Attorneys

Highlights

  • Based on its expertise handling similar wage and hour class actions, Cummins & White, LLP successfully avoided class certification in this claim against a petroleum carrier involving several hundred drivers.
  • The case was settled in less than one year for a reasonable amount and was paid to class members over 24 months.
  • Cummins & White’s conservative approach resulted in considerable savings in both time and legal costs compared with estimates provided by other wage and hour class action specialty firms contacted by the trucking company. (Estimates were for legal fees only and did not include settlement costs.)

Case Study

Throughout 2008, Cummins & White, LLP successfully represented a leading petroleum carrier in a wage and hour class action complaint involving the alleged failure of the company to provide meal and rest breaks for truck drivers employed by the company since January 2004.

Cummins & White prevailed in avoiding the expensive and time-consuming task of opposing Plaintiff’s motion to certify the class, and then successfully guided the matter through mediation. After less than a year, the firm negotiated a reasonable settlement and saved the trucking company considerable time and legal costs.

Background

In January 2008, former employee Donald Kentner filed a class action claim against the company for unpaid meal and rest breaks. Members of the proposed class were company drivers who contended that the company required drivers to work at least five hours without an uninterrupted meal period, and then did not pay drivers for each day the meal period was not provided. In addition, drivers claimed that rest periods of at least ten minutes per four hours worked were not provided nor compensated for.

Legal Strategy

Cummins & White pursued a conservative strategy, working to promptly resolve the case to avoid lengthy litigation and limit legal expenses. A key goal was to avoid having to oppose the Plaintiff’s motion for class certification. Importantly, the case did not proceed to trial or even to the point of class certification—a very costly aspect of class action litigation.

A second objective was to show that the trucking company had complied with California labor laws. Cummins & White argued that while California law requires periodic paid rest periods and meal breaks for workers, the company only had to make breaks available—it was not required to ensure that drivers actually took them. As long-haul drivers, the timing of breaks depended on when and where a break would be appropriate rather than the amount of time they had been driving.

This argument was strengthened when the California Appellate Court issued an important ruling on meal and rest periods. In July 2008, the court took a similar position to that taken by Cummins & White, ruling that employers need only to provide meal and rest periods for their employees—they did not need to ensure compliance. The decision also addressed how often meal and rest periods need to be provided.

Armed with this ruling, Cummins & White argued that Plaintiff would have to establish that the drivers were not authorized or permitted to take breaks and that they would not be able to do so. In fact, the company encouraged rest breaks at the time and place of each driver’s choosing.

Result/Implication

Multi-plaintiff wage and hour lawsuits are a serious litigation threat to businesses. With that in mind, the goal for Cummins & White was quick resolution. In December 2008, a reasonable settlement was reached, allowing the petroleum carrier to make payments over 24 months, and legal costs were kept to a minimum.

James Wakefield, lead trial counsel from Cummins & White, said the case was a success. “The cost of litigation remains the largest risk in defending wage and hour class claims,” Mr. Wakefield said. “The decision by the California Court of Appeals bolstered one of our central arguments, and although we did not believe that the case had merit, we settled early and for significantly less money than our client would have spent on attorney’s fees defending the class action.”

According to the trucking company’s chief executive officer, he knows other firms that were sued in class actions for similar claims, and those companies are still embroiled in litigation. “We are pleased with how rapidly Cummins & White was able to resolve this matter for us,” he said.