CHA News Article

State Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Hospital Employer on Meal Period Waivers

After 10 years litigating numerous class action allegations, including the validity of its health care meal period waivers and the effect of the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 327 in 2015, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center last week achieved final victory before the California Supreme Court.

As reported in previous CHA News articles, in 2008 three former health care employees working 12-hour shifts sued Orange Coast, alleging that their meal period waivers were invalid because they sometimes worked more than 12 hours in a day. Originally, the trial court dismissed their claims, relying on Wage Order 5, section 11(D), which allows health care employees to waive one of their two meal periods, even when their shift exceeds 12 hours. 

However, when the plaintiffs appealed the case, the appellate court initially concluded in February 2015 that section 11(D) was invalid. That decision led Orange Coast to appeal the matter to the California Supreme Court. The appellate court decision also led CHA to spearhead the passage of SB 327, which conclusively confirmed that the special health care meal period waiver regulation was valid as of Oct. 5, 2015 — the date the bill was signed. Once the bill was signed, the key question remaining for the court was the validity of the meal period waiver regulation prior to Oct. 5, 2015.

In 2016, the California Supreme Court sent the case back to the appellate court to reconsider its decision in light of SB 327. After reviewing the arguments and evidence, including an amicus brief filed by CHA, the Court of Appeal concluded on March 1, 2017, that the health care meal period waiver provision in Wage Order 5, section 11 (D) was valid and that its earlier decision invalidating the wage order was wrong.

This time, the plaintiffs filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court that was accepted. Again, CHA filed an amicus brief urging the Court to uphold the appellate court’s 2017 decision. While plaintiffs agreed that SB 327 established that health care meal period waivers were valid as of Oct. 5, 2015, they continued to argue that the wage order was invalid from June 2000 through October 2015, that employees who signed waivers but worked more than 12 hours were entitled to missed meal premiums and that, therefore, the lawsuit should continue with respect to that time period.

In a unanimous decision issued last week, the California Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s 2017 ruling in favor of the hospital and concluded that Wage Order 5, section 11(D) has been valid and enforceable since it was adopted on June 30, 2000. It thus affirmed both the appellate court ruling and trial court rulings that granted Orange Coast’s motions to deny class certification and summary judgment on all claims asserted against it. This is excellent news for all hospitals involved in litigation that raised similar claims, and all hospitals that allow employees to voluntarily waive one of their two meal periods on long shifts. 

CHA thanks its amicus counsel at Seyfarth Shaw — Jeffrey A.  Berman, partner, and Kiran Seldon, senior counsel — for their work on this case. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center was represented throughout the case by Richard J. Simmons, partner, and his team in the labor and employment practice group at Sheppard Mullin.