The California Supreme Court recently handed down a much anticipated decision in the case of Kirby v. Immoos Fire Prot., Inc., 140 Cal. Rptr. 3d 173 (Cal. 2012), where the court determined the applicability of California Labor Code § 218.5 in an overtime and rest break lawsuit. The statute has a fee shifting provision that provides for attorney’s fees and costs to plaintiffs or defendants who prevail on claims brought for the nonpayment of wages and benefits. The lower courts awarded attorney’s fees under the statute to the employer Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. for prevailing on a rest break claim brought under California Labor Code § 226.7.
The California Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ award to the employer, finding that fees could not be awarded under 218.5 for the rest break claim because the meal and rest break statute was not “aimed at protecting” an employee’s wages. The court deferred on other substantive questions and narrowed its own precedent with respect to what constitutes a “wage.” Consequently, the implications of the holding are not altogether clear. Nevertheless, the statute remains a viable avenue for employer’s to pursue attorney’s fees in an otherwise employee friendly labor code which has several fee shifting statutes that only provide fees to prevailing employees.