Graniterock prevails against driver ‘meal period’ class action

Sources: Granite Rock Co., Watsonville, Calif.

In a tentative statement of decision, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg determined that Graniterock was not in violation of California law as it relates to off-duty meal periods for employees. The wage and hour class action saw a 14-day bench trial, with the court considering whether the producer adequately “provided” mixer truck drivers meal breaks. Graniterock contended that as long as a meal break is provided, an employee can voluntarily agree to waive the 30-minute uninterrupted meal period required in California law, and noted how employees have signed on-duty meal period agreements described in California Wage Order One.

Seeking more than $6 million in restitution and penalties, plaintiffs in Driscoll, et al. v. Granite Rock Company claimed the producer failed to provide off-duty meal periods or compensate plaintiffs one additional hour of pay in lieu of the duty-free meal periods. Countering those claims was testimony from 25 current drivers, the vast majority of whom stated that a) they were satisfied with their ability to obtain a meal period when they wanted one; and, b) often chose to work through lunch in exchange for premium pay and the possibility of leaving work early to attend to personal matters.

The off-duty meal period claim in Driscoll is similar to one in the high-profile Brinker Restaurant Corporation, et. al. v. Superior Court case pending before the California Supreme Court. “At the center of [Driscoll] is the clarification of a critical wage and hour issue—that employers are required to make meal periods available to employees but are not required to force employees to take a lunch break,” said lead attorney Alan Levins, a shareholder in the San Francisco office of Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest labor and employment law firm representing management.

“Employers can become bewildered with California’s meal period regulations. The elements of proof needed are a clear policy providing meal periods, company-wide communication on this subject so that employees know their rights, and clear opportunities for individuals to express to the employer their meal period preference. The Littler team identified all of the elements well and then worked with us to convey the evidence to the court in the most effective manner,” said Graniterock CEO Bruce Woolpert.

The case is another Littler Mendelson victory on behalf of Graniterock. In July 2010, the firm secured a significant U.S. Supreme Court decision in Granite Rock v. the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, which held that a dispute with respect to whether a collective bargaining agreement was ratified had to be decided by the federal court and not an arbitrator.