim.” Read the full update>>

The California Supreme Court Provides a Potential Break for Employers Regarding Employee Meal and Rest Break Denial Claims (Miller & Martin PLLC)

“Some California legal commentators are quick to point out, however, that such fees may still be recoverable as part of a Private Attorney General Act claim. Others remain optimistic that this decision, coupled with the long-awaited Brinker decision, which was issued by the California Supreme Court in mid-April … will make plaintiffs’ attorneys more wary about taking meal and rest break period denial cases, thereby decreasing the number of employers who find themselves having to shell out six if not seven figures to defend themselves against such claims.” Read the full update>>

No Attorney Fees Can Be Awarded for Non-Payment of Rest Breaks, California Supreme Court Rules (Barger & Wolen)

“What makes this case interesting (and a little ironic) from a procedural standpoint is that it was the defendant employer seeking the attorney fees, and the employee plaintiffs who resisted. Thus, in losing their claim for attorney fees, the employer ended by establishing law generally advantageous to employers. And in winning this battle over the payment of roughly $50,000 in fees, the employees essentially nullified the ability of future plaintiffs to seek attorney fees in actions based on the denial of required rest breaks.” Read the full update>>

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