Showing posts with label supreme court. Show all posts
Showing posts with label supreme court. Show all posts

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Supreme Court eases path for employees to sue employers for discriminatory job transfers

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that an employee alleging a discriminatory job transfer need not show the suffering of a "materially significant" disadvantage. Instead, the employee need only show "some injury respecting her employment terms or conditions."

The case involved a police sergeant forced to transfer out of her position in the department's intelligence division. The employer claimed that she could not establish a Title VII volitation because the transfer did not result in a diminution of her pay. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

SCOTUS decides whether Title VII’s charge-filing precondition to suit is jurisdictional or non-jurisdictional

If the U.S. Supreme Court decided an employment case, I’m contractually obligated to blog about it. Yet, Ford Bend County, Texas v. Davis, which it decided earlier this week, is of little practical import.

To file a private employment discrimination lawsuit under one of the federal employment discrimination statutes, a plaintiff must first exhaust his or her remedies by filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

What happens, however, if the employee skips over the EEOC and proceeds straight to court? Does that court even have jurisdiction over the claim, or is the omitted EEOC filing merely an affirmative defense for an employer to raise in seeking dismissal of the lawsuit?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sexual harassment allegations unjustifiably ruin people's lives only if they are false

Yesterday, The Washington Post published Christine Blasey Ford's decades old allegations of sexual abuse she claims to have suffered at the hand of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee. You can read the full letter here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court Justice?

The pick is in. Brett Kavanaugh is President Trump's nominee to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

What type of Justice will Kavanaugh be? No one really knows for sure. All we can do is read his past appellate opinions, and hypothesize.

The opinion I'm offering for your consideration is Ayissi-Etoh v. Fannie Mae, a 2013 racial harassment case that asked the question of whether one isolated yet severe incident of discriminatory conduct — "Get out of my office n***er" — can suffice to establish a hostile work environment.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

SCOTUS decision on class action waivers is not the epic win for employers it may seem to be

Yesterday, in a narrow, 5-4 partisan decision, the Supreme Court issued its most anticipated employment decision of its current term, Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis [pdf]. The Court reconciled six years of debate between split federal circuits into a unified standard that permits the waiver of class actions via the compelled individual arbitration of employment disputes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Supreme Court puts the breaks on the narrow constructions of FLSA exemptions

Photo by Coolcaesar (Own work),
via Wikimedia Commons
Yesterday, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that automobile service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements.

The exemption applies to “salesmen … primarily engaged in … servicing automobiles.” The majority broadly defined these terms to hold that the plaintiffs were exempt.

And while this aspect of the decision is interesting to automobile repair shops and car dealerships, it's the opinion’s broader implications that are more interesting to me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

SCOTUS takes largely meaningless swipe at Obama’s NLRB legacy

Lafe Solomon
There is little doubt that under President Obama, the NLRB reinvented itself into an agency about which all employers must pay attention. One can trace much of this reinvention back to Lafe Solomon (a man with whom I once shared an NRP microphone), the NLRB’s acting general counsel from June 2010 through October 2013.

Yesterday, however, in NLRB v. SW General, Inc. [pdf], the Supreme Court held that Mr. Solomon’s tenure from January 5, 2011, through October 29, 2013, was unlawful, as it violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA).

Monday, January 16, 2017

SCOTUS to review NLRB ban on class-action waivers

One of the biggest issues on the NLRB’s hit list over the past few years has been class-action waivers. In D.R. Horton, a 3-2 majority of the Board held that an arbitration agreement which requires employees to waive their right to collectively pursue employment-related claims in all forums (i.e., by giving up their right to file or join class or collective actions) violates employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in protected concerted activity. This issue is significant, as employers seek to use class-action waivers to combat the plague of wage-and-hour lawsuits.

In the four years since D.R. Horton, the NLRB has invalided hundreds of class-action waivers. On appeal, however, not all federal circuit courts have been kind to D.R. Horton. The 5th Circuit overturned D.R. Horton itself, while other circuits have sided with the NLRB on this important issue.

