Class Action Defense Cases–Brinkley v. Public Storage: In Labor Law Class Action, California State Court Affirms Defense Summary Judgment On Class Action’s Meal And Rest Period Claims Holding Breaks Need Only Be Available

Nov 11, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

Class Action Claims Alleging Employer Violated State Law because it did not Ensure Employees took Meal and Rest Breaks Failed because Employer need only make Meal and Rest Breaks “Available” but need not “Ensure” they are taken California State Court Holds

Plaintiff filed a class action against his former employer, Public Storage, alleging state labor law violations; in pertinent part, the class action complaint alleged that the paystubs defendant provided to employees failed to comply with state law, and that defendant failed to ensure that employees took all meal and rest breaks permitted by state law. Brinkley v. Public Storage, Inc., 167 Cal.App.4th 1278 (Cal.App. 2008) [Slip Opn., at 2]. The trial court granted plaintiff’s motion to certify the litigation as a class action. Id., at 4-5. Defense attorneys then moved for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the class action paystub claim failed because defendant’s misstatements were not knowing and intentional, and plaintiff did not suffer any injury, and (2) the class action meal and rest period claims failed because defendant made the breaks available, and California law requires nothing more. Id., at 2. The trial court granted the defense motion and entered judgment in favor of defendant as to all causes of action in the class action complaint premised on those theories (the third, fifth and sixth causes of action). Id., at 5. The California Court of Appeal affirmed. We address the issues in reverse order, because far more labor law class action complaint allege missed meal and rest breaks.

With respect to the class action’s meal and rest period claim, the appellate court held that an employer need only make such breaks available to employees but need not ensure that they are taken. Brinkley, at 10-12 (meal periods) and 12-13 (rest periods). Specifically addressing the class action’s meal breaks claim, the appellate court explained that while plaintiff introduced evidence only that he and other class members “at times missed meal breaks,” but he “did not produce evidence that he or other employees were denied an opportunity to take them.” Id., at 12. Similarly, as for the class action’s rest period claim, defendant pointed to its written policy authorizing employees to take rest breaks, plaintiff’s receipt of that policy, and defendant statements at meetings instructing employees that they were required to take rest periods. Id., at 13. The Court of Appeal held that plaintiff’s allegation that he “could not” take rest breaks was insufficient to raise a triable issue of material fact, id.

With respect to the class action’s paystub claim, the appellate court noted that defense attorneys had submitted a declaration “stating that the misstatement of the associated mileage rate was inadvertent and, when discovered, corrected.” Brinkley, at 7. This evidence undermined the “knowing and intentional” requirement for a Labor Code section 226 claim, and plaintiff introduced no evidence to the contrary. Id. Moreover, a Section 226 claim also requires that the plaintiff suffer injury, and plaintiff failed to meet this requirement. Id. Specifically, defense attorneys introduced evidence that any error in the paystubs “did not result in the loss of pay” to the employee, and plaintiff introduced no evidence to the contrary. Id., at 7-8. Accordingly, it affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary adjudication as to the paystub, and meal and rest period claims in the class action. Id., at 14.

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