Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Court: Labor Code Did Not Apply to Charter County Employees
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Labor Code provisions entitling employees to overtime pay and to compensation for denial of meal breaks or rest breaks do not apply to charter counties, the First District Court of Appeal held in a decision published yesterday.
Div. Two upheld a judgment in favor of Alameda County, concluding that issues of overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, and payment for denying meal and rest breaks, addressed matters of “compensation” within the county’s exclusive constitutional purview.
Carson Curcini, Kinwood Devore and Johnny Jones worked as chaplains at the Santa Rita Jail. They filed suit against the county in Alameda Superior Court, claiming that they were entitled to, but did not receive, overtime pay, meal breaks or rest breaks, in violation of Labor Code Secs. 510, 512, 226.7 and 1194.
The county contended that charter counties have exclusive power under the state Constitution to determine the compensation of county employees and that it had exercised that power through its charter, ordinances, regulations, and agreements addressing matters such as overtime, and meal and rest period for its employees. Most of California’s largest counties, including Los Angeles, are charter counties.
Plaintiffs argued that requiring overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of eight hours per day and premium pay for denial of meal breaks or rest periods were not issues of compensation, but of working conditions subject to the relevant provisions of the Labor Code.
The trial court determined that the Labor Code sections pertaining to overtime, and meal breaks and rest breaks could not be applied to employees of the County of Alameda, sustained the defendant’s demurrers and entered judgment in favor of the county.
Writing for the appellate court, Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline explained that Article XI, Sec. 4 of the California constitution specifically delegates control over matters of employee compensation to charter counties.
Citing County of Riverside v. Superior Court (2003) 30 Cal.4th 278, Kline wrote that the express grant of authority to the county necessarily implied that the Legislature could not regulate charter county employees’ compensation.
Reasoning that the courts have “long treated overtime pay as compensation,” and that that the “‘central purpose’” of such pay is to compensate employees for their time, Kline concluded that the Labor Code sections relating to overtime pay addressed matters of compensation.
He similarly reasoned that the provisions of Labor Code providing a premium wage as compensation for missed meal and rest periods, were also intended as compensation and similarly subject to the county’s control.
Noting that the county had provided for compensation in its charter and through adoption of the Alameda County Administrative Code, salary ordinances and various memorandums of understanding, Kline concluded the county’s provisions trumped state law, and plaintiffs therefore could not bring causes of action under the Labor Code.
Justices Paul R. Haerle and James R. Lambden joined Kline in his opinion.
The case is Curcini v. County of Alameda, A115652.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company