In order to discourage employers from overworking their employees, federal law requires that employers provide all of their hourly nonexempt employees with the proper overtime compensation of one and one half times their normal hourly rate for all time spent working after eight hours a day or forty hours in a week. In addition to this law, which applies to all employees working in the United States, most states have their own labor laws to regulate employment in that state. For example, California requires all of its employers to provide their hourly workers with at least one unpaid, uninterrupted meal break lasting at least half an hour. According to the law, this break must be provided prior to the end of the employee’s fifth consecutive hour of work.
A recent class action wage and hour lawsuit has been filed which alleges that Taco Bell has failed to provide its hourly employees with the requisite meal breaks in a timely manner. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2007 by Lisa Hardiman and Sandrika Medlock, two former employees of the fast food chain. The lead plaintiffs alleged that, in violation of California labor law, employees working at Taco Bell were denied their meal break until after they had been working for at least five hours.
The lawsuit filed by Hardiman and Medlock was later consolidated with two other class action wage and hour lawsuits against Taco Bell. The plaintiffs petitioned for, and received, class action status.
Rather than continue to fight a legal battle that has already been going on for seven years, the two opposing parties involved in this lawsuit have decided to settle the case. Settlements are common in class actions, particularly when the outcome is uncertain. Legal battles (particularly large ones) have the potential to drag on in the courts for years, piling up legal fees for both sides. It is usually in the best interests of the defendant to settle a class action lawsuit because, if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the defendant could be stuck paying an extremely high court-ordered award, in addition to legal fees. By settling the case before the court has a chance to rule, the defendant has the option to negotiate for a smaller amount. Continue reading