December 09, 2014

Supreme Court Decides Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk

On December 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, No. 13-433, holding that an employee's time spent waiting to undergo and undergoing security screening before leaving the workplace is not an integral and indispensable part of the employee's principal activities, and therefore is not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Portal-to-Portal Act.  

Integrity Staffing Solutions provides warehouse staffing to Amazon.com. Its hourly employees retrieve products from the warehouse shelves and package them for delivery to Amazon customers. To prevent theft, Integrity requires its employees to undergo security screening before leaving the warehouse each day. Two employees, on behalf of a putative class, claimed that the time spent waiting for and undergoing those security screenings — roughly 25 minutes each day — is compensable under FLSA. They alleged that the screening time could have been reduced to a de minimis amount by adding more security screeners or by stagger­ing the termination of shifts so that employees could flow through the checkpoint more quickly. They also alleged that the screenings were conducted "to prevent employee theft" and thus occurred "solely for the benefit of the em­ployers and their customers."

The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the security screenings were necessary to the principal work performed and done for the benefit of the employer, and thus were integral and indispensable to the employee's principal activities and therefore compensable under the FLSA.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Court focused on the Portal-to-Portal Act, which exempted employers from liability under FLSA for "activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to [the] principal activity or activities" that an employee is employed to perform. 29 U.S.C. § 254(a). The Court then held that the phrase "principal activity or activities" means all activities that are an "integral and indispensable part of" the employee's principal activities. And an activity is "integral and indispensable" only if it is "an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities." The Court concluded that the security screenings at issue were not the "principal activity or activities which the employee is employed to perform," as the employees were hired to retrieve products and package them for shipment to customers. And the security screenings were not "integral and indispensable" to the employees' duties as warehouse workers because they could have been eliminated altogether without impairing the employees' ability to do their work. Thus, time spent in security screenings fell within the Portal-to-Portal Act's exemption, and was not compensable under the FLSA. The Court remarked that the Ninth Circuit erred by focusing simply on whether the employer requires the activities at issue.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Kagan joined.

Download Opinion of the Court  

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