Supreme Court To Hear FLSA Lawsuit Over What Constitutes 'Changing Clothes'

WASHINGTON, D.C.-(Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 19 agreed to hear the appeal of a class lawsuit over what constitutes "changing clothes" under Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (Clifton Sandifer, et al. v. United States Steel Corporation, No. 12-417, U.S. Sup.).

Donning And Doffing

Clifton Sandifer, an employee of United States Steel Corp., filed a class complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana against his employer on behalf of 800 former and current hourly workers. He alleged that U.S. Steel violated the FLSA by failing to compensate him and the class of employees for the time they spend putting on and taking off their work clothes and walking from the locker room to their work stations and back.

The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between U.S. Steel and the workers' union does not require compensation for that time. However, Sandifer argued that the FLSA does, in fact, require the compensation, so that overrides the CBA. Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. ruled that the FLSA does not require that the clothes changing time be compensated. However, he refused to dismiss the portion of the case seeking compensation for the travel time. U.S. Steel filed an interlocutory appeal. Sandifer cross-appealed.

The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the cross-appeal, finding that Sandifer did not seek leave to appeal. The appellate panel then, in a May 8 opinion, ruled that Sandifer's case had no merit and should be dismissed.

High Court Petition

Sandifer filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 10. He argues that the FLSA requires employees to be paid from the time they first engage in a principal activity. He claims that donning and doffing safety gear required by the employer is a principal activity "when it is an integral and indispensible part of the activities for which the worker is employed." However, under Section 203(o) of the FLSA, an employer doesn't need to compensate a worker for time spent "changing clothes" if that time is expressly excluded from compensable time under the CBA. Sandifer asked the high court to decide several questions, including what constitutes "changing clothes."

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal but limited it to the first question regarding the definition of "changing clothes" under Section 203(o).

Eric Schnapper of the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle represents the employees. Lawrence C. DiNardo and Brian J. Murray of Jones Day in Chicago represent U.S. Steel.

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