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California Unpaid Wages Lawsuit: Class Action Lawsuit Brewing Against Starbucks

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The California Supreme Court is poised to decide a case that could result in a class action against Starbucks and any other companies that failed to pay employees while they prepared for a shift or closed up afterward.

Los Angeles, CAFormer Starbucks employee Douglas Troester first filed this case in Los Angeles Superior Court back in 2012, alleging that he was not compensated for time spent closing the Starbucks where he worked as a shift supervisor. Specifically, he claims that Starbucks required him to clock out before transmitting information about profits and losses to corporate HQ. He also alleges that he was not paid for time he spent locking up the store, and walking employees to their cars, as was required by Starbucks’ policy at the time. Starbucks has since changed this policy, and now employees are compensated for performing these tasks. Although Troester’s California labor lawsuit relates to his employment with Starbucks from 2009-2010, if the Court finds in his favor, it could pave the way for employees to join a class action lawsuit against Starbucks and other companies with similar policies.

Donning and Doffing Lawsuit and De Minimis Defense

Hourly employees who are not paid for overtime or for “donning and doffing” time can file a 'donning and doffing' lawsuit or an overtime lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Donning and doffing time is time employees spend putting on and taking off protective gear and clothing in preparation for a shift, or after one. It is not uncommon for employers to raise something known as a de minimis defense to these kinds of claims, arguing that they are not legally required to compensate employees for small amounts of time spent off the clock preparing for work, or finishing up a shift—often periods of time that are ten minutes or less. California courts have historically honored that defense to FLSA claims, but Troester v. Starbucks could shake things up.

Troester filed his claim under the California Labor Code, not the FLSA. The California Supreme Court has never addressed whether the de minimis defense to a federal FLSA claim would also apply to similar claims brought under the state Labor Code.

The de minimis nature of these types of unpaid overtime claims make them a perfect fit for certification as a class action. For example, Troester is only seeking $120 in lost pay in his California labor lawsuit. Although it would not be financially practical for litigants to pursue such claims individually (because hiring a lawyer could cost more than each litigant would stand to make if they win), the legal system enables class members to pool together and share the costs of litigation. These kind of class action lawsuits serve as a check against big companies nickel-and-diming everyday workers.

In determining whether the de minimis rule applies, the court will consider how difficult it is as a practical matter to record the additional time, how much time total was spent doing these tasks in the aggregate, and whether it was a regularly required task, or just an occasional one.

Case to be Heard by California Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court will hear oral argument from the parties in this case on May 1, 2018. In addition to back pay for unpaid wages, Troester will most likely argue that Starbucks should be subject to additional penalties, attorneys’ fees, and court costs. In his California unpaid wages lawsuit, Troester alleges that the tasks he performed before and after clocking in and out each day took between four and ten minutes, totaling about a day and a half of work (12 hours and 50 minutes in total). Troester also claims that if he did not perform these tasks as required by his supervisor, he would have been fired.

US Supreme Court Stance on Donning & Doffing

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that certain activities, like taking time to put on safety gear before a shift, should be encouraged because it protects the safety of employees, and also an employers’ bottom line—injuries are more costly to an employer than paying for the relatively short amount of time spent donning and doffing safety gear.

Despite the Supreme Court’s analysis, employers in California have joined forces, requesting permission to file an amicus brief in Troester supporting Starbucks. In their brief they argue that application of the de minimis rule balances the underlying policy interests, and avoids results that would harm businesses, consumers (who presumably costs would be passed on to), and the employees themselves.

If you suspect that you have been denied pay for overtime in California, were not provided with meal or rest breaks during your shifts, or were not paid for time spent performing essential functions of your job (putting on or removing safety gear, or walking employees to their vehicles as required by company policy), you may want to contact an experienced California overtime lawyer today. An experienced California overtime attorney will be able to determine whether you have a viable legal claim.


California Unpaid Wages Legal Help

If you or a loved one have suffered losses in this case, please click the link below and your complaint will be sent to an employment law lawyer who may evaluate your California Unpaid Wages claim at no cost or obligation.


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