In Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. (July 27, 2010), the Court of Appeal (Third Appellate District) held that a prevailing defendant could recover fees when it prevailed against a plaintiff asserting claims arising under Labor Code section 226.7 (meal and rest periods). The Supreme Court then granted review. The answering brief is currently due in that matter on March 21, 2011. Today, the inscrutable Second Appellate District (Division Eight) held, in United Parcel Service Wage And Hour Cases (February 24, 2011), that fees were not available to a prevailing defendant in such actions. In its analysis, the Court said:
Nothing in the legislative history suggests the Legislature meant the reciprocal fee recovery provisions of Labor Code section 218.5 to apply in an action for violation of the section 226.7 mandate that employers provide meal and rest breaks for certain nonexempt employees. The statutory remedy of section 226.7, providing compensation for missed breaks, was first enacted in 2000 in response to poor employer compliance with the meal and rest break requirements. (Murphy, supra, 40 Cal.4th at pp. 1105-1106; Stats. 2000, ch. 876, § 7, p. 6509.) Before 2000, the only remedy available to an aggrieved employee was injunctive relief to prevent future abuse. (Murphy, at p. 1105.)
The 2000 amendment providing a pay remedy bears sufficient hallmarks of a penalty designed to shape employer behavior, and is sufficiently distinct from the customary types of bargained-for wages recognized under the law, that we cannot conclude the Legislature intended a claim under Labor Code section 226.7 to be interpreted as a claim for “nonpayment of wages” within the meaning of section 218.5. The section 226.7 pay remedy for missed meal and rest breaks was enacted 14 years after the Legislature enacted the reciprocal fee recovery provisions of section 218.5. It is therefore not reasonable to assume that when the Legislature enacted section 218.5 in 1986 to provide for recovery of prevailing party fees in claims for nonpayment of wages and benefits, it intended that provision to permit a prevailing employer-defendant to recover fees from an employee raising a claim for denial of breaks -- a claim which at that time only supported injunctive relief.
Construing the entire statutory scheme with a view toward protecting employees, as we must, we find that a claim for remedial compensation under Labor Code section 226.7 does not trigger the reciprocal fee recovery provisions of section 218.5. Since none of the claims on which UPS prevailed permit the recovery of attorney fees, the award of statutory fees to UPS was in error.
Slip op., at 14.
Considering the current state of Kirby, it seems like this decision will be citable law for about 90 days, give or take a week here or there. If a Petition for Review wasn't granted, we'd certainly have a good idea about how a part of Kirby will be decided.