On April 30, 2012, the California Supreme Court unanimously held that a party that prevails on a claim involving an employer’s alleged failure to provide employee rest periods under California Labor Code Section 226.7 cannot recover attorneys’ fees. Kirby v. Immoos Fire Prot. Inc., Cal., No. S185827.
In this case, the plaintiffs sued defendant Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. (IFP) and multiple “Doe defendants” for violating various labor laws as well as the unfair competition law. The sixth of the plaintiff’s seven claims alleged the failure to provide rest breaks as required by Section 226.7. The remedy for such a violation is “one additional hour of pay . . . for each work day that the . . . rest period is not provided.” The plaintiffs ultimately dismissed this claim with prejudice after settling with the Doe defendants. IFP subsequently moved for and the trial court awarded attorneys’ fees.
The California Court of Appeal affirmed on this issue. The California Supreme Court granted review to consider when, if ever, a party who prevails on a Section 226.7 action for an alleged failure to provide rest breaks may be awarded attorneys’ fees. The court observed that Labor Code Section 218.5 includes a two-way attorneys’ fee shifting provision for the prevailing party in actions brought for the nonpayment of wages, while Labor Code Section 1194 allows for one-way fee shifting for employees who prevail in minimum wage and overtime actions. Analyzing the plain statutory language and legislative history of both Labor Code Sections, the court found that neither Labor Code Section 218.5 nor 1194 authorizes the award of attorneys’ fees for claims brought under Section 226.7, alleging the failure to provide statutorily mandated meal and rest periods. Therefore, the court reversed judgment on the attorneys’ fee award under the sixth, rest break, claim.
The California Supreme Court’s decision, along with its recent decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Super. Ct. (SC S16635 04/12/12), may leave plaintiffs lawyers thinking twice about which types of wage and hour suits they really want to bring in California, perhaps even altering the landscape of the developing California wage and hour law. See here for our recent client briefing regarding the Brinker decision.