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Starbucks Loses Off-the-Clock/End-of-Shift-Extra-Minutes Case on Appeal

Douglas Troester worked at Starbucks as a shift manager from mid-2009 until October 2010.  Mr. Troester was responsible for initiating the "close store procedure" on the back-office computer.  When the procedure was activated, the computer would then transmit daily sales, losses, and inventory data to corporate headquarters.  After this process was complete, Mr. Troester was to activate the alarm, leave the store, and lock the front door.  


On average, Mr. Troester activated the alarm approximately one minute after he clocked out. He did so within two minutes on 90 percent of the shifts and within five minutes on every shift. Once he set the alarm, Mr. Troester needed to exit the store within one minute to avoid triggering the alarm. Mr. Troester testified that it took 30 seconds to walk out of the store. He then locked the door, which took 15 seconds to ‘a couple minutes,’ and walked his coworkers to their cars, which took 35 