Now, the Supreme Court is poised to have the final say.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#SCOTUS extends time limits for constructive discharge claims

Yesterday, in Green v. Brennan [pdf] (background here), the Supreme Court considered when the statute of limitations begins to run for a constructive discharge claim—when the employee resigns or at the time of an employer’s last allegedly discriminatory act allegedly causing the resignation.

Monday, February 15, 2016


I was on my way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to watch my daughter perform at the High School Rock Off when my phone started going nuts with updates, letting me know that Justice Antonin Scalia had unexpectedly passed away. Everyone will not agree on his legal and constitutional interpretations, but everyone universally agrees that without him, Supreme Court oral arguments will be much less interesting, and Supreme Court opinions will be a whole lot more boring. I cannot remember a Supreme Court without his sharp wit and styling prose, which cannot be replaced.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An injury without an injury — part 2? #SCOTUS and collective wage/hour violations

Can a plaintiff support a collective lawsuit if some of the individuals in the purported class have not suffered any harm? The Supreme Court took up this question during yesterday’s oral argument in Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, a case that will go a long way to deciding the continued viability of class or collective actions to decide wage and hour lawsuits.

The underlying legal issue is a familiar one: donning and doffing (that is, compensation for time spent putting on, and taking off, protective gear). This case also carries forward themes from 2011’s Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes decision (which opined on the non-viability of a nationwide class action in which the class members lacked common harm), and last week’s Spokeo v. Robins oral argument (which will decide if a plaintiff has standing to bring a lawsuit for a technical violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act if the individual suffered no resulting concrete harm).

So, what is Bouaphakeo all about?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An injury without an injury? #SCOTUS, standing, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins. This case should answer a very important question for employers: Does a plaintiff have standing to bring a lawsuit for a technical violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act if the individual suffered no resulting concrete harm? The implications of this case are huge.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

#SCOTUS requires employers to stereotype in ruling for EEOC in hijab-accommodation case

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an employer violates Title VII’s religious accommodation requirements if the need for an accommodation was a “motivating factor” in its decision, regardless of whether the employer had actual knowledge of the religious practice or its need to be accommodated.

The case, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores [pdf], is an unambiguous win for religious freedoms, while, at the same time, places an added burden on employers to make educated guesses about applicants’ and employees’ potential needs for workplace religious accommodations.

Abercrombie involved a conflict between a hijab-wearing Muslim job applicant and the employer’s “look policy.” The unusually terse seven-page opinion (of which only a little more than three was dedicated to actual legal analysis) focused on the difference between motive and knowledge in explaining its holding:
Motive and knowledge are separate concepts. An employer who has actual knowledge of the need for an accommodation does not violate Title VII by refusing to hire an applicant if avoiding that accommodation is not his motive. Conversely, an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation may violate Title VII even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.…
For example, suppose that an employer thinks (though he does not know for certain) that a job applicant may be an orthodox Jew who will observe the Sabbath, and thus be unable to work on Saturdays. If the applicant actually requires an accommodation of that religious practice, and the employer’s desire to avoid the prospective accommodation is a motivating factor in his decision, the employer violates Title VII. 
So, if knowledge is irrelevant, what is an employer to when faced with one’s potential need for a religious accommodation? More the point, isn’t an employer faced with having to make educated guesses (based on stereotypes such as how one looks or what one wears) of the need for an accommodation? Title VII is supposed to eliminate stereotypes from the workplace, not premise the need for an accommodation on their use. And that’s my biggest critique of this opinion—it forces an employer into the unenviable position of applying stereotypes to make educated guesses.

