- - Thursday, April 12, 2012

CALIFORNIA

SAN FRANCISCO — In a case that affects thousands of businesses and millions of workers, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that employers are under no obligation to ensure that workers take legally mandated lunch and rest breaks.

The unanimous opinion came after workers’ attorneys argued that abuses are routine and widespread when companies aren’t required to issue direct orders to take the breaks. They claimed employers take advantage of workers who don’t want to leave colleagues during busy times.

The case was initially filed nine years ago against Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s and other eateries, by restaurant workers complaining of missed breaks in violation of California labor law.

But the high court sided with businesses when it ruled that requiring companies to order breaks is unmanageable and those decisions should be left to workers.

VIRGINIA

General Dynamics gets contract worth up to $64.5 million

Fairfax-based defense contractor General Dynamics Corp. said Thursday that its information technology division has received a contract from the Army to support the 160th Signal Brigade.

The five-year contract is worth up to $64.5 million if all options are exercised.

BANKING

Rate on 30-year mortgage falls to near all-time low

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage dropped near its all-time low this week, making home-buying and refinancing a bargain for those who can qualify.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan fell to 3.88 percent from 3.98 percent. That’s just more than the rate of 3.87 percent reached in February, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

ENVIRONMENT

Robot checking gulf floor for source of oil sheen

NEW ORLEANS | An unmanned, underwater vehicle was surveying plugged undersea oil wells Thursday and looking for natural seepage as authorities sought the source of a 10-mile oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

The sheen is about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans. Royal Dutch Shell PLC has two production platforms in the area. The company said Thursday it is confident the sheen didn’t originate from its operations. The Coast Guard said it was too early to tell Thursday afternoon whether any environmental damage had occurred.

The sheen was spotted Wednesday.

ECONOMY

U.S. exports up in February, raising prospects for growth

The outlook for U.S. economic growth is looking slightly better.

American businesses sold a record number of goods and services in Europe, China and other foreign markets in February, while imports declined.

Many economists began raising their forecasts for January-March growth after seeing Thursday’s government report on the lowest trade deficit since the fall.

And the jump in exports helped drive stocks higher for a second straight day. The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 160 points, while broader indexes also increased.

The economy still has a long way back to full health. More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said in a separate report. That followed last week’s report that hiring slowed sharply in March after three months of strong job growth.

SEC

Goldman Sachs to pay $22 million to settle case

Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay $22 million to settle regulatory charges that its analysts shared confidential research with favored clients.

The regulators alleged that Goldman analysts had weekly “huddles” from 2006 to 2011 during which they discussed confidential research on stocks with the firm’s traders. The analysts then passed on the ideas to a select group of top clients, the regulators said. They said that created the risk of research being passed to special clients before it was published.

The settlement was announced Thursday by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the securities industry’s self-policing organization.

EUROPE

Lagarde: IMF funding may be less than originally thought

The head of the International Monetary Fund said the lending agency might not need as large a boost in financial resources as first thought to address Europe’s debt crisis.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde didn’t elaborate in a speech Thursday beyond citing an improved “economic climate.” She said she hopes to resolve the issue when the IMF holds its spring meeting in Washington next week.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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