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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Holds Onto Naval Officers’ Salary Dispute

(CN) - A federal judge will not dismiss a lawsuit brought by 20 Navy police officers who claim they should be paid for the time it takes to don and doff their uniforms and equipment.

Anthony Lesane and 19 other officers with the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) who patrol the headquarters in Suitland, Md., sued Navy Secretary Donald Winter in 2009 for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. They argued that the timely donning and doffing process is federally protected compensable work.

Finding that donning gear and firearms is an "integral and indispensable" part of protecting the naval center, the Washington, D.C., court refused to dismiss the claims.

U.S. District Judge John Bates did agree, however, that the officers cannot be compensated for changing into and out of uniform.

"The task of donning [a Navy]-approved uniform ... is not significantly different or more burdensome than putting on any other work-appropriate outfit, such as a business suit or a McDonald's uniform," the Dec. 30 decision states.

"The court therefore holds that because the ONI officers have the option to change into their uniforms at home, and because most officers indeed do so, donning the uniform is not integral and indispensable to their policing activities."

But the officers' weapons and gear are another matter. Navy regulation requires officers to "arm up" at the Naval Martime Intelligence Center, and it is unclear whether they have the option to don their gear at home.

Besides a flashlight and sometimes-required ballistics vest, Naval officers carry Sam Brown belts containing a radio case, pepper mace, a baton strap, a magazine pouch, handcuffs, a holster and a first responder's pouch.

"Given the bulk of the required equipment - as well as the obvious reasons that officers might prefer to keep items like pepper spray at work - it is not clear whether officers realistically have the 'option and ability' to don their gear at home," he wrote. "The nature of gear encourages, if it does not actually necessitate, changing at work."

Though the Navy does not dispute that weapons are integral and indispensable to the officers' tasks, it does claim that the time spent gearing up and disarming is miniscule.

There is reason to believe that this process takes about 10 minutes per shift, but Bates called for the parties to further develop the record so he can compute the time officers spend donning, walking, waiting and doffing.

"Because the Navy has not shown that time spent in integral and indispensable activities is de minimis, the court must deny its motion for summary judgment motion," he wrote. "Deciding whether the aggregate time spent in compensable activities is de minimis, however, often requires trials, stipulations, or experts. Here, as in those cases, more evidence is required to resolve this dispute."

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