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Garda CL Northwest v. Hill

A class of workers employed by an armored-car company filed a class action against their employer for the denial of meal and rest periods under Washington state law, which provides that workers who must remain “on duty” (i.e., at their posts) during meal and rest breaks must be paid and may not be required to work during the minimum 30-minute meal periods and 10-minute rest breaks required by state labor regulations. The class prevailed in the trial court and was awarded damages and statutory penalties. On appeal, the employer argued, among other things, that the penalties were improper because there was a “bona fide dispute” over whether collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) waived the meal periods. The state intermediate court of appeals agreed with the employer on this point, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed. The court held that there could be no bona fide dispute because the employer had not actually argued that the CBAs waived the right to on-duty meal periods. The court briefly examined the CBAs and concluded in any event that they would not clearly and unmistakably waive statutory meal-period rights, and it rejected suggestions that the federal Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA) barred if from looking at the CBAs for that purpose. The court remanded the case for further consideration by the intermediate appellate court of the employer’s additional challenges to the statutory penalties.

The employer filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the LMRA and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) preempt the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling. PCLG, as co-counsel for the class, filed a brief in opposition. The brief in opposition explained that the Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction because the decision below is not final; that the Washington Supreme Court’s decision rested on its correct understanding that the employer had failed to make the argument that necessarily underlies its position; and that the LMRA and NLRA preemption arguments involve no issue that has divided the lower courts and are without merit. The Court denied the petition.