July 8, 2020

Compliant Policies Help Employer Defeat Wage Claims on Summary Judgment

In David v. Queen of the Valley Medical Center (QVMC), 2020 WL 3529683 (certified for publication Cal. Ct. App. June 30, 2020), the employer’s legally compliant policies were crucial in getting the California Court of Appeal to dismiss a case before trial.    

In David, the plaintiff/employee sued QVMC, asserting several wage-and-hour claims, including failure to provide adequate meal and rest breaks and failure to pay for all time worked. The employee claimed that QVMC (1) failed to provide her with legally adequate meal and rest breaks because it allegedly asked her work-related questions during her breaks, and some supervisors pressured her to cut her breaks short by staring at the clock during her breaks. The employee also claimed that QVMC failed to pay all time worked because of its time-rounding policy. The trial court granted QVMC’s motion for summary judgment on all claims and, in a “win” for employers, the Court of Appeal affirmed in a published decision.

As to the meal and rest breaks claims, the Court of Appeal focused on QVMC’s policies and the employee’s deposition testimony. First, the court observed that QVMC had legally compliant meal and rest breaks policies. Second, at her deposition, the employee admitted that no supervisor ever discouraged her from taking her breaks or encouraged her to cut her breaks short. She also acknowledged that when a colleague would ask her a question during her break, she would respond that she was on break, and her colleague would leave her alone. Moreover, the employee would affirm daily that she took her proper meal and rest breaks when she clocked out at the end of her shift. But, if she reported that she did not take a proper break, QVMC would pay the employee a meal or rest period premium. Thus, the employee’s only evidence to support her meal and rest break claims was her sworn declaration that she felt “pressured” to cut her breaks short because supervisors sometimes looked at the clock when she was on break. Based on this evidence, the court held that there were no triable issues as to whether QVMC properly made meal and rest breaks available to the employee, and it affirmed summary judgment in QVMC’s favor.

The court also rejected the employee’s claim that she was not paid for all time worked, which was based primarily on the theory that QVMC had an improper rounding policy. Generally, employers may have a rounding policy if it is fair and neutral on its face and will not result in underpayment to employees over time. The court held that QVMC’s rounding policy was neutral because it rounded the employee’s time worked to the nearest quarter-hour without regard to whether the rounding benefited the employee or employer. The court observed that the rounding policy benefited the employee for some pay periods and it benefited QVMC for other pay periods. Although the employee had been undercompensated by a total 7.75 hours — or .26 percent of her almost 3,000 hours worked — this amount was viewed as statistically insignificant and did not show that the rounding policy benefited QVMC at the expense of employees.

What Employers Can Take From This Decision

David shows that it is critical for employers to have legally compliant wage-and-hour policies, and it is equally important that they follow those policies. QVMC’s compliant meal and rest break policies went far to undermine the employee’s claims. Likewise, QVMC’s neutral rounding policy, which indiscriminately rounded time backward or forward to the nearest quarter-hour, helped the company overcome the employee’s claim for failure to pay for all time worked. Finally, this case shows how depositions are critical for obtaining key admissions that may help get a case dismissed before trial.   

Please feel free to contact Payne & Fears LLP if you need help implementing policies that are fully compliant with the requirements of the California Labor Code.