De Minimis Defense Closes Shop on Starbucks Barista’s Off-the-Clock Claim in the Central District of California

On March 7, 2014, Judge Feess of the Central District of California granted Defendant Starbucks’ motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s proposed class claims for unpaid wages under the California Labor Code. Plaintiff alleged that Starbucks failed to pay him for the brief time he spent closing the store after he clocked out at the end of every closing shift. His alleged off-the-clock closing duties included closing out of the store’s computer system, activating the alarm, walking out of store, locking the door, walking employees to their cars and staying with co-workers when they waited for rides. He also occasionally moved the store’s patio furniture inside and reopened the store for an employee who forgot personal belonging in the store.

Starbucks moved for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiff’s alleged off-the-clock closing tasks were de minimis. Plaintiff argued that the de minimis doctrine was not a defense to wage claims under the California Labor Code. Citing case law and the DLSE Enforcement Manual, the Court held that the de minimis defense applied to California wage claims. Under the de minimis doctrine, alleged working time need not be paid if it is trivially small (typically up to 10 minutes). When applying the de minimis doctrine, the 9th Circuit directs courts to consider: (1) the practical administrative difficulty of recording the additional time; (2) the aggregate amount of compensable time; and (3) the regularity of the additional work. See Lindow v. United States, 738 F.2d 1057, 1063 (9th Cir. 1984).

On the undisputed facts, the Court determined that the first two factors of the Lindow test were met. Plaintiff generally spent less than four minutes on his closing duties, and nearly always less than 10 minutes. Further, the administrative difficulty of recording the additional time using Starbuck’s timekeeping system favored applying the de minimis doctrine. It was not feasible for Plaintiff to clock out using Starbucks’ timekeeping system after setting the alarm, walking to and locking the door, walking co-workers to their cars, etc. Because the first two factors were met, the Court applied the de minimis defense even though Plaintiff alleged uncompensated off-the-clock work for every closing shift he worked.

The Court concluded by explaining: “The brief moments that Plaintiff spent in and around the store after clocking out are an inevitable and incidental part of closing up any store at the end of business hours. There will always be some unaccounted-for seconds… But not every second can be or need be recorded and compensated.”

This opinion will be helpful to employers seeking to assert the de minimis defense to off-the-clock claims, particularly given the rise in bag check cases. The case is Douglas Troester v. Starbucks Corp. et al, Case No. CV 12-7677 GAF (PJWx) and a copy of the order granting summary judgment can be found here.

 


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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