Amazon suit over unpaid time at security checkpoints can go forward, court rules – Daily News

on Oct9
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A lawsuit accusing Amazon of cheating warehouse workers by not paying them while they go through security checks — a case considered dead after a U.S. Supreme Court decision almost five years ago — can now proceed in a state court.

The Supreme Court on Monday, the first day of its fall session, rejected an appeal by Amazon to throw out a lawsuit filed in a Nevada court by some of the same plaintiffs. Amazon had sought to overturn a lower federal court ruling that kept the case alive.

Monday’s ruling reiterates that, even with a Supreme Court decision, the federal government does not have the right to tell a state how it defines what is considered work.

The decision enforces some of the protections states such as California have put in place to protect workers’ rights, advocates say. Amazon operates 16 fulfillment centers in the Inland Empire, employing more than 20,000 people there.

Sheheryar Kaoosji, director of the Ontario-based worker advocacy group Warehouse Worker Resource Center, said Monday’s decision was encouraging evidence that worker protections are safe. The warehouse industry has been disciplined by the courts and state regulatory agencies numerous times in the last 10 years.

“Generally in California, we have strong employment laws, and the federal government doesn’t have the right to lower the state’s standards,” Kaoosji said.

The original case was filed in federal court in 2010 by a group of workers at a Nevada fulfillment center and was centered on Amazon’s strict control of possible employee theft. The company searched every worker leaving the premises at the end of their shifts.

These workers had already clocked out for the day. Because there were hundreds of workers on each shift, they typically waited in line for about 25 minutes to be screened. The suit claimed that if they were following company policy during that time by remaining in the building they should be paid for that time.

The case eventually worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In December 2014, the court ruled unanimously in favor of Amazon, saying in effect that waiting in a line did not formally constitute work. 

Kaoosji said that Amazon almost 10 years ago had a similar policy for security clearance in California and settled a lawsuit covering it. They have since been paying workers who spend extra time waiting to be checked.

Four plaintiffs eventually filed a case in Nevada state court, which was challenged by Amazon based on the federal ruling. The 6th District of the U.S. Circuit  Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 margin, denied Amazon’s appeal.

Integrity Staffing Solutions, which fills some temporary positions for Amazon, is a co-defendant in the suit and joined Amazon in the effort to have it thrown out. The case could eventually become a class action.

Amazon did not reply to an emailed request for comment on Monday’s decision.

Amber Healy, a partner with the Cerritos-based law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo, agreed that California’s labor codes are much more protective, but even with that enforcement, Monday’s decision could lead to more litigation.

Healy, who practices employment law, cited a 2018 decision by the California Supreme Court that ordered Starbucks to compensate a supervisor for his last-minute, off-the-cleck work before he locked up the store for the night. Those duties usually took about 10 minutes or less.

“We already have a broadening by the California Supreme Court about what’s compensable, and we’ve heard multiple people mention they’re looking into warehouse claims,” Healy said. “Definitely companies are more mindful of this now.”

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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