Nevertheless, employers are stuck with the Abercrombie “motivating factor” rule as the rule for religious accommodations moving forward. Thus, let me offer a simple suggestion on how to address this issue in your workplace—talk it out. Consider using the following three-pronged approached to ACE religious-accommodation issues in your workplace.
  • Ask: Even if an employee comes to a job interview wearing a hijab, it’s still not advisable to flat-out ask about his or her religion. Nevertheless, if you believe an applicant’s or employee’s religion might interfere with an essential function of the job, explain the essential functions and ask if the employee needs an accommodation. 
  • Communicate: If the individual needs an accommodation, engage in the interactive process. Have a conversation with the applicant or employee. Explain your neutral policy for which an exception will have to be made. Talk through possible accommodations, and decide which accommodation, if any, is appropriate for your business and for the individual.
  • Educate: Do you have written policy on religious accommodation? Of course, merely having a policy is never enough. You must communicate it to your employees, explain its meaning and operation, and enforce it when necessary.
This decision is a potential game-changer for employers. Make sure you understand the implications of Abercrombie, so that you are as accommodating as the law requires.

Image courtesy of Jeffrey Weston’s Ape, Not Monkey

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Supreme Court ruling on EEOC conciliation obligations is a Pyrrhic victory for employers

One question that employers always ask upon receipt of an EEOC charge of discrimination is, “How does this process work?” After the EEOC concludes its investigation, it has two basic options. It can conclude that no reasonable cause exists that the employer violated Title VII and dismiss the charge (leaving the employee to file his or her own lawsuit in federal court within 90 days), or conclude that reasonable cause does exist (again leaving the employee to file his or her own lawsuit, or instituting a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf).

Before the EEOC can file its own discrimination lawsuit against an employer, Title VII requires that the agency “endeavor to eliminate [the] alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation, and persuasion.” What happens, however, if the EEOC fails to conciliate? What is scope of the EEOC’s conciliation obligation? And does a failure act as a bar to any subsequent lawsuit filed by the EEOC?

These were the question the Supreme Court considered in Mach Mining, LLC v. EEOC [pdf]. This is what the Court unanimously concluded:

  1. Courts have authority to review whether the EEOC has fulfilled its Title VII duty to attempt conciliation.

  2. The statute only requires the EEOC to notify the employer of the claim and give the employer an opportunity to discuss the matter. Such notice must describe what the employer has done and identify the employees (or class of employees) that have suffered. The EEOC then must try to engage the employer in a discussion to provide the employer a chance to remedy the allegedly discriminatory practice. Title VII does not, however, require a good-faith negotiation.

  3. The appropriate scope of judicial review of the EEOC’s conciliation activities is narrow, enforcing only the EEOC’s statutory obligation to give the employer notice and an opportunity to achieve voluntary compliance. A sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed these obligations should suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement.

  4. Should a court conclude (based on “concrete evidence” presented by the employer) that the EEOC did not provide the employer the requisite information about the charge or attempt to engage in a discussion about conciliating the claim, the appropriate remedy is to stay the proceedings and issue an order requiring the EEOC to undertake the mandated conciliation efforts. Dismissal of the lawsuit is not warranted in these circumstances.

Technically speaking, you can chalk this case up as a victory for employers, albeit a narrow one. The Supreme Court refused to hold that Title VII imposes a duty on the EEOC to negotiation in good faith, and that the agency satisfies its obligation to conciliate merely by providing notice and an opportunity to discuss. Moreover, a failure to conciliate doesn’t serve as a jurisdictional bar to litigation, but merely results in the EEOC being told to “try again, this time with meaning.”

If nothing else, this case sends a strong message that courts favor resolution, not litigation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Supreme Court to consider time limits for constructive discharge claims

Yesterday, the Supreme Court finished its Spring 2015 term with oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex-marriage case. Earlier in the week, it added another case to its docket for its 2015 – 2016 term, agreeing to hear Green v. Donahoe, which asks the following question:

Under federal employment discrimination law, does the filing period for a constructive discharge claim begin to run when an employee resigns, as five circuits have held, or at the time of an employer’s last allegedly discriminatory act giving rise to the resignation, as three other circuits have held?

