Indus. Comm’n of Ariz. Lab. Dep’t v. Sofrita, LLC – 6/16/2022

July 26, 2022

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One, rejecting statutory interpretation of Industrial Commission, holds that children under 16 are not barred from jobs with incidental contact with kitchens.

After it received an anonymous tip that an Arizona restaurant had hired children “under the age of 16 to work long hours with no breaks” for jobs that required them to be “around or in the kitchen,” the Industrial Commission of Arizona opened an investigation into the restaurant.  During the investigation, the Commission learned that three employees under 16, who worked as hostesses, occasionally entered the kitchen when bussing tables or arriving to work.  Based on that finding, the Commission investigator recommended the restaurant be charged with three violations of A.R.S. § 23-232, which prohibits hiring anyone under the age of 16 to “work in, about, or in connection with . . . cooking and baking.”  The Commission accepted the recommendation and issued a cease-and-desist letter, as well as a civil penalty.

The restaurant owner requested a hearing before an ALJ.  The ALJ modified the Commission’s letter and vacated the civil penalty, holding that § 23-232 did not regulate the sort of casual contacts with the kitchen at issue.  The Commission appealed.

On appeal, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, affirmed the ALJ’s order.  The Court began by rejecting the Commission’s assertion that its interpretation of child labor laws was entitled to deference.  The standard the Commission sought was akin to Chevron deference which, in the Court’s words, “died under Arizona law in 2018,” citing A.R.S. § 12-910(F).

Moving to the merits, the Court rejected the Commission’s interpretation of § 23-232, which would have prohibited hiring those under 16 for jobs that even “occasionally pass through the kitchen.”  The Court found there was nothing in the text of the statute to support this reading.  The statute does not use the word “kitchen,” but instead lists two activities: cooking and baking.  As such, the statute only prohibits hiring those under 16 for roles where they would actually be cooking, particularly if it involves ovens.  This reading was confirmed by other prohibitions in the statute, which were tied to specific locations instead of activities, and federal law, which allowed those under 16 to work in roles the Commission’s interpretation would prohibit.

Judge Weinzweig authored the opinion for the Court, joined by Judges Furuya and Perkins.