California Labor &
Employment Law Blog

No Meal Break Violation Where Employees Are Incentivized to Stay Onsite Through Offer of Discounted Meal
Jul. 18 2018

No Meal Break Violation Where Employees Are Incentivized to Stay Onsite Through Offer of Discounted Meal

Topics: Court Decisions, Wage & Hour Issues

Today, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion in Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp., upholding the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Taco Bell on class claims for alleged meal break violations.  In this case, Taco Bell authorized and permitted employees to take meal breaks during which they were relieved of duty and free to leave the premises.  However, Taco Bell offered employees the option of purchasing a discounted meal at Taco Bell, in which case they had to remain on site to eat it (in order to prevent theft/abuse associated with employees bringing discounted food to third parties outside the restaurant).  Because no good deed ever goes unpunished in California, a class action lawsuit was filed against Taco Bell alleging that their practices violated California law by denying employees lawful meal breaks. 

Thankfully, the courts seem to have actually got this one right, finding the plaintiffs’ claim to be without merit and undeserving of a trial.  The plaintiffs had argued that time spent eating discounted meals in the restaurant had to be compensated as work time because they purportedly were subject to Taco Bell’s “control” during this time by virtue of not being allowed to leave the premises.  The Ninth Circuit flatly rejected this argument, appropriately reasoning that the choice to purchase a discounted meal was purely voluntary (and optional) on the part of employees.  If they didn’t wish to remain on the premises for a meal break, they simply could have chosen not to purchase a discounted meal, in which case they would have been free to leave the premises for their meal break. 

This seems like a no-brainer, right?  If only Taco Bell could recover all of its fees incurred to defend this shakedown claim.

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For over 20 years, CDF has distinguished itself as one of the top employment, labor and immigration firms in California, representing employers in single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits and advising employers on related legal compliance and risk avoidance. We cover the state, with five locations from Sacramento to San Diego.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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