Cacho v. Eurostar, Inc. (2019) 43 Cal.App.5th 885, provides some guidance regarding when courts will and will not certify class actions claiming failure to provide meal breaks and/or failure to authorize and permit rest breaks under California law.
Meal Break Claims
In Eurostar, the defendant had a meal break policy that was generally compliant, but failed to do two things: First, it failed to explicitly state that the meal break had to be provided within the first five hours of work. Second, it did not authorize a second meal break for shifts longer than 10 hours. The plaintiffs argued that these omissions amounted to a violation of California law.
The court concluded that these omissions from a facially compliant policy were not proof that the defendant had a policy of failing to provide meal breaks within the first five hours or work, or a policy of not providing second meal breaks after 10 hours of work. Therefore, the court turned to the parties’ testimony and statistical evidence to determine whether the defendant had a policy or practice of doing so.
The court credited Eurostar’s evidence that its policy was to schedule meal breaks within the first five hours and to authorize a second meal break after 10 hours. The court also credited Eurostar’s evidence that it paid its employees a one hour wage premium when their meal breaks began after the fifth hour of employment on a particular day.
Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ statistical analysis regarding missed meal periods was problematic. That analysis showed missed, late, or interrupted meal breaks in only 12.3 percent of the shifts in the sample. It did not break down the violations by store. Nor did it account for why the meal breaks had been missed, late, or interrupted. (This holding reflects a general trend of courts being critical of surveys conducted in wage and hour cases. See, e.g., Duran v. U.S. Bank National Assn. (2014) 59 Cal. 4th 1, 31.)
The court then held that where there was no common policy that supported the plaintiffs’ meal break claims, some evidence of an employer policy to the controversy, and unreliable, anecdotal evidence regarding missed meal breaks, the plaintiffs would need to call numerous employees from different stores to testify about their missed meal breaks. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to certify a meal break class.
Rest Break Claims
Turning to the rest break claims, the court noted that, prior to 2013, Eurostar’s rest break policy had authorized a first rest break only after 4 hours. That was “some evidence of a uniform unlawful policy.”
However, the court then held that it did not follow from that policy that Eurostar actually denied rest breaks to employees who worked between three and a half and four hours. The court distinguished the rest break policy in Brinker v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal. 4th 1004 (which was consistently applied to a group of employees) by pointing out that there was no evidence that Eurostar had denied rest breaks for shifts longer than three and half hours but shorter than four.
Furthermore, although the named plaintiffs had worked multiple shifts of that length, they had apparently not presented evidence as to whether they missed rest breaks during those shifts. In response, Eurostar presented evidence that it did not schedule shifts shorter than four hours.
The court held that on this record it was not an abuse of discretion to deny class certification as to the rest break claims.
Meal and rest break claims have become increasingly technical. If you have questions about your meal or rest breaks at work please feel free to contact the experienced attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law for a free and confidential intake process. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.hunterpylelaw.com, or (510) 444-4400.