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California Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court Decision on Rest Breaks

There are several reasons a judge can deny class certification to a group of plaintiffs, but ruling on their claims is not one of them. A California trial court judge recently dismissed a class of plaintiffs, denying their allegations that their employer did not provide them with proper rest breaks or compensate them accordingly for missed breaks.

The proposed class consists of current and former employees who worked as dispatchers and EMTs for the ambulance company, American Medical Response West (AMR). According to the lawsuit, the ambulance company allegedly maintained a rest period policy in which employees were still on call during their rest periods.

The problem with that policy is it violates California Labor law, which states all hourly, non-exempt employees are entitled to one, uninterrupted rest break, lasting at least ten minutes, for every four hours they work. Any time an employee misses one of these breaks or gets interrupted, that worker is entitled to one hour’s worth of wages, in addition to all their normal wages, tips, bonuses, etc. earned that day.

AMR argued that, by allowing their employers to take rest breaks when they were on call, they were essentially granting them the equivalent of an off-duty rest period. The trial court judge agreed and refused to grant the plaintiffs class certification.

The plaintiffs appealed and the case went before a California appellate court, which reversed the decision. The appellate court pointed out that the trial court judge had misinterpreted both the laws regarding mandatory rest periods, as well as the laws covering class action certification.

Ruling that the plaintiffs’ claims are invalid is not a consideration for the court at the time of class certification. Rather, the court has to determine whether the plaintiffs meet all the criteria for pursuing the lawsuit as a class action. That means: 1) making sure the proposed class of plaintiffs is large enough to justify filing as a class action; 2) making sure the claims of the plaintiffs are similar enough to each other to justify filing as a class action; and 3) the plaintiffs have acquired adequate representation for the trial and possible negotiations.

The California appellate judge noted that, although the trial court was wrong to dismiss the case for the reasons it did, there might be grounds for dismissing the class action lawsuit if the class does not meet the necessary requirements. For example, the plaintiffs had provided evidence that their employer maintained a policy of having employees take rest periods when they were still on call, and that the company did not pay the proper compensation to employees who missed a break. But AMR had provided contradicting evidence, saying their policies and practices have varied, applying to different types of employees at different times and in different situations.

If AMR can prove that, then they might have a case for denying class certification, in which case the plaintiffs will be forced to sue AMR individually or drop the matter altogether. But that decision will be up to the trial court, since the appellate court has sent the case back for further evaluation.

The Chicago class action lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims by waiters and bus boys and other restaurant and hotel workers against national restaurant chains including Hilton, DoubleTree, W, Marriott, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Extended Stay America, Staybridge Suites, Best Western, HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Applebees, Chipotle, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Outback Steak House, Taco Bell, Burger King, Chili’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and hotels for mis-classifying employees as managers or assistant managers, forcing employees to work off the clock at business, failing to share all tips, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim these wage theft practices call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.

The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Oak Lawn and Naperville. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our Joilet, Cicero and Rockford overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers mis-classify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.

The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have unpaid overtime and other employment right claims.