Palacio v. Jan & Gail’s Care Homes: A right to Meal Breaks for CA Employees

In Palacio v. Jan & Gail’s Care Homes, plaintiff was employed at defendant’s 24-hour residential care facility for developmentally disabled individuals. Defendant owned and operated six of these facilities and employed just less than 50 workers at any given time. There are numerous shifts for workers, so the facility can remain open for 24 hours. The shifts range in length from four hours to ten hours, and some are for part-time workers and others are for full-time employees.

burgersHealthcare regulations in California require these centers to have staff on duty 24 hours a day to provide immediate care to the patients, so they are protected from illness, injury, fire, and any other kind of emergency that may arise at any give time throughout the day or night.   One of the ways in which this is accomplished is by the center requiring employees who have direct patient care to work during meal periods. They are told when they are hired that they will be required to each lunch with the residents, and they will be given a free meal that is the same food as provided to the residents.

In other words, they will be required to each lunch with the residents of the healthcare center and paid for their lunch period as a standard work period. Employer also required prospective employees to sign a waiver to their legal right to an uninterrupted mealtime under California labor law.

After employee was terminated, she filed a claim against her employer that they violated Title 8, Section 11050 of the California Labor Code and wage order No. 5-2001 of the Industrial Welfare Commission for the State of California. Los Angeles employment attorneys frequently deal with this section of the state labor law that provides for uninterrupted breaks and meal periods for most employees.

Plaintiff filed her lawsuit and then tried to get her case certified as a class action lawsuit.  She proposed that there are 102 prospective class members who were either current or former employees of the care facility at which she was previously employed.

Defendant opposed plaintiff’s motion to have the case certified as a class action. There is no question that a defendant would want to avoid certification as a class action, because in this case, it could increase their prospective liability 101 times, which turns what some employers like to call a nuisance lawsuit into something that could bankrupt the company.   As it turns out, the judge denied plaintiff’s motion to certify a class on grounds that there was no showing these plaintiffs could meet the requirements of a class of plaintiffs.

Plaintiff appealed this denial of class certification, and, on appeal, the court noted that trial judges are given broad discretion to decide on whether or not a class certification is proper. The reason the courts give trial judges this discretion is because they feel it is the trial court that is best situated to make a class determination. On appeal, courts must rely on the writing or otherwise recorded record of the case, but they do not have first-hand access to the facts. The court found no abuse of discretion.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Palacio v. Jan & Gail’s Care Homes, December 7, 2015, In the Court of Appeal for the State of California

More Blog Entries:

Hillary Clinton to Crack Down on Worker Classification, July 18, 2015, Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog