Neither Party Entitled to Attorney’s Fees for Meal and Rest Break Claims
Nicely following up the California Supreme Court’s recent decision on meal/rest periods under Brinker, on April 30, 2012, the Court in Kirby v. Imoos Fire (SC S185827 4/30/12) held that the California Labor Code does not authorize the award of attorney’s fees to a party that prevails on claims related to meal/rest period violations brought under Labor Code §226.7.
As a general rule, a prevailing party may only recover his/her attorney’s fees when authorized by statute or pursuant to an agreement between the parties. In Kirby, the Court examined two attorney’s fee provisions of the California Labor Code (‘Code’) in relation to claims for meal/rest period violations under Code §226.7. First, Code §218.5 allows for two-way attorney’s fee-shifting (in favor of the employer or the employee), awarding attorney’s fees to a prevailing party in any action ‘brought for the nonpayment of wages, fringe benefits, or health and welfare or pension fund contributions.’ However, this section does not apply to actions under Code §1194, which provides for the awarding of attorney’s fees only to employees who prevail in an action for unpaid minimum wages or overtime pay.
In Kirby, plaintiff’s sixth cause of action against Imoos Fire was for failure to provide rest periods under Code §226.7. The question the Court addressed is whether a Code §226.7 meal/rest period violation claim also fell under either Code § 218.5 or §1194 and thus allowed for the awarding of attorney’s fees.
The Court concluded that §1194 does not authorize an award of attorney’s fees to employees who prevail on an action related to meal/rest period violations because §1194 covers nonpayment of minimum wage and overtime compensation only. Further, the Court determined that §226.7 relates to meal/rest period violations and, therefore, nonpayment of wages as contemplated by §218.5 is not the focus of the protections offered in the section. Therefore, since meal and rest period violation claims are not claims brought for nonpayment of wages within the meaning of §218.5, the Court held that neither party to the action under §226.7 is entitled to attorney’s fees.