Sometimes, when a heavily hyped movie arrives in theaters, the tremendous business it generates can have a negative effect on all the other surrounding films.

 For example, The Avengers landed in American cinemas on May 4, 2012.  Since that time, not only has it racked up astronomical box office figures of its own (in fact, as of the writing of this article, The Avengers is on pace to surpass Star Wars and settle in among the top five grossing movies of all time), but it has also prevented several other movies from accumulating any significant box office figures as a result.  Dark Shadows, The Dictator, and Battleship – all heavily hyped, all with significant studio backing, and all three have been consumed by the wake emanating from The Avengers.  (Please note, the author of this article is aware that there are likely plenty of other reasons why all three of those movies have failed at the box office, such as people’s tolerance for Sacha Baron Cohen, Johnny Depp’s diminishing appeal, and the fact that Battleship looks just plain awful – but for the purposes of this analogy, we’ll say it was because of The Avengers.)

Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 2012 WL 1216356, is the California legal equivalent of The Avengers, a case so large that its ripple is already beginning to demolish smaller lawsuits in its wake.  Take, for example, the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles’ ruling in Kimani v. Healthcare Investments, Inc., Case No. BC432360 (May 11, 2012).  The group of plaintiff nurses in Kimani alleged that the defendant had failed to provide timely meal breaks, failed to overtime and double-time wages due, failed to provide itemized wage statements, and committed other unfair business practices.  On February 8, 2012, the court denied certification of the class as to the theories regarding overtime, failure to provide first meal breaks and failure to provide rest breaks.  Following that ruling, the court ordered briefing on the only remaining theories regarding the alleged denial of compliant second meal breaks when the nurses worked double-shifts.

Enter Brinker.  With the force of six superheroes defending a city against an army of alien invaders, the court cited to Brinker for the proposition that an employer must only relieve the employee of all duty for the designated meal period, but not ensure that the employee does no work.  With that Thor-esque hammer of an edict in hand, the court reasoned that if the defendant had allowed the nurses to take a break before the start of their second shift, then it had a defense to the statutory violation.  The defendant proffered evidence that if a nurse agreed to work a double shift, she was allowed a second break in exchange for the extra hours.  Any further investigation into the matter would require an individualized inquiry, defeating the common questions of law.

The Bottom Line:  While courts continue to interpret the Brinker decision, at least one has held that for purposes of class certification questions, an employer need only provide a meal break, it does not need to enforce that an employee perform no work.