At this point, California employers are all too familiar with litigation seeking compensation for preliminary and postliminary activities. The de minimis doctrine is a main line of defense in actions for these claims. Recognized in the seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision of Anderson v. Mt Clemens Pottery Co., the de minimis doctrine is the embodiment of the common sense proposition that the law does not care about trivialities. A court applying the de minimis doctrine looks at (1) whether the work tasks in question are administratively feasible to capture, (2) the amount of unpaid time spent performing a task and (3) the regularity of the additional work. A plaintiff is not entitled to compensation for time that is de minimis.
The recent case of Troester v. Starbucks Corporation, decided in the Central District of California, answered several important open questions regarding application of the de minimis doctrine. In that case, the plaintiff worked as a shift supervisor and sought payment—and related penalties—for postliminary activities such as setting the alarm, walking to the front door, turning the lock in the front door, walking employees to their cars, etc. On average, the activities took four minutes and nearly always took less than 10 minutes. Starbucks filed for summary judgment, arguing that the time in question was de minimis.
The court granted Starbucks’ motion for summary judgment. The court first looked at the amount of time in question. The court took the common sense approach of analyzing the amount of time in question each day. In doing so, the court stated that most cases that have addressed the question have found that time will be found de minimis if it is less than 10 minutes a day. Here, where the amount of time was almost always under 10 minutes, the time was de minimis in nature. Troester accordingly stands for the crucial proposition that a small task, even if regularly performed, can be de minimis.
The ruling is also helpful in understanding the administrative feasibility prong. The standard argument made by the Plaintiff’s bar is that a timekeeping system stationed at the exit would capture a greater amount of activity (e.g., a timekeeping system at the door would capture time spent walking to the exit of a facility). Troester soundly rejects this argument. The court did not require Starbucks to show that no timekeeping system could have captured the postliminary time. Rather, the court determined administrative feasibility with the context of Starbuck’s current timekeeping system. Starbucks standard software required employees to clock out prior to setting the alarm, so capturing postliminary activities was not feasible. The court did not require Starbucks to explore the feasibility of every timekeeping system under the sun.
While it is not a complete panacea to the recent wave of off-the-clock litigation, Troester goes a long way towards ensuring that common sense prevails in the determination of the de minimis nature of off-the-clock claims.