United Steelworkers v. ConocoPhillips: $15 Million Settlement of Alleged Meal Break Violations

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In one of the largest settlements of its type, oil refinery workers and ConocoPhillips Co. have reached a $15 million settlement of allegations that the workers were not relieved of all duties during meal breaks, as required by law. The settlement is now before Judge Phillip Guitierrez, who has granted plaintiff’s motion for preliminary approval, and before whom parties will conduct a fairness hearing on April 1, 2013. See United Steelworkers v. ConocoPhillips Co., No. 08-2068 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 12, 2012) (order granting preliminary approval).

The case was originally filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2008 and was removed to U.S. District Court later that year. In the intervening years since, the state of California’s meal and rest break laws have gone through a period of great transition, leading up to the California Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brinker in April of 2012. Although Brinker is widely viewed as a mixed result for the plaintiffs’ bar, favoring employers in some respects while also creating employee-friendly doctrines, the substantial settlement here suggests that workers may benefit most from the Court’s ruling in Brinker. The $15 million total value of this settlement makes it the largest post-Brinker settlement of meal break claims.

The settlement agreement includes $15,000 incentive awards for the three named plaintiffs, which they will collect in addition to their recovery as class members. The award also includes an allocation of $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees, which amounts to less than the 25% benchmark that the Ninth Circuit has set for such fees.