Brinker Restaurant Corporation, et al. v. Hohnbaum, et al. (July 22, 2008) keeps on making news. Yesterday, I attempted to collect as much coverage as I could in one post. However, Brinker isn't remotely done making news. In today's edition of the Daily Journal (July 25, 2008), D. Gregory Valenza asks, "Meal and Break Class Actions: On the 'Brink' of Extinction?" (Subscription required.) Mr. Valenza's article follows closely on the heels of a July 23, 2008 article by Daily Journal Staff Writer Pat Broderick, which briefly summarized the core of the Brinker decision.
Mr. Valenza's analysis is substantially more thorough than the July 23, 2008 article, but it is, essentially, a further summary of the Court's primary holdings. While the article discusses several sources of law at issue in the Brinker decision, Mr. Valenza doesn't delve into the competing policies that are suggested but left unresolved by that opinion. In fact, no commentator has yet addressed the full set of economic incentives at play within and without the Brinker world view of wage & hour class actions. The Brinker opinion opens the door to this analysis but fails to step through. Instead, the Court picks one of many economic incentives at work to justify its conclusion: "It would also create perverse incentives, encouraging employees to violate company meal break policy in order to receive extra compensation under California wage and hour laws." (Slip op., at p. 44, quoting Brown v. Federal Express Corp. (C.D.Cal. 2008) ___ F.R.D. ___ [2008 WL 906517 at *6].) In selectively discussing such incentives, the Court overlooks employer economic incentives to cheat the system and employee economic incentives to adhere to a meal break policy where job loss is the consequence for failure to do so. These incentives are likely far stronger, due to the amounts at issue, than one employee's desire to obtain an extra hour of pay.
If policy considerations are going to drive the judicial determination of the meal and rest break obligations, the Brinker decision must be viewed with some measure of skepticism until the full picture of incentives is faily presented and fully analyzed.