In Sandifer v. United States Steel Corp., ___ U.S. ___ (Jan. 27, 2014), the United States Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirming the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana granting the defendant employer’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ class action for unpaid wages.

Plaintiffs were unionized employees whose employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement between their union and their employer.  They filed a collective action on behalf of themselves and other employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for unpaid wages based on time spent “donning and doffing” protective gear that were required by their employer.  The defendant employer moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it was not required to compensate its employees for such time pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. The District court agreed, granting summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit Affirmed. Plaintiffs appealed.

The United States Supreme Court affirmed, finding that time spent donning and doffing protective gear was not compensable under 29 U.S.C. § 203(o), which allows employers to collectively bargain with unions over whether “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the beginning and end of each work day” will be compensated.  The court noted that the appropriate inquiry to determine whether the time is spent “changing clothes” under the statute is whether the majority of time is devoted to putting on and off “clothes,” as opposed to equipment or non-clothing gear.  Moreover, the court held that, to the extent the plaintiffs’ time was spent putting on and off non-clothing gear, it was “de minimus” and, therefore, not compensable.