Published on:

California Supreme Court to Determine Whether Unpaid Wage Claim Against Starbucks is too Small to Pursue

A few minutes here and there spent getting ready for the day and closing up afterwards don’t seem like much, but for those who are earning minimum wage and have other obligations to attend to, those few minutes can add up to significant amounts of lost time, especially when they’re not getting paid for that time.

Decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court came up with what they call the de minimis doctrine when their ruling in a case determined that employers don’t have to defend themselves against wage and hour lawsuits that only deal with a few minutes of time here and there. But the de minimis doctrine only applies to federal laws and district courts all over the country have been trying to figure out the best way to apply it to their local labor laws, if it applies at all.

Recently, Starbucks invoked the de minimis doctrine after a former employee, Douglas T., sued the coffee giant for allegedly refusing to pay him for the time he spent performing tasks that were directly involved with closing up the store, including locking the doors and shutting down the store’s computer system. Douglas alleges he performed these tasks after clocking out for the day, which meant he was never paid for that time, even though they were work-related tasks and provided a direct benefit to his employer.

Douglas, who worked for the coffee chain between 2008 and 2010, estimates that, in that time frame, he spent almost 13 hours performing work off the clock. Given the minimum wage at the time, Douglas estimates his claim to be worth approximately $102.67.

After Douglas filed the wage and hour lawsuit, Starbucks had the case moved to federal court, then invoked the de minimis doctrine when it filed a motion requesting the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The district court ruled in Starbucks’s favor and dismissed the case and Douglas appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court. The federal court in turn sent the case to the California Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear arguments for the case.

Douglas is confident he will win his appeal because California’s labor laws are known for being some of the most worker-friendly employment laws in the country. They provide more benefits and protections than the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and yet California laws are still based on federal laws, including the FLSA, and follow many of the same guidelines. In legal disputes such as the one between Douglas and his former employer, it is the responsibility of state authorities to determine how much, if any, sway rules like the de minimis doctrine have over their local laws.

Other California courts and the federal Ninth Circuit Court, have previously ruled in favor of employers invoking the de minimis doctrine, so Douglas’s case may not be as cut and dried as he thinks. No matter which way the California Supreme Court rules, its decision is bound to have far-reaching consequences for employers and workers all over the state, so they had better sit up and pay attention.

The Chicago class action lawyers at the Chicago Overtime Law Center are investigating unpaid overtime claims by waiters and bus boys and other restaurant and hotel workers against national restaurant chains including Hilton, W, Marriott, Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Extended Stay America, Staybridge Suites, Best Western, HomeTown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Applebees, Chipotle, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel, Outback Steak House, Taco Bell, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and hotels for mis-classifying employees as managers or assistant managers, forcing employees to work off the clock at business, failing to share all tips, erasing or altering time sheets or time records, pressuring workers not to report or record overtime, and otherwise failing to pay workers for overtime and other wages. If you are the victim these wage theft practices call us at (312) 869-4095 or contact us online.

The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Oak Lawn and Naperville. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our Bollingbrook Berwyn and Des Plaines overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers mis-classify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.

The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have unpaid overtime and other employment right claims.