Articles from September 2014

Gravina v. City of Los Angeles: City Settles Meal Break Claims with Sanitation Drivers for $26M

Following a grant of final approval of a $26 million settlement by Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. at a fairness hearing in July 2014, the Los Angeles City Council officially adopted a motion on August 12, 2014, settling Gravina v. City of Los Angeles, No. BC356014, a wage-and-hour class action on behalf of a class of sanitation truck drivers (copy of the City Council’s motion available here). The parties had previously reached a settlement which was preliminarily approved by the trial court, and the council had approved the deal during a closed session meeting in February 2014, but had not publicly announced it because it was not yet final and required court approval.

Sanitation driver Gravina sued the city in 2006 on behalf of approximately 1,000 employees, alleging that the employer’s policies unlawfully restricted how he and other drivers spent their meal breaks. The lawsuit alleged that the city forbade them from congregating with other drivers or napping during their 30 minute meal breaks. The city filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that it was exempt from California’s meal break laws, but the trial court rejected this argument. (The city’s subsequent petition for writ relief was also denied.)  

In March of 2011, Judge Emilie H. Elias certified a class of truck drivers employed since July 26, 2003, and certified for trial the issue of whether the city’s policy of restricting their workers’ activities and movements during their meal break transformed those breaks from off-duty to on-duty breaks. If they were found to be “on-duty,” the drivers would need to be compensated for those breaks. The case was re-assigned to another judge shortly thereafter, and in December of 2011, at a bifurcated trial on liability, Judge Wiley Jr. ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the restrictions rendered the breaks on-duty, entitling the drivers to compensation.

City officials negotiated the $26 million settlement while their petition to the California Supreme Court was pending (after the deal was struck, the city’s petition for review to the California Supreme Court was denied). The preliminary approval papers indicate the settlement will provide for a net average of $15,000 in lost wages per driver. The class includes sanitation truck drivers who worked for the city of Los Angeles from July 26, 2003, up to and including the date of trial in the action.