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Supeior Court in Brinker Issues Decision Upholding Employees Rights

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Sep 20, 2013 | 0 Comments

Last year, the California Supreme Court issued its landmark Brinker decision in which it announced that evidence of a uniform policy, or a common method of proof, is a primary means of establishing the predominance of common issues, as required to obtain certification of a meal and/or rest break claim. (Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, 1032-1034, 1051-1052.)  There, the Court held that common questions predominated and, thus, found that the rest break subclass had been properly certified. (Id. at p. 1033.) On remand, on September 26, 2013, the San Diego Superior Court issued a ruling certifying a meal break class and denying the decertification of a rest break class, which became the final ruling of the court.  (Tenative Rulling, Motion Hearing to Certify/Decertify Class Action, Hohnbaum v. Brinker Restaurant Corp. (Sept. 26, 2013, No. GIC834348).)

On Plaintiffs' renewed motion for class certification, Defendant Brinker Restaurant Corporation, having been rebuffed 7-0 by the high court, felt the need to continue to fight.  They sought to have the trial judge overrule the California Supreme Court and decertify the class.  Judge William Dato declined their invitation.  Moreover, he reiterated the principles recorded in Brinker and further elaborated on the analysis required of a trial judge in determining these certification decisions.  He emphasized that the focus of the certification inquiry is on “whether plaintiffs have a theory of liability that can be proved on a common basis” and underlined that the meal period subclass' success on the merits ultimately turns on the facial invalidity of Brinker's written meal policy.  (Tentative Ruling, supra, at p. 3, 4.)   This seems to put to bed any notion the defense bar had of defeating faulty policy cases.  The lesson here is for employers to get their policies straight and, in four years' time, meal and rest break claims will be finished.  I suspect many large employers will heed this guidance but, far too often, small and midsize employers, and even out of state employers with a large California presence, are unable to get basic policy language right.  If you fail to do so, you do so at your own peril.

Here, Brinker, having been rebuffed 7-0 by the high court felt the need to continue to fight.  They sought to have the trial judge overrule the California Supreme Court and decertify the class.  He declined their invitation.  Moreover, he reiterated the thoughts recorded in Brinker and further elaborated on the analysis required of a trial judge in determining these certification decisions.  This seems to put to bed any notion the defense bar had at defeating faulty policy cases.  The lesson here is to get your policies straight and in 4 years time meal and rest break claims will be finished.  I suspect many large employers will heed this advice, but far too often middle and smaller employers and even out of state employers with a large California presence cant get basic policy language right.  If you do this, you do so at your own peril.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

In practice since 1996, attorney and firm co-founder Eric B. Kingsley has litigated complex cases and authored numerous appellate briefs in both state and federal court on behalf of the California law firm of Kingsley & Kingsley, including over 150 class actions. Mr. Kingsley concentrates his pra...

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