Nationwide, there has been a rise in wage and hour claims related to mis-classification. In a recent success story for employees in California, a trial court awarded truck drivers nearly $1 million in damages plus attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses and additional enhancements in the class action. The defendant employer, Oakland Port Services Corp (AB Trucking) had previously appealed a trial court decision on the grounds that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break requirements. The appellate court disagreed and reaffirmed the trial court decision.
Two drivers for the defendant company filed a class action lawsuit against Oakland Port Services Corp after the company denied wages for weekend work. The employer improperly misclassified the drivers as “unpaid trainees” and failed to provide state mandated meal and rest breaks.
The trial court had previously certified a class of drivers to performed work for the company out of its Oakland facility. In May of 2013, the trial court awarded the drivers a total of $964,557, including $487,810.50 in attorneys’ fees, $42,106.16 in litigation expenses, as well as $20,000 in class representative awards.
The employer-defendant filed an appeal alleging the meal and break claims are preempted by federal law. According to the appeal, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) prevents California law from governing meal and rest breaks of motor carriers. The appeal quotes the federal law which has an express preemption clause. According to the text, “A state…may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier…”
While the case was pending trial, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions apply to California businesses, issued a decision that held the FAAAA does not preempt California meal and rest break regulations. This decision clarified an ongoing division among federal courts. Prior to the decision, nine courts had concluded that the federal law preempts California law, and four had declared that there is no preemption.
According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the FAAAA does not preempt California law related to meal and rest breaks. While the federal law aims to equalize interstate transportation competition, it does not govern employee rights. Based on the 9th Circuit decision, the appellate court affirmed the trial court judgment in favor of the drivers and upheld the financial damages award for litigation, attorney fees, and other compensation for class representatives.
Under California law, employers are required to permit employees to take a 30-minute meal break when on the clock for more than five hours, unless the day’s work is completed in less than 6 hours. After 10 hours, the employees is entitled to a second 30 minute break.
If you have been denied meal breaks or other employee rights under California law, we can help. Our Orange County wage and hour attorneys are dedicated to asserting the rights of individuals and employee classes throughout Southern California.
Employment lawsuits can be filed with assistance from the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County. Call 949.375.4734.
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California Employment Law: New new Donor Protection Act, December 7, 2013 Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog
California’s Top Employment Law Mistakes, Oct. 26, 2013, Orange County Employment Lawyer Blog