Supreme Court denies petition for rehearing in Starbucks wage-and-hour case

By John Breslin | Sep 1, 2018

SACRAMENTO - The California Supreme Court has denied a petition from Starbucks for a rehearing after issuing an earlier opinion that state wage-and-hour laws do not include the federal "de minimis" doctrine.

The court modified slightly the wording of its July 26 opinion, but denied the rehearing petition in a case involving a shift supervisor who claimed he was not paid for regular off-the-clock work.

In its short ruling denying the petition, the Supreme Court stated, "We hold that the relevant California statutes and wage order have not incorporated the de minimis doctrine found in the FLSA."

The "de minimis" doctrine, in place for many decades and incorporated into the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, essentially states that employers do not have to pay for the small amount of time an employee spends on the premises after clocking out, usually calculated at anywhere between 10 or 15 minutes and less.

Douglas Troester, a shift supervisor who worked for the company for 17 months, sued for unpaid wages after clocking out. He had to activate the store alarm, lock the front door and walk workers to their cars, which took him an additional four to 10 minutes a shift, according to the lawsuit.

It was calculated he worked an extra 13 hours, with lost wages amounting to just over $100.

But the Supreme Court said, while the rule may inform state law, it is not applicable in California to regular work, however small the amount of time it takes, that "the relevant statutes and wage order do not allow employers to require employees to routinely work for minutes off the clock without compensation."

The justices did "leave open" the argument against wage claims for irregular and brief activities.

There are concerns that the Supreme Court ruling could lead to an uptick in class action claims. Indeed, within hours of the opinion being handed down, the case was cited in a motion that argued for class certification against retailers, H&M.

But defense lawyers Michael S. Kan and Kevin D. Phillips, of Epstein, Becker and Green, argued that while there may be an increase in class action lawsuits, the Supreme Court "rejected the application of the rule under the facts presented, it did not address a much larger question."

And that question, they argued in a post, is whether "highly individualized" arguments over small amounts of time could justify certification.

"And while Troester certainly suggests that employers in California will face an increased number of class actions alleging that certain insignificant amounts of time should have been compensated, plaintiffs’ difficulty in actually getting classes certified on such claims appears relatively unchanged," they wrote

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