April 26, 2021

See’s Candies Wins Class Decertification Victory in Meal Breaks Suit

Munger, Tolles & Olson secured a victory for its client, See’s Candies, when the California Court of Appeals rejected a proposed statewide employment class action based on alleged meal and rest period violations. On April 26, 2021, the court found that See’s official policy was lawful. The court further relied on a detailed statistical analysis Munger, Tolles & Olson prepared to preclude the plaintiff from demonstrating systematic wage and hour violations.

In the underlying action, Plaintiff Debbie Salazar asserted several wage and hour theories. Plaintiff eventually sought class certification to represent two classes of workers who she alleged were unfairly denied meal and rest periods. Plaintiff relied upon both anecdotal evidence and expert, statistical analysis to support her claims, including that: (1) See’s often staffed employees alone at shops (the so-called “single staffing” class); and (2) pertinent scheduling forms did not address or cover second meal periods (referred to as the “second meal period” class). The trial court declined to certify the proposed classes.

Plaintiff appealed the ruling, focusing her appeal entirely on the “second meal period” class. Relying on anecdotal evidence, Plaintiff argued See’s had effectively failed to provide the second meal periods as required by California law. To support this, Plaintiff claimed that in over 75% of the shifts exceeding ten hours, the employees had not recorded a second meal period on their respective timecards.

In challenging Plaintiff’s claims, Munger, Tolles & Olson undertook an extensive fact-gathering campaign, and successfully demonstrated the company had adopted and complied with meal and rest period policies in compliance with pertinent laws.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision and found that See’s had demonstrated that its actual meal and rest period policy was fully compliant with California law. It also held that Plaintiff’s evidence did not back her claim, finding that See’s did provide for second meal periods on shifts over ten hours.

In reaching its decision, the court focused on the detailed expert statistical presented by Munger, Tolles, & Olson. It stated this evidence “was actually more compelling that the trial court stated.” Specifically, the Court of Appeal found not only that employees recorded second meal periods in 24% of the pertinent shifts, but in fact, 43% of the employees who worked shifts over ten hours recorded second meal periods at least once. Declaration evidence also supported the common sense notion that employees sometimes chose to work through their meal periods and finish their shifts early instead of taking a thirty-minute, unpaid meal period – a choice conferred upon the employee under California law.

In light of this, the Court of Appeal determined that See’s Candies communicated a lawful policy to a wide number of employees. The court also concluded that the determination as to why any specific employees eligible for a second meal period declined to take one would require an individualized inquiry and, for that reason, class certification would be improper.

“It is an honor to represent See’s and its wonderfully principled leadership team. The company values it employees greatly and treats them accordingly, and the Court of Appeal’s ruling confirms not only the validity of the company’s policies but the manner in which they were carried out.” said Malcolm Heinicke, co-managing partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson and lead attorney for See’s in the matter.

Led by Malcolm Heinicke, the Munger, Tolles & Olson team included Katherine Forster, Hunter Hayes, and Abe Dyk.

The case is Salazar v. See’s Candy Shops Incorporated, et al., California Court of Appeal, Case No. B300778 (April 26, 2021), appeal from Los Angeles Superior Court, JCCP5004 & BC651132.

For more, see the article in Law360.