While this case is not as sexy as some other employment issues recently before the Court, it is nevertheless important. Under the federal employment discrimination statutes, an employee only has 300 days to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, which serves as the prerequisite to the filing of a later lawsuit in federal court. If the Supreme Court holds that the filing period begins to run at the employer’s last allegedly discriminatory act, then an employee who later resigns and claims constructive discharge will have a shorter window within which to file an administrative charge after the resignation.

Stay tuned, as this case will be heard towards the end of this year or early next year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BREAKING: McDonnell Douglas lives! #SCOTUS applies decades-old test to pregnancy accommodation claims

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of its most anticipated employment-law rulings of this term, in Young v. United Parcel Service [pdf]. The case asked under what circumstances an employer must provide a workplace accommodation to a pregnant employee.

In its ruling, the court rejected the positions offered by both the employer and the employee.

  • UPS argued that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires courts to compare the accommodations an employer provides to pregnant women with the accommodations it provides to others within a facially neutral category (such as those with off-the-job injuries) to determine whether the employer has violated Title VII. The Court rejected this argument as too narrow of a reading of the statute.
  • Young argued that the PDA requires an employer to provide the same accommodations to workplace disabilities caused by pregnancy that it provides to workplace disabilities that have other causes but have a similar effect on the ability to work. The Court rejected this argument because the PDA, on its face, does not grant pregnant workers an unconditional “most-favored-nation” status.

Instead, the Court crafted its own interpretation by applying a modified McDonnell Douglas analysis to pregnancy accommodation claims:

Thus, a plaintiff alleging that the denial of an accommodation constituted disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s second clause may make out a prima facie case by showing, as in McDonnell Douglas, that she belongs to the protected class, that she sought accommodation, that the employer did not accommodate her, and that the employer did accommodate others “similar in their ability or inability to work.”

The employer may then seek to justify its refusal to accommodate the plaintiff by relying on “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons for denying her accommodation. But, consistent with the Act’s basic objective, that reason normally cannot consist simply of a claim that it is more expensive or less convenient to add pregnant women to the category of those (“similar in their ability or inability to work”) whom the employer accommodates….

If the employer offers an apparently “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reason for its actions, the plaintiff may in turn show that the employer’s proffered reasons are in fact pretextual. We believe that the plaintiff may reach a jury on this issue by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers, and that the employer’s “legitimate, nondiscriminatory” reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden, but rather—when considered along with the burden imposed—give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.

The plaintiff can create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a significant burden exists by providing evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers. Here, for example, if the facts are as Young says they are, she can show that UPS accommodates most nonpregnant employees with lifting limitations while categorically failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations. Young might also add that the fact that UPS has multiple policies that accommodate nonpregnant employees with lifting restrictions suggests that its reasons for failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting restrictions are not sufficiently strong—to the point that a jury could find that its reasons for failing to accommodate pregnant employees give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.

What’s the problem with this decision? As Justice Scalia astutely and correctly points out in his dissent, by permitting a pregnant worker to establish pretext by demonstrating a disadvantage presented by the application of a facially neutral work rule, the majority’s opinion allows one to establish intentional disparate treatment by demonstrating a disparate impact. What does this mean for employers? It means that employers must analyze the impact of work rules on pregnant workers and accommodate accordingly. Thus, in application, the majority’s rule grants pregnant workers the unconditional “most-favored-nation” status that the majority says it was rejecting.

My practical take for handling pregnant workers remains unchanged. Unless you can unequivocally demonstrate that you’ve never provided an accommodation to a disabled worker, you should be prepared to offer the same to your pregnant workers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reading the #SCOTUS tea leaves: headscarves, religious accommodations, and Abercrombie

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. (transcript here [pdf]), which will hopefully determine the circumstances under which an employer must, as a religious accommodation, grant an exception to its “Look Policy” for a hijab-wearing job applicant. More broadly, employers hold out hope for some more generalized guidance on what they should do when a corporate policy conflicts with an employee’s sincerely held religious belief.

What an interesting argument. The Justices seemed very skeptical of requiring employees to raise the issue of a reasonable accommodation in a job interview, and instead suggested that the burden should fall on an employer to bring up the issue. For example, Justice Kagan asked:

You’re essentially saying that the problem with the rule is that it requires Abercrombie to engage in what might be thought of as an awkward conversation…. But the alternative to that rule is a rule where Abercrombie just gets to say, “We’re going to stereotype people and prevent them from getting jobs. We’ll never have the awkward conversation because we’re just going to cut these people out.”

The criticism of the employer, however, was not limited to the Court’s left wing. Justice Alito also seems skeptical that an employer can simply ignore an obvious potential need for an accommodation simply by denying employment.

All right.  Let’s say …­­ four people show up for a job interview at Abercrombie…. So the first is a Sikh man wearing a turban, the second is a Hasidic man wearing a hat, the third is a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, the fourth is a Catholic nun in a habit. Now, do you think … that those people have to say, we just want to tell you, we’re dressed this way for a religious reason. We’re not just trying to make a fashion statement….

I want to know the answer to the question whether the employee has to say, I’m wearing this for a religious reason, or whether you’re willing to admit that there are at least some circumstances in which the employer is charged with that knowledge based on what the employer observes.

Justice Alito then offered a very practical solution:

Well, couldn’t the employer say, we have a policy no beards, or whatever, do you have any problem with that?

Reading the tea leaves, I predict another employee-side victory from this conservative-majority court. If we are assigning burdens, it seems to me that the Court thinks it makes sense to place the burden on the party with more information (the employer) to explain the job requirements to determine if a potentially obvious religious belief conflicts. Otherwise, you are requiring the employee to guess at whether an accommodation is needed at all.

Stay tuned. This will be a very interesting opinion to read when it is released later this year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#SCOTUS unanimously holds that post-work security checks are unpaid

Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk asks the question of whether the FLSA entitles hourly employees to be paid for post-shift time spent undergoing mandatory security screenings. The case was brought by two employees of a warehousing company with employee theft issues. To combat the problem, the company implemented mandatory (and time consuming, but unpaid) post-shift security checks.

When I wrote about this case following oral argument, I commented that “I would be surprised … if the employees walk away with a win. This case will hinge on whether the security screenings are key to the nature of the employment…. [T]he employer has the better of this agreement.”

I love it when I’m right.

Yesterday, the Court handed employers a unanimous victory (opinion [pdf] here):

The security screenings at issue here are noncompensable postliminary activities. To begin with, the screenings were not the “principal activity or activities which [the] employee is employed to perform.” Integrity Staffing did not employ its workers to undergo security screenings, but to retrieve products from warehouse shelves and package those products for shipment to Amazon customers.

The security screenings also were not “integral and indispensable” to the employees’ duties as warehouse workers…. The screenings were not an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment. And Integrity Staffing could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.

Shortly after the Court delivered its opinion, I read the following tweet:

While I understand that employee advocates are trying to make a point by using the phrase, “wage theft,” their continued use of this misnomer does their cause a disservice. It is not wage theft if a court concludes that time is not compensable. In fact, it’s the opposite of wage theft. Labeling every instance that an employer does not pay an employee as “wage theft” waters down the plight of the minimum-wage worker (which, I understand, is the point of labor’s wage-and-hour efforts). If you want us to take you seriously, you can’t cry thief every time you see an employer carrying a stack of pay envelopes.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Reading the #SCOTUS tea leaves: Young v. UPS and pregnancy accommodations

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Young v. UPS, which will decide whether Title VII requires an employer to accommodate pregnant workers the same as non-pregnant workers similar in their inability to work.

UPS required Peggy Young to be able to lift up to 70 pounds as part of her job as a package delivery driver. After she became pregnant, her doctor limited her lifting. Ms. Young requested that UPS move her to a light duty assignment. UPS’s collective bargaining agreement allowed an employee to work a light duty assignment only because of an “on-the job” injury or when “disabled” under the ADA. Because Ms. Young did not meet either of these categories UPS denied her request.

Ms. Young’s lawsuit argued that UPS violated Title VII because the Pregnancy Discrimination Act required UPS to provide her with a “reasonable accommodation” to the same degree it accommodated a disabled employee. The 4th Circuit disagreed, finding that UPS’s policies did not treat pregnant workers less favorably, but the same as any other worker who did not meet the specific requirements for light duty under the CBA. 

The case may hinge on where the justices fall on the right comparator for UPS’s pregnant workers. Is it those employees who are ADA-disabled or otherwise injured on-the-job, whom UPS accommodates, or those non-ADA employees injured off-the-job, whom UPS does not accommodate.

As one would expect, the Justices appear to be split down ideological (maybe gender) lines, and, as is often the case, Justice Kennedy may be the key that will unlock this issue. He, however, was relatively quiet during the argument, only asking a handful of questions, which failed to shed any light on his thought process. Truth be told, it was a very curious argument, and the case, at least based on the Justice’s queries, is not easily predictable.

I am hopeful that the court will side with working parents and rule in favor of the employee in this case. A ruling for UPS would, I fear, promote the unequal treatment of pregnant workers, which is anathema to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. No employer should be allowed to act as if it is exempt from the law.

A PDF of the compete oral argument transcript is available here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Are post-work security checks compensable? #SCOTUS and Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in its first employment law case of this term, Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk.

To wage-and-hour geeks (like me), this case presents an interesting issue under the Fair Labor Standards Act: whether the FLSA entitles hourly employees to be paid for post-shift time spent undergoing mandatory security screenings. The case was brought by two employees of a warehousing company that was having employee theft problems. To combat the issue, the company implemented mandatory (and unpaid) post-shift security checks, which included passing through metal detectors, which kept employees at the plant for up to 30 extra minutes.

FLSA, as amended by the Portal-to-Portal Act, generally precludes compensation for “preliminary” (pre-shift) and “postliminary” (post-shift) activities, unless the activities are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities. To be “integral and indispensable,” an activity must be (1) “necessary to the principal work performed” and (2) “done for the benefit of the employer.”

In this case, the 9th Circuit held that the security screenings were “integral and indispensible” because the company required them “to prevent employee theft, a concern that stems from the nature of the employees’ work.” In so ruling, the court distinguished cases involving non-compensable pre- and post-shift screenings at airports and nuclear power plants, which did not benefit the employer because they were otherwise mandate by federal law.

In its brief, the employer argued that the screenings take place away from the work area after the workday, and did not affect their work activity of pulling product off shelves. The employer also argued that the unpaid screenings are no different than unpaid time walking from their cars, through the parking lot, and into the warehouse. Contrarily, the employees argued that the employer’s required security screenings, for which the employees had no choice, triggered a legal duty to pay.

During oral argument (transcript) the conservative wing of the Court seemed to advocate for a narrow interpretation of “principal.”

Chief Justice Roberts: But no one’s principal activity is going through security screening.  The employer doesn’t hire somebody, I need somebody to go through employee screening.  He hires them to do something else…. You’re saying everything that is related somehow to the job is principal. I would have thought principal has to do with things that are more significantly related.

Justice Alito: You wouldn’t pay anybody just to come in and go through security.

Meanwhile, the more employee-friendly Justices attempted to argue that because “inventory control” is “important” to the business, it is integral and indispensable:

I mean, what makes it Amazon? It’s a system of inventory control that betters everybody else in the business. And what’s really important to Amazon is that it knows where every toothbrush in the warehouse is. And that’s just as integral to what Amazon does and to what it requires its employees to do….

In handicapping this case, you have to keep in mind that earlier this year, this same Court, in Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, decided that the time spent putting on and taking off certain protective gear is not compensable. While Sandifer is a different case, decided under a collective bargaining agreement, I would be surprised, especially given the tenor of oral argument, if the employees walk away from Busk with a win. This case will hinge on whether the security screenings are key to the nature of the employment. I, along with what I perceive as a majority of the Court, believe that the employer has the better of this agreement. We’ll find out for sure early next year when the Court issues its opinion.