Roughly 15,000 security guards were awarded nearly $90 million in a class-action lawsuit against their employer, ABM Security Services, which had allegedly denied the workers proper rest breaks.
Security guards were required to remain on duty during break periods with their cell phones or pagers turned on, according to court papers about the case. But Superior Court Judge John Wiley ruled Friday that the policy did not give the guards legitimate rest breaks and therefore violated California labor laws.
"Put simply, if you are on call, you are not on break," Wiley said during his ruling. "That has been the law for many years."
Instead, Wiley said, workers must be relieved of all duties in order for rest breaks to be considered legally valid.
Drew Pomerance, one of the lead attorneys for the guards, said he was "obviously thrilled" with the ruling.
"We've been prosecuting this case for seven years, and every step of the way, we believed that we were correct," Pomerance said in a Tuesday interview. "My feeling is that the way the security guards were handled is really the poster child for what businesses should not do."
California labor laws entitle most workers to a 10-minute break every four hours, Pomerance said, adding that these breaks should free workers of all duties and should not require them to keep their radios, phones or pagers accessible.
But representatives from ABM said the company "strongly disagrees" with the ruling and plans to appeal the case.
"We will vigorously pursue our right to appeal because we firmly disagree with today's ruling, its interpretation of California rest period law and California class certification standards," said ABM General Counsel Sarah McConnell in a written statement. "We contend that we provide our workers with rest breaks conforming to both the letter and spirit of the law."
ABM attorneys said imposing a multi-million dollar judgment against the company because it "required security guards to carry radios is a request whose absurdity speaks for itself," according to a 28-page April 2012 filing of the case.
Still, Pomerance said ABM could have abided by labor laws by hiring a "rover" -- a worker who could fill in for a security guard taking a rest break -- or extending an exemption that would allow the company to mandate that guards be on call during their rest periods.
ABM had previously obtained such an exemption from the Department of Labor Standards Enforcements, but it had expired.
The two sides will reconvene in a court hearing this year on Sept. 6, when attorneys representing the guards plan to address attorney fees.