The California Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument in Kirby v. Immoos for March 6, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco. This case involves the important issue of whether employers may recover their attorneys' fees after prevailing in a case alleging denial of meal and rest breaks. The plaintiffs in Kirby had brought a lawsuit alleging unpaid overtime wages under Labor Code section 1194 as well as claims for missed meal and rest breaks under Labor Code section 226.7. The employer prevailed and sought to recover its attorneys' fees under Labor Code section 218.5, which on its face is a bilateral fee-shifting provision that allows a prevailing party to recover its fees in wage cases, except in certain circumstances. One of the circumstances excepted from section 218.5 is claims for unpaid overtime covered by section 1194. Section 1194 has its own fee-shifting provision and provides that only a prevailing plaintiff may recover fees.
The lower court in Kirby held that based on these two Labor Code sections, the prevailing employer was entitled to its fees incurred in defending the meal and rest break claims, but not fees incurred in defending the overtime claim. The Supreme Court granted review and is expected to decide whether a prevailing employer may properly recover fees for meal and rest break violations under section 218.5, and whether fees are precluded if the meal and rest break claims are brought in the same lawsuit as claims for overtime governed by section 1194. Stay tuned for the outcome of this case.