Federal judge rules against Apple workers who wanted overtime for bag checks

Anna Aguillard Dec. 3, 2015, 1:15pm


SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – In November, a California federal court judge granted summary judgment to Apple after employees sought overtime pay for time spent in bag checks.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup, of the Northern District of California, ruled that because employees could voluntarily choose whether to bring a bag to work, they could freely choose to avoid security checks.

The decision marks the second summary judgment granted favor of Apple in the suit, which alleged that Apple broke both FLSA rules and California labor code in denying employees pay for security checks.

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk denying employees overtime pay for time spent in security checks under FLSA regulations, Alsup followed its precedent.

Alsup granted summary judgment to Apple regarding the FLSA claims, leaving the plaintiffs' claims filed under California labor code.

Katherine Stone, Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Distinguished Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, explained to Legal Newsline that Alsup then had to decide whether the time spent in security checks actually constituted hours worked under California labor code.

California labor code, Stone said, uses two prongs to determine whether time counts as hours worked – whether the employee is subject to the control of the employer, and whether the employee is suffered or permitted to work.

Taking into consideration these two determining conditions, Alsup again sided with Apple. He found that because the employees could avoid exit security checks by simply not bringing a bag or purse to work, they were participating in security checks through their own “free choice.”

However, according to Stone, the court’s decision leaves space open for future lawsuits regarding security checks.

“This decision only deals with bag searches. The court places so much emphasis on the fact that people can choose not to bring a bag with them… but they don’t speak to the question of somebody who has some kind of disability, special need, or medical condition where they actually have to bring some type of medication in that requires a bag," she said.

Another possible future issue: pockets. 

“It’s not addressed at all,” Stone said. “Apple might be just as concerned about people walking out the door with an Apple device in their pocket, and neither the policy that [the court] promulgated nor the opinion would speak to the ability to search pockets.”

According to Stone, that would be a harder case for Apple to win. People have to carry things in their pockets, like keys, money and drivers licenses, thereby undermining the court’s emphasis on the “free choice” that employees possess in carrying a bag.

“This opinion would not really control that situation. It’s really just about optional bags that people bring in for their own personal convenience, and the court emphasizes that a couple of times," she said.

According to Stone, the narrow scope of this decision, coupled with the rising concern among employers regarding employee theft, makes this issue still a topic of interest.

“This could have some significance for other settings in the future, because more businesses may indeed want to do this,” Stone said.

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