Ninth Circuit asks California Supreme Court’s help on CRST break lawsuit

August 2, 2019

Mark Schremmer


For the second time in recent weeks, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has punted questions regarding a wage lawsuit to the California Supreme Court. 

Faced with deciding a class action lawsuit against CRST for allegedly not providing meal or rest breaks required under California law, the appeals panel certified two questions to the state’s high court:

  • Does the absence of a formal policy regarding meal and rest breaks violate California law?
  • Does an employer’s failure to keep records for meal and rest breaks taken by its employees create a rebuttable presumption that the meal and rest breaks were not provided?

James Cole and other truck drivers in the class alleged that CRST, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based trucking company, that drivers “were required to work through their daily rest periods and meal periods, or work on an on-duty meal period.”

CRST contended that it was the company’s policy for its drivers “to run their trip and take their breaks appropriately when they need to and when they feel the need to.” CRST also said that they left the decision of when to take breaks “completely up to the driver.”

Cole confirmed that no one from CRST told him when to stop and acknowledged that he could take a 10-minute break whenever he wanted. However, Cole said that he was unable to take meal and rest breaks because he needed to “keep the wheels rolling” in order to remain timely on his deliveries and receive payment.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of CRST, saying there was “ample evidence in the record that CRST did, in fact, encourage Cole to take breaks.”

Cole appealed, arguing that the California law mandates that the employer affirmatively provide breaks by adopting a policy authorizing them. Cole said that CRST did not have such a policy, did not record meal breaks on its payroll statements, and did not pay its drivers for rest breaks.

The Ninth Circuit said that in previous cases the California Supreme Court did not directly address whether the absence of a policy providing for meal and rest breaks constitutes a violation of California labor law.

“Cole’s appeal is dependent on whether CRST’s lack of a policy providing for legally required rest and meal breaks violates California law,” the Ninth Circuit wrote.

On July 22, the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to decide whether or not a standard for classifying workers should be applied retroactively.

Both cases could greatly affect trucking companies.