California high court to decide on lunch breaks

Posted Nov. 08, 2011, at 6:51 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a high-interest case contending restaurant managers must order meal and rest breaks for tens of thousands of workers rather than leave compliance to their discretion.

The case was initially filed eight years ago against Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s and other eateries, by chain restaurant workers complaining of missed breaks in violation of California labor law.

The case has generated immense interest among labor-law lawyers and industries grappling with defining responsibilities for meal and rest periods.

Lawyers for the workers argue that not ordering the breaks is a passive way to take advantage of workers who don’t want to leave colleagues at busy times.

Brinker’s attorney countered that requiring businesses to control the breaks of workers is unmanageable and that taking such breaks should be left to the discretion of employees.

The court’s decision is due in 90 days, with the resolution possibly worth millions of dollars to lawyers and companies enmeshed in class-action lawsuits hinging on the issue.

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