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Decision in Brinker v. Superior Court: Employers May Not Interfere with Workers’ Right to Meal Breaks

On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court issued its much-awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, clarifying an employer’s obligations to provide hourly—or non-exempt—workers meal and rest periods.

On the central question of what it means to provide meal periods, the Brinker decision concluded that “an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.” The Court reasoned that requiring an employer to police its workers’ breaks would contradict the principle that the employer relinquishes all control during breaks. The Court clarified further than an employer cannot impede breaks by pressuring workers against taking breaks, create incentives to forego breaks, or encourage skipping breaks. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed the long-standing principle that California’s workers are “entitled to uninterrupted half-hour [meal] periods in which they are relieved of any duty or employer control and are free to come and go as they please.”

David Lopez

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez Visits Legal Aid

David Lopez, General Counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), visited the offices of Legal Aid on Wednesday March 21, 2012. Lopez, the first field staff attorney to be appointed as the EEOC’s General Counsel, spent an hour and a half with Legal Aid staff, government representatives and community advocates outlining his mandate and program for the Commission and answering questions about how the Commission can be supportive to those working against discrimination in the workplace. Joining Lopez for his presentation was Regional Attorney William Tamayo from the San Francisco EEOC office.

Legal Aid Supports Department of Labor Proposal to Strengthen Protections for Domestic Workers; Calls on Administration to Ensure Funding

The U.S. Department of Labor is currently considering proposed regulations that will improve working conditions for domestic workers across the United States. These regulations would place more workers who provide home care to persons with disabilities, including aging person, under the protections of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, the mechanisms for providing in-home care to disabled persons in the community are complex and underfunded. This raises the concern that these regulations will trigger unintended consequences unless the Administration takes additional steps.

Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center has submitted comments endorsing these proposed regulations. We have also requested one clarification and set forth additional steps required to achieve fair and just results for both the domestic worker community and the disability community.

Two Legal Aid Attorneys on The Fast Track

We are pleased to announce that Tamika L. Butler and Rachael Langston were selected by the editors of The Recorder as two among 50 Lawyers on the Fast Track. The list recognized attorneys who have practiced 10 years or less and who have demonstrated “substantial accomplishments as leaders, lawyers and community members.”

Read more about Fair Play for Girls in Sports.

Read more about our Gender Equity and LBGT Rights Programs.

Read more about our Disability Rights Program.

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Equal Pay Day: U.S. Women Still Earning 20% Less than Men

April 17, 2012, marked “Equal Pay Day” in the United States.

On average, women earn less than men and therefore they must work one day longer a week to earn  the same pay.  That’s why Equal Pay Day is recognized yearly;  it is to demonstrate concretely that it takes one day more per week for the average earnings of women to catch up to those earned by men in a similar job 

Today, women earn 81.2 cents for every dollar men earn.  The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women who were full-time workers had median weekly earnings of $669, nearly 20% less than men’s median weekly earnings (based on 2010 data).  Broken down by race, the gap is even larger.  Latina women earn $508 per week as compared to $850 per week for White men.  Similarly, African-American women earn $592 per week and Asian women earn $773 per week.  While Equal Pay Day is designed to highlight wage discrimination involving women, Latino and African-American men also earn less than White men.  Latino men earn $560 a week as compared to $850 per week for White men.  African-American men earn $633 per week.          

Women are already suffering economically in these difficult economic times, and their challenges are even greater because of the harms caused by pay discrimination.

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Legal Aid's Tamika Butler and Elizabeth Kristen

Leveling the Playing Field for Female Athletes: Legal Aid Staff Discuss the Promise of Title IX at the AAUW Convention

On Saturday April 14, 2012, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center attorneys Elizabeth Kristen and Tamika Butler co-presented a workshop at the 2012 American Association of University Women (AAUW) California Convention in Santa Clara, California. 

In the workshop, “Fair Play for Girls in Sports-Leveling the Playing Field for K-12 Athletes,” Elizabeth and Tamika focused on the crucial role that Title IX and high school sports programs serve as a ladder out of poverty for girls from low income families. They also discussed the many benefits that state law AB 2404 and with it California Parks and Recreation programs offer as a gateway to broader horizons for young girls living in low income communities. 

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Legal Update: Federal Judge in Gay and Lesbian State Employee Case Hears Motion for Summary Judgment

Attorneys from Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center argued cross-motions for summary judgment in Dragovich v. CalPERS on Thursday, April 26, 2012. The motions were heard by Judge Claudia Wilken, United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

The case raises constitutional claims of gay and lesbian state workers who, together with their same-sex spouses or registered domestic partners, are denied equal access to California’s Long-Term Care Program. The lawsuit challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a provision of the Internal Revenue Code that excludes gay and lesbian state employees from purchasing state-sponsored long term care benefits for their spouses or domestic partners in violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Court previously rejected the federal Defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims.

New Fresno Workers’ Rights Clinic

On April 18, the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (Legal Aid) added Fresno to the list of its Workers’ Rights Clinic sites. The Fresno Workers’ Rights Clinic is a collaboration of Legal Aid, Central California Legal Services (CCLS), the Mexican Consulate, and the Fresno-based law firm of Lang, Richert & Patch. It was recently featured in a Fresno Bee article.

The Fresno Clinic is housed at CCLS and is staffed by attorneys from Legal Aid, CCLS and members of the local bar, as well as paralegals and law students. Initially operating once per month, the Clinic will provide free legal services to low-wage workers, including farm workers, in the Central Valley who face a range of workplace problems including unpaid wages and overtime, health and safety violations and discrimination.

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Decision in Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc.: Workers Not Subject to Attorneys Fees in Claims Alleging Meal and Rest Period Violations

On April 30, 2012, the California Supreme Court decided whether workers can recover or be subject to awards of attorneys fees when making meal and rest period claims.

The Court in Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. held that, generally, claims alleging meal and rest period violations under Labor Code section 226.7 are not subject to one-way or two-way fee shifting provisions.  “In line with its analysis in Brinker, the Court’s decision in Kirby protects low-wage workers’ rights to pursue section 226.7 meal and rest break claims without fear of exposure to exorbitant amount of attorney’s fees,” said Fernando Flores, Director of Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center’s WageHELP Program.

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Call for Skadden Fellowship Applications

Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center is pleased to invite applications for sponsorship of a Skadden Fellow for the two-year period beginning in September 2013.  The two-year fellowship offers a recent law school graduate the opportunity to obtain training in litigation as well as many other aspects of public interest practice.  The Skadden Fellowship Foundation awards approximately 25 fellowships per year to graduating law students and outgoing judicial clerks.  Skadden Fellows develop projects that provide legal services to persons who are poor, elderly, and/or homeless, persons with disabilities, and others who are deprived of human or civil rights.

Legal Aid seeks to sponsor a candidate to work within our Wage and Hour Enforcement Litigation Program- WageHELP. Applicants are encouraged to propose and discuss project ideas in this program area which works to ensure that all workers benefit from the protections of wage and hour law.

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