CA Appellate Court Throws Out Class-Action Ruling in Rest Break Case

July 25, 2008 ( - California employers won a major victory in a decision earlier this week by a state appellate court that ruled they only have to offer employee meal and rest breaks but are not responsible for making sure the breaks are actually taken.

The three-judge panel from the Fourth District Court of Appeal issued that ruling in a long-running legal battle involving a Brinker Restaurant Corp.’s policies regarding meal and rest breaks by its employees.   Brinker operates 137 restaurants in California, including Chili’s Grill & Bar, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and Maggiano’s Little Italy.

Associate Justice Gilbert Nares, writing for the court, also asserted that under California law, employers could not be considered accountable for employees working off the clock unless managers knew of the practice.

Based on those rulings, the appellate court threw out a decision by Superior Court Judge   Patricia A. Y. Cowett certifying a lawsuit accusing Brinker of a wide variety of state workplace law violations as a class action.The court ruled that the issues involve individual claims that must be handled separately in possibly thousands of “mini-trials,” and not considered collectively as a class.

The three appellate jurists ruled in a 53-page decision that:

  • 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;
  • employers are not required to provide a meal period for every five consecutive hours worked;
  • while employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal periods, they need only provide them and not ensure they are taken; and
  • 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 are pleased that the Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court should not have certified a class in this case and agrees with Brinker’s understanding of the legal standards for providing meal and rest breaks,” stated Roger Thomson, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Brinker International, said in a statement released after the latest ruling. “We look forward to the case’s return to the trial court for action on the remaining individual issues.”

The latest ruling is available here .