The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that workers don’t have to be paid for time they spent passing through security screenings. The high court reversed a Ninth Circuit ruling that revived a suit brought by ex-workers at an Amazon.com warehouse against a staffing agency. The court ruled 9-0 that the time former workers Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro spent waiting for and undergoing post-shift anti-theft screenings was non-compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the lead opinion, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor — joined by Justice Elena Kagan — filed a concurring opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote:
We hold that an activity is integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform — and thus compensable under the FLSA — if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities. Because the employees’ time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing Integrity Staffing’s security screenings does not meet these criteria, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit, which invoked the FLSA and Nevada labor laws, targeted Integrity Staffing Inc., which provides warehouse workers to Amazon.com throughout the United States. A Nevada district court dismissed the putative class action, ruling that the screening time was not compensable under the FLSA. But the case was partly revived by the Ninth Circuit in April 2013. An appellate panel held that the workers had stated an FLSA wage claim for the security screenings and concluded that they had sufficiently alleged the screenings were “integral and indispensable” to their main duties.
Integrity then appealed the Ninth Circuit’s holding on the security screenings claim. It contended that the court’s decision was in conflict with the plain text of the Portal-to-Portal Act. The workers replied, contending that taking part in an end-of-shift anti-theft search is integral to employees’ on-shift duty to refrain from taking Amazon products. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in March. The Portal-To-Portal Act, which amended the FLSA in 1947, exempts employers from liability for activities that are “preliminary or postliminary” to a worker’s principal tasks.
The high court reversed the Ninth Circuit, finding — as the district court did — that the screenings fell into the category of “noncompensable postliminary activities.” The screenings don’t qualify as principal activities, Justice Thomas wrote, pointing out that Integrity didn’t employ workers to pass through security checks, but rather to retrieve products from shelves and package them for shipment to Amazon customers. The screenings also didn’t qualify as integral and indispensable to the warehouse workers’ duties, the opinion said, adding that the screenings could have been eliminated without compromising the employees’ ability to do their jobs.
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