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Attorneys Spar in Apple Bag Checks Hearing

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Attorneys for Apple asked a federal judge Wednesday to reject class action claims that the company has to pay employees for time spent getting their bags checked after work.

Lead plaintiff Amanda Frlekin sued Apple in 2013, claiming the tech giant violated labor laws by not compensating employees for time spent undergoing theft-prevention bag screenings.

In July, U.S. District Judge William Alsup certified a potential class of more than 12,000 former and current Apple employees in California but voided claims in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio.

On Wednesday, attorneys stood before Alsup for more than an hour debating the merits of Apple's motion for summary judgment.

Apple attorney Julie Dunne argued the bag checks are not a required activity because the screenings only apply to employees who choose to bring bags or personal Apple products to work.

"Bringing the bag is purely voluntary and is for personal convenience," Dunne told the judge.

Dunne pointed to a slew of court rulings that found employees are not entitled to wages for time spent taking advantage of optional benefits, such as riding in a company-owned commuter bus to work or submitting to health screenings as part of an employer-sponsored health plan.

"You can't tell an employee how to spend their time without compensating them for it," Lee Shalov, attorney for the workers, said. "Apple wants to attach conditions on how you come to work."

Shalov said every factor that courts must consider when deciding if an activity constitutes compensable time under California law applies to Apple's bag checks. Those factors include whether the activity is required, benefits the employer, confines employees to a single space, and subjects employees to discipline for non-compliance.

"People don't leave the store at the end of their shift and say, 'let's do something fun and for our convenience,'" Shalov said. "They go through getting their bags checked."

Shalov asked Alsup not to get distracted by Apple's arguments that the bag screenings arise from a voluntary choice by employees. He said the real question must focus on the activity itself, not the events giving rise to the activity.

"If you accept Apple's argument, you can say anyone that wears a red hat has to stay after work and clean the bathrooms," he said. "They can say we don't require you to wear hats."

Dunne countered by arguing that the employees are not performing a duty as part of their jobs when they undergo bag screenings, adding the security checks are simply a consequence of an optional benefit the employees choose to take advantage of.

She pointed to a 2000 California Supreme Court case, Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., which found that farm workers who were required to take buses from a parking lot to fields where they worked should be paid for time spent on those buses because they were not given a choice to take any other means of transportation to the fields.

How this case differs, Dunne argued, is that Apple employees do have a choice. They can leave their bags at home or in their cars and avoid the bag screening process.

"When you're not working, you're not entitled to wages," she said. "If they've finished their day of work, clocked out and are walking out of the store, you can call that the start of the commute."

A 2009 Central California federal court ruling, Cervantes v. Celestica Corp., found that a company that required all employees to undergo security checks must pay them for their time.

However, Alsup said the plaintiffs did not point to a single decision that addressed whether employees are entitled to compensation for security checks that are triggered by their own decisions.

Dunne argued this case is no different from other optional benefit cases, where employees were not entitled to wages for taking advantage of certain benefits.

Shalov rejected the notion that bringing a bag to work equates to an optional benefit.

"This is not a convenience to the employees," he said. "It's not a convenience to have to find a locker, or leave my bag at home or in the car because if I bring it, I have to go through an uncompensated bag check. This is all about what's for Apple's benefit."

In her closing remarks, Dunne called claims that Apple is "forcing employees to leave their bags at home" false.

"It might be far less convenient to leave it at home, but that's their choice," she said.

After about an hour and 15 minutes of debate, Alsup ended the hearing and said he would take the arguments under consideration.

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