MAPC Publishes: The California Supreme Court’s Ruling in Brinker Restaurant Corp. Will be Made Within the Next Three Months

As previously reported, an issue of keen interest to both employers and employment law attorneys is the long-delayed Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (165 Cal.App.4th 25) decision regarding the duty of employers to provide meal periods to employees.  At the Court of Appeal level, the Brinker decision held favorably for employers that employers only had an affirmative duty to make meal periods reasonably available to employees, and that employers were not affirmatively required to ensure that the meal periods were actually taken by the employees. 

Brinker was certified for appeal to the California Supreme Court in 2008, and since that time, half-a-dozen other appellate decisions – generally holding the same as Brinker  – have come down.  Those decisions have all been immediately de-published, and are therefore not authoritative law, pending the Supreme Court’s decision in the lead case, Brinker.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Brinker yesterday, starting the clock running on its issuance of a written decision.  That decision must be published within 90 days.  If the Court of Appeal’s ruling stands, then an avenue for damages and an historically powerful negotiating tool for plaintiffs in wage-and-hour cases will be significantly diminished.  The appellate court’s ruling overturned the previous “strict liability”-like standard employers had been held to for missed meal periods, even in instances where the missed meal period was due to an employee’s conscious decision to forego a meal period unbeknownst to the employer.   If the Supreme Court’s decision overturns the appellate court’s employer-friendly ruling, employers will no doubt complain that a reversion to the purported strict liability standard for missed meal periods is more evidence of California’s business-unfriendly climate.