Employment Alert: Federal Law Does Not Preempt California Meal and Rest Break Requirements

In Godfrey v. Oakland Port Services Corp., No. A139274, published October 28, 2014 (Godfrey), the Court of Appeal held the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) did not preempt California’s meal and rest break requirements as provided under Labor Code section 226.7 and Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Order No. 9-2001.

Plaintiffs initiated a class action lawsuit against Oakland Port Services Corp. dba AB Trucking (AB), alleging AB did not pay its drivers for all hours worked, misclassified drivers as non-employees, and failed to provide required meal and rest breaks. Class certification was granted and, after a bench trial, the court awarded $964,557.08. On appeal, AB argued, among other things, that the court erroneously found the FAAAA did not preempt state law with regard to meal and rest breaks. FAAAA, which provides for federal authority over commercial carriers, preempts state law “related to a price, route, or service . . . or any motor private carrier, broker, or freight forwarder with respect to the transportation of property.”

The Court of Appeal affirmed the finding of the trial court that state meal and rest break law does not relate to a price, route, or service under FAAAA. The court noted that AB must comply with state law related to speed limits, weight restrictions, and other “background rules” that do not bind motor carriers to specific prices, routes, or services. Noting recent federal and California precedents have limited FAAAA’s preemptive scope, the court concluded compliance with California’s meal and rest break law does not conflict with federal law.

Godfrey is illustrative of the strong public policy underlying California wage and hour laws. Notwithstanding the broad preemptive language of FAAAA, Godfrey suggests a direct conflict between state wage and hour law and federal law is necessary in order for preemption to apply.

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October 30, 2014