Seyfarth Synopsis: Do ambulance drivers working twenty-four hour shifts have to be available all twenty-four hours, even when they’re eating or resting? The Ninth Circuit wants the California Supreme Court’s opinion.
A former ambulance driver in California filed a claim alleging violations of federal and state wage and hour laws. Dylan Stewart worked for San Luis Ambulance, Inc. (SLA) under a written agreement requiring him to work twenty-four hour shifts, during which time he was required to be on duty and ready to respond to emergency calls that could come in at any time, but not to actively perform work for all twenty-four hours. Stewart acknowledged that he was paid for all twenty-four hours of his shifts, “irrespective of whether he was responding to emergencies; engaging in other employment related duties; or eating, sleeping, or enjoying leisure at the ambulance station.” His employment records and activity logs reflected that he was able to take meal and rest breaks on every shift. However, Stewart claimed that he was entitled to “compensation for an additional two hours of work for each day that he worked without proper meal or rest periods,” as well as to penalties for his former employer’s alleged failure to timely or accurately pay him premium wages.
The District Court ruled against Stewart, granting summary judgment to the ambulance service. Stewart appealed, and the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was unable to rule on his case without clarification of the proper interpretation of a state wage order, in light of earlier California State Court precedent. In its order, in Stewart v. San Luis Ambulance, Inc., No. 15-56943 (9th Cir. 2017), the Ninth Circuit referred the case to the California Supreme Court for guidance on three questions under the California Labor Code:
1) Must an ambulance service relieve attendants of the obligation to be available to respond to emergency calls that come in while the attendant is on a rest period during a four hour shift?
2) May an ambulance service require attendants working 24-hour shifts to be available to respond to emergency calls that come in while the attendant is on a meal break, without a written agreement containing an on-duty meal period revocation clause?
3) Does an employee have a claim for violation of the obligation to pay a “premium wage” for meal periods, when the employer does not include the premium wage in the employee’s pay or pay statements?
The Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to weigh in on the questions in light of conflicting authority between State wage orders and State court precedent. The Ninth Circuit instructed the parties to notify it within fourteen days of the California Supreme Court’s acceptance or rejection of certification, and again within fourteen days if the Court issues an opinion, but no other timeline was given in which court-watchers might expect the California Supreme Court to act.
In other words…. Stay tuned. We will continue to watch this case with interest.
For further discussion of California-specific employment cases and issues, check out Seyfarth’s California Peculiarities Employment Law Blog.