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Iron Workers May Have Case for On-Site Showers

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit revived claims that an iron foundry owes workers for time spent showering and changing clothes, despite a lack of support in federal regulations.

Ryan DeKeyser and other employees of Thyssenkrup Waupaca's iron-casting foundries sued their employer for not paying them for time spent showing and changing clothes after their shifts.

While Waupaca's training materials allegedly recommend employees shower after work, they were not disciplined for failing to shower, and many of them left the foundry at the end of their shift without doing so.

In granting the company summary judgment, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Green Bay, Wis., noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had not mandated that foundry workers shower and change clothes on site.

A three-judge panel of the Chicago-based federal appeals court last week, however, that the plaintiffs should still have an opportunity to present evidence that their time is compensable under the Fair Labor Standard Act.

"We cannot, as the district court did, draw any negative inferences from the absence of an OSHA standard requiring Waupaca foundry workers to shower and change clothes onsite," wrote U.S. District Judge John Lee for the panel, sitting by designation from the Northern District of Illinois.

Griesbach had based his ruling on the determination that OSHA was better positioned than a jury to investigate health impacts due to hazardous material exposure at the foundry.

But the appellate panel said the court should have considered evidence from the plaintiffs that showering and changing clothes reduced health risks at Waupaca.

"Although we recognize that cases such as this may implicate very difficult and complex scientific issues (on which the parties, and their retained scientific experts, will often disagree), courts cannot avoid discovery or expert testimony simply because such discovery or testimony may be costly, time consuming, or difficult to understand," Lee wrote (parentheses in original). "Thus, the district court erred when it ignored the 'sharp dispute' in the evidence as to the health effects of chemical exposure at Waupaca's foundries and the impact, if any, that showering and changing clothes would have on Waupaca workers and granted summary judgment in the face of such factual disputes."

The court remanded the case for further discovery.

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