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A federal appeals court ruled that workers had no case against Taco Bell for violating lunch breaks.
In Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp., the plaintiffs complained the employer violated wage laws by making them eat onsite if they bought food at employee discounts. The restaurant chain didn't want workers to abuse the discount privilege by taking food outside.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said there is nothing wrong with that. So long as businesses don't make employees work on their lunch breaks, they are not breaking the law.
California law requires employers to give their workers meal breaks after a certain number of hours on the job. Compliant with the law, Taco Bell offered 30-minute breaks.
But Bernardina Rodriguez, a long-time employee, sued over a mealtime rule that allowed employees to buy food at a discount only if they ate on the premises. In a proposed class action, she alleged the company violated the law by controlling her time on break.
Taco Bell moved to dismiss, arguing that employees were free to use their breaks as they chose. A trial judge agreed, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
The appeals court ruled the company exercised no control over workers within the meaning of California law.
No Family and Friends
In the court proceedings, a Taco Bell representative said the discounted meals were a benefit for employees. It was not for them to take out food for families and friends.
"In other words, employees had to consume the discounted food in the restaurant to prevent theft," the appeals court said.