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Class Certification Denied Because Individualized Testimony On Meal Breaks Was Needed
California law requires that private employers, such as See’s Candy Shops, Inc. in this case, provide two 30-minute meal periods for employees who work shifts longer than 10 hours. Employees are also entitled to one more hour of pay if they miss a meal period. See’s Candy’s policies complied with this requirement.
Debbie Salazar brought a class action against See’s Candy on behalf of a “meal break class,” consisting of See’s Candy employees who failed to receive second meal breaks when they worked shifts longer than 10 hours. Salazar alleged that despite the official policy on meal breaks, See’s Candy’s consistently failed to provide the required breaks in practice. To support her claim, Salazar identified a preprinted form used to schedule employee shifts that did not include a space for a second meal break.
Salazar moved to certify a class of employees. A party moving for class certification must show: (i) an ascertainable and sufficiently numerous class; (ii) a well-defined community of interest among class members; and (iii) substantial benefits from certification that make a class action superior to any alternatives. To show a well-defined community of interest, a party must show, that common questions of fact or law “predominate” over individual issues in the action.
See’s Candy opposed the certification motion. See’s Candy argued that common issues did not “predominate” because testimony from individual employees would be required regarding their experiences with See’s Candy’s meal break practices. See’s Candy submitted declarations from 55 employees — both managers and shop employees – who confirmed: (i) their knowledge of See’s Candy’s meal break policy; and (ii) that employees do take a second meal break when they work shifts longer than 10 hours. See’s Candy also submitted expert evidence showing that 43% of employees who worked shifts longer than 10 hours received a second meal break.
Based on this evidence, the trial court denied class certification in relevant part because Salazar failed to show that she could prove through common evidence that See’s Candy had a consistent practice to deny second meal breaks. The trial court agreed with See’s Candy that individual testimony would be necessary to show that See’s Candy consistently applied an unlawful practice, which would result in a trial that would “devolve into a series of mini-trials” on meal break practices. Salazar appealed, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed.
The Court of Appeal held individualized evidence would be necessary, given that some employees did receive second meal breaks as required by law. The Court of Appeal noted that the evidence supported that a significant number of employees declined second meal breaks. As a result, individual testimony would be necessary to distinguish those situations from occasions when managers failed to provide a second meal break. Since individualized testimony would negate the purpose of a class action, the trial court properly denied class certification.
Salazar v. See’s Candy Shops, Incorporated (2021) 64 Cal.App.5th 85.
Public agencies are not subject to California wage and hour laws except the State’s minimum wage laws and regulations. Public agencies are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Unlike California “class actions” in which all similarly situated employees are automatically included in the case, employees in FLSA “collective actions” must opt into the lawsuit. LCW attorneys have successfully represented many public agencies in complex FLSA collective action cases.