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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Amazon Staffing Agent Wins Big in High Court

WASHINGTON (CN) - Warehouse workers who filled Amazon orders do not deserve payment for time spent undergoing security checks, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro hoped to represent a class in the federal complaint they brought against Integrity Staffing Solutions in 2010.

Both worked in Integrity's Las Vegas-area warehouses where they filled orders for Amazon.com. Every day at quitting time, Integrity forced the workers to wait in a long line to undergo a thorough search and metal-detector scan.

Integrity said that the searches were necessary to cut down on employee theft. The checks could take nearly half an hour at the end of the working day and the employees were not paid for the time. Employees also were not paid for 30-minute lunches, 10 minutes of which include walking to and from a cafeteria and going through a security check.

Though Busk and Castro claimed that the unpaid security sweeps violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt found that the plaintiffs failed to state a valid claim for compensation.

Though the Portal-to-Portal Act amended FLSA to generally preclude compensation for activities that are "preliminary" or "postliminary" to the "principal activity or activities" that the employee "is employed to perform," the 9th Circuit found last year that Integrity's screenings may be compensable.

Integrity petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, winning a unanimous and summary reversal on Tuesday.

The security screenings at issue here are noncompensa­ble postliminary activities. To begin with, the screeningswere not the "principal activity or activities which [the] employee is employed to perform." 29 U. S. C. §254(a)(1).Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergosecurity screenings, but to retrieve products from ware­house shelves and package those products for shipment toAmazon customers.

"The security screenings also were not 'integral and indispensable' to the employees' duties as warehouse workers," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.

The decision continues that "an activity is not integral and indispensable to an employee's principal activities unless it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform those activities."

"The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment," Thomas added. "And Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees' ability to complete their work."

Justice Elena Kagan joined Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a brief concurring opinion.

"As both Department of Labor regulations and our precedent make clear, an activity is 'indispensable' to another, principal activity only when an employee could not dispense with it without impairing his ability to perform the principal activity safely and effectively," Sotomayor wrote. "Thus, although a battery plant worker might, for example, perform his principal activities without donning proper protective gear, he could not do so safely; likewise, a butcher might be able to cut meat without having sharpened his knives, but he could not do so effectively. Here, by contrast, the security screenings were not 'integral and indispensable' to the employees' other principal activities in this sense. The screenings may, as the Ninth Circuit observed below, have been in some way related to the work that the employees performed in the warehouse, but the employ­ees could skip the screenings altogether without the safety or effectiveness of their principal activities being substan­tially impaired."

Sotomayor also agreed that Integrity's searches qualified as "preliminary or postliminary" activities rather than principal.

"The searches were part of the process by which the employees egressed their place of work, akin to checking in and out and waiting inline to do so - activities that Congress clearly deemed to be preliminary or postlimininary," she wrote.

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