On April 17, 2015, Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California held that Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, 136 S.Ct. 513 (2014), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held the FLSA does not require employees to be compensated for time undergoing post-shift security screenings, does not apply to wage claims brought under California law. The case is Miranda v. Coach, Inc., No. 14-cv-02031-JD, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51768 (Apr. 17, 2015).
Eve Miranda and Mary Lou Ayala filed a class action complaint against Coach, Inc., alleging they and other Coach sales associates were required to submit to “bag checks” each time they left the store. They alleged that waiting for and undergoing the bag check process, for which they were not paid, lasted anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, and sought damages and penalties under California law for “off-the-clock” time. Coach moved to dismiss, arguing the bag check time was non-compensable under Integrity Staffing Solutions.
Judge Donato denied the motion to dismiss, explaining that while the decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions was premised on how the federal Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947 exempts employers from FLSA liability for certain categories of work-related activities, Coach was being sued under California law, which contains no similar exemption and defines “hours worked” differently. The opinion cited Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th 575, 582 (2000), in which the California Supreme Court explained that California defines “hours worked” as including not only “time the employee is suffered or permitted to work,” but also “time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer.” Given all this, Judge Donato denied the motion to dismiss, holding the plaintiffs’ claims for uncompensated time under California law “are viable and will go forward.”
Judge Donato’s opinion is not binding on any other court, but there is no reason to believe other courts presented with the same issue will reach a different conclusion. This does not mean—and Judge Donato did not hold—that time spent by employees undergoing bag checks is compensable under California law; it merely means the time may be compensable. For example, in certain situations there may be a viable argument that the time is so minimal as to be de minimis and therefore non-compensable. In class actions, certification might be defeated by showing that even where an employer requires bag checks, the employer’s policy affects employees differently, with the result that individualized inquiries will be needed to establish liability.
This case is another reminder that California’s wage and hour laws differ from their federal counterparts in important respects. As a result, decisions construing the FLSA and other federal laws cannot be relied on as indicators of what may allowed under California law. This presents challenges to all California employers, and especially to employers that are based outside California, but have employees working in the state. Employers should consult counsel before relying on any judicial decisions.