Thursday, March 06, 2014
Jury in a Michigan federal court finds company violated wage and hour provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay hourly employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear
According to allegations at the center of the class action lawsuit against Sara Lee (now known as Hillshire Brands), workplace policy at the company’s plant in Zeeland, Michigan required production laborers to put on or “don” protective gear at the beginning of their shifts and remove or “doff” the gear after their shifts ended. Hourly employees were only paid after their shift started and before they clocked out; time devoted to pre-shift and post-shift donning and doffing was unpaid.
Collectively, that unpaid time is significant. Time clocks are located in work areas scattered around the plant, sometimes far away from employee locker rooms, so to comply with the policy, workers are forced to arrive early and stay later at the facility to put on and remove ear protection, safety glasses, steel toed boots, and bump caps. Considering that approximately 500 production workers are employed there, the amount of lost wages is substantial.
After a four-day trial before Judge Robert J. Jonker of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan (case number 1:11-cv-00313), the jury determined that Sara Lee violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to compensate production workers at the Zeeland plant, finding that donning and doffing their gear in the locker room at the start and end of the day were “principal activities” of their jobs for which they should have been paid. The jury also found that Sara Lee’s violation of the law was willful, meaning that employees will be able to recover an extra year of damages.
“This is a tremendous win for these hard-working individuals,” said Sommers Schwartz attorney Matthew L. Turner who, along with fellow Sommers Schwartz attorney Jason J. Thompson, and Mario Cascanti and Robert Anthony Alvarez of Avanti Law Group P.L.L.C., represented the 26 laborers bringing the class action. “If you put in an honest day’s work, you should be paid honestly. The jury recognized that and delivered the right decision.”
Following Tuesday’s decision, the next stage of the case will be a trial to determine the amount of back pay and damages Sara Lee must pay.
For class action cases involving uncompensated donning and doffing claims, this is the second victory in eight months for Mr. Turner and Sommers Schwartz. In July 2013, he secured a judgment on behalf of seven workers at the JBS Packerland meat-processing facility in Plainwell, Michigan who alleged to have not been paid for up to 40 minutes they spent each day putting on and taking off their gear and equipment.