Thursday, July 26, 2018

California Supreme Court Delivers Workers a Victory in Troester v. Starbucks Corp.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME dealt a major blow to workers, and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court might mean more devastation will follow, California has once again claimed its position as a progressive counter to an oppressive federal agenda. The California Supreme Court’s ruling today in Troester v. Starbucks Corp. defends the interests of working people by ensuring greater protection for those who regularly perform small amounts of uncompensated work - which add up to valuable unpaid wages, over time.

The plaintiff, a Starbucks employee named Douglas Troester, has argued Starbucks owes him wages for the time he spent running end-of-day computer software, activating a building alarm, locking the door, and walking coworkers to their cars as required by company policy. All of these duties, alleges Troester, add up to four to ten additional minutes each shift. Over a seventeen-month period, Troester’s unpaid time totaled twelve hours and fifty minutes, adding up to $102.67 at the then-applicable minimum wage of $8 per hour.

Troester first filed his case in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but Starbucks removed the case to federal court, and the district court granted summary judgment for Starbucks based on the federal “de minimis” doctrine. First set forth in the 1946 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., the de minimis doctrine holds that employers need not compensate employees for small amounts of otherwise compensable time if the employer can show tracking that time is administratively difficult. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit recognized that although the de minimis doctrine applied to federal wage and hour law, the California Supreme Court had never addressed whether the doctrine applied to wage claims under California law. The California Supreme Court agreed to the Ninth Circuit’s request to answer specifically whether the doctrine applied to claims for unpaid wages under California Labor Code sections 510, 1194, and 1197. 

In today’s decision, the California Supreme Court first held that, based on a review of the relevant statutes and Industrial Wage Commission (“IWC”) Orders, California had not previously adopted the federal de minimis doctrine. The California Supreme Court, explains the decision, must interpret the Labor Code and IWC Orders liberally to best further their purposes. And, the Court held, California is free to offer greater protection to workers than federal regulations, which the state already has done, regarding, for example, on-call employees’ compensation for sleep and other personal activities (Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc., 60 Cal.4th 833 (2015)), the definition of “employ” (Martinez v. Combs, 49 Cal.4th 35 (2010)), and transportation time (Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th 575 (2000)).

Second, the Court held the relevant IWC Order and statute did not permit application of the de minimis doctrine to the particular facts of Troester’s case. For one, the Court explained, the modern availability of class actions undermines the rationale behind the de minimis rule for wage and hour actions. “The very premise” of wage and hour class actions, stated the Court, “is that small individual recoveries worthy of neither the plaintiff’s nor the court’s time can be aggregated to vindicate an important public policy.” The Court also found that the rationale behind the de minimis rule in Anderson is less relevant now because time-keeping technology has advanced far beyond what it was seventy years ago. The problems of recording employee time discussed in Anderson “may be cured or ameliorated by technological advances that enable employees to track and register their work time via smartphones, tablets, or other devices,” explained the Court. Although the Court found the de minimis doctrine did not apply to Troester’s case, it left open the possibility that certain circumstances may exist where compensable time is “so minute or irregular that it is unreasonable to expect the time to be recorded.”

The phrase “de minimis” comes from the longer maxim de minimis non curat lex, meaning “the law does not concern itself with trifles.” In this case, Starbucks argued the additional time Troester worked was insignificant. But while $102.67 may be insignificant to a multinational corporation, Justice Liu defended common sense and the dignity of working people in writing that $102.67 “is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries, or cover a month of bus fares. What Starbucks calls ‘de minimis’ is not de minimis at all to many ordinary people who work for hourly wages.” 

The lawsuit now returns to the Ninth Circuit, which will factor in the California Supreme Court’s decision when it rules on Troester’s case. We hope that fairness for working people will prevail, as it did today in our state’s high court.

If you believe your employer has violated wage and hour laws, contact Bryan Schwartz Law.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

There Is Always Hope, Even With The Kavanaugh Nomination

UPDATE (September 13, 2018): For a comprehensive review of the many reasons to oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, please read this statement from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

There is always hope.

Even when Brett Kavanaugh – who voted in favor of forcing a child to give birth in federal lockup against her will - is nominated to serve for an anticipated 30-40 years as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.


Even if this same man believes the President is above the law, meaning he or she can commit any crime he or she wants without anyone being able to do anything about it while the President is in office.

The reason for maintaining hope? As President Barack Obama noted in his farewell speech, it’s certainly not the Constitution alone, which is “just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own.”

There is hope because we resist. We give the Constitution “meaning with our participation and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms, whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that's up to us.”

In this spirit, this firm has come to you before to oppose what was then a threat to our constitutional system, poised to take root.  

We ask you to stand with us again because we no longer just face the prospect of a threat. Instead, we are in the midst of the most dangerous attack on our cherished rights since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Supreme Court wrongly decided that bakers working in nauseating, filthy conditions should have the “freedom” to work for less than minimum wage (in Lochner v. NY) (see also http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-us-supreme-court-exploits-first.html), when the Supreme Court endorsed “separate but equal” conditions that led millions of African-Americans to live under the oppression of Jim Crow laws for decades (in Plessy v. Ferguson), and when the Supreme Court gave its seal of approval to prison camps for Japanese-American citizens based solely upon their national origin (in Korematsu v. US; George Takei talks about his experience living through internment by his own government here).

If you believe in fair wages, equal dignity under the law, and women’s right to control their own bodies, then you should join one of these Strategic Resistance Groups:

  • Sister District Project: This organization seeks to flip state legislatures blue, a vital step in ensuring fair redistricting come 2020.
  • Swing Left: This organization seeks to flip U.S. Congress seats.
  • Flip the 14: This organization seeks to flip every single U.S. Congress seat up for grabs in California.
  • Working America: This organization canvasses flippable districts in California.
  • Local Indivisible groups: Indivisible is setting up a national phone bank this Sunday, July 15 to reach progressive voters in flippable senate districts so that Democrats can retake the Senate in November.
I know you are exhausted. We and our families, friends, and neighbors are too. But we cannot and must not forget, there is no one coming to save us. No one else will fix what has been broken nor protect what remains except you, me, and the people who will stand with us in this moment.

We are the ones we have been waiting for. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

Eduard Meleshinsky