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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Theft Checks May Cost Amazon Staffing Agent

(CN) - Warehouse workers who filled Amazon orders do not face a conflict in pursuing class and collective claims over unpaid security checks, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, both of Nevada, worked in Las Vegas-area warehouses of Integrity Staffing Solutions where they filled orders for Amazon.com. Every day at quitting time, Integrity forced the workers to wait in a long line while each employee was thoroughly searched and walked through a metal detector.

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.

Busk and Castro filed a federal class action against Integrity in 2010, alleging that the unpaid security sweeps violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state law.

They also claimed that the company refused to pay them for their 30-minute lunches, 10 minutes of which they spent walking to and from a cafeteria and going through a security check.

Even at lunch managers allegedly harassed them to "finish their meal period quickly so that they would clock back in on time," the plaintiffs claimed, as it took about 10 minutes out of their lunchtime to do so.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt dismissed the case after finding that the plaintiffs had failed to state a valid claim for compensation. Hunt cited several out-of-circuit cases in finding that time spent going through security does not qualify for compensation under the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947.

Hunt also found that the state-law claims presented conflicting class certification mechanisms since plaintiffs must opt into a collective action under FLSA, plaintiffs must opt out of a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit partly reversed that ruling Friday, saying "such actions can peacefully coexist."

Turning to the merits, the panel also found no issue with the Portal-to-Portal Act, which 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."

This act contains an exception the act gives for such activities that are "integral and indispensable" to an employee's principal duties, according to the ruling.

"Here, Busk and Castro have alleged that Integrity requires the security screenings, which must be conducted at work," Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the panel. "They also allege that the screenings are intended to prevent employee theft - a plausible allegation since the employees apparently pass through the clearances only on their way out of work, not when they enter. As alleged, the security clearances are necessary to employees' primary work as warehouse employees and done for Integrity's benefit. Assuming, as we must, that these allegations are true, the plaintiffs have stated a plausible claim for relief."

The employees cannot claim, however, that their lunch breaks violated federal labor law, according to the ruling. The Fair Labor and Standards Act does not require employers to pay their workers for lunch breaks, and the plaintiffs failed to show that they were made to do work during their lunch breaks, according to the ruling.

"The relatively minimal time expended on the clearance in this context differs from the 25-minute delay alleged for employees passing through security at day's end," Thomas wrote.

State law may still provide relief for the workers, however, "Nevada Revised Statute § 608.140 does provide a private right of action to recoup unpaid wages."

"The plaintiffs raised for the first time on appeal their argument that Nevada defines 'work' differently than federal law, such that their lunch periods might be compensable under state law even if they were not compensable under federal law," Thomas wrote. "Because the district court has not considered this argument, we remand for it to do so in the first instance."

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