Calif. high court to review pro-Brinker ruling quashing class action

SAN FRANCISCO The California Supreme Court Wednesday agreed to review a potentially precedent-setting state appellate decision that a wage-and-hour case against Brinker International Inc. could not continue as a class action because the Chili’s Grill & Bar parent only had to “make available” meal and rest breaks, not to “ensure” they were taken.

Adecision affirming the San Diego appeal court's July ruling would solidify Brinker's partial victory in the still-pending case by endorsing employersâ long-held views that ill-defined labor rules governing mandatory break periods can't be adjudicated fairly on a class-action basis.

The pending review stems from Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego County, which itself stemmed from a lawsuit in 2004 by five Brinker employees who claimed the company illegally denied them breaks. The complaint was certified as a class action that might have included between 59,000 to 63,000 current and former employees, prompting Brinker’s petition to the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal. Its July ruling for Brinker in turn was appealed by the five workers to the high court.

“The issues underlying this case are important to both the employees and businesses of California, and review by the state Supreme Court presents a good opportunity to provide clarity and direction to these matters,” said Susan Sandidge, a Brinker vice president and assistant general counsel. “We believe the Court of Appeal was correct in their ruling and look forward to advocating to the Supreme Court that their decision be upheld.”