In a decision filed yesterday, the Supreme Court of California issued a ruling that may help to slow the flood of lawsuits alleging failure to provide the employee meal and rest breaks required by California law. In Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc., the Court held that a prevailing party cannot recover attorneys’ fees in an action for an employer’s alleged failure to provide rest breaks brought under California Labor Code § 226.7. 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. The state Supreme Court disagreed with both positions. The Supreme Court analyzed Section 226.7 and its interplay with two other sections of the Labor Code dealing with attorneys' fees, one of which provides for prevailing employees to recover attorneys’ fees in actions for any unpaid legal minimum wages or legal overtime compensation (Lab. Code, § 1194) while the other authorizes prevailing parties to receive attorneys’ fees in actions for the nonpayment of wages or fringe benefits (Lab. Code, § 218.5). The Court found that neither of the attorneys' fees statutes applied to Section 226.7. Accordingly, the Court concluded that neither party may recover attorneys’ fees in actions for alleged meal and rest break violations under Section 226.7.
This decision appears to be at least a partial victory for employers as the inability to obtain attorneys’ fees under Section 226.7 may serve as a deterrent to plaintiffs’ counsel to pursue such actions.