By Karen Kidd | Dec 11, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – A class action by workers employed by a Washington-based staffing and management services agency under a Los Angeles County contract is headed back to a county court to determine how much they should receive for being required to work during meal breaks.

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal, Division Eight three-judge panel concluded, contrary to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge's earlier ruling, that the defendants in the case, including Barrett Business Services Inc., including owed wages for improperly shortened meal periods.

California Second District Court of Appeal Justice Laurence D. Rubin

"Because this is a proper basis for plaintiffs' claim for waiting time penalties under [California Labor Code] section 203, we must reverse the trial court's judgment to the extent it denies recovery of waiting time penalties and remand for consideration of plaintiffs' claim and defendant's contentions," said the 45-page decision issued Nov. 30.

The appeals court found that employees were entitled to wages for being required to work during meal breaks and remanded the case back to the Superior Court to determine how much back pay the plaintiffs should receive and what additional damages might be applicable. Defendants may also be subject to civil penalties for paying the employees who worked at Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts less than minimum wage.

Judge Laurence D. Rubin wrote the decision in which Tricia A. Bigelow concurred and Judge Elizabeth A. Grimes dissented in part.

Barrett Business Services is headquartered in Vancouver, Washington, with dozens of branch locations across the nation, but the appeals court panel took a dim view to plaintiff's citation of the 2003 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit case Alvarez v. IBP Inc. In the Alvarez case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Washington's meal period regulations required employers to compensate for a full 30-minute period if the employer intruded upon if their 30-minute meal period was infringed upon "to any extent."

"We see no reason to consider a federal court's construction of the law of another state," Rubin wrote in the decision.

The plaintiffs initially sued Barrett Business Services over pay and meal period provisions while employed to at the public recycling facilities.

"The case presents two principal issues," Rubin said in the opinion. "The first is whether plaintiffs should have been paid the prevailing wage applicable to workers employed on public works. The second is the applicable remedy when an employer violates statutory and regulatory provisions requiring employers to provide workers with a duty-free 30-minute meal period, by shortening the meal period by 3 to 5 minutes."

Both sides agreed that plaintiffs should receive an additional hour of pay at their regular rate on the meal period question, but the plaintiffs argued they should be paid the minimum hourly wage for an entire 30-minute meal period. The defendants countered plaintiffs should get no more than California's labor code provides.

The Superior Court ruled prevailing wage law did not apply in this case and that the plaintiff's claim under California's labor code was the only remedy for their shortened meal periods.

In its decision to reverse part of the Superior Court's ruling, the appeals court panel found that the prevailing wage law did apply in this case because the plaintiffs were doing "public work" as defined under the state's labor code.

In her dissent, Grimes said she concurred with all points in the decision except for how the prevailing wage should be applied for the work the plaintiffs performed.

"In my view, the statutory provisions requiring payment of prevailing wage rates do not apply because plaintiffs are not engaged in 'public works' within the meaning of the prevailing wage law," Grimes wrote in her dissent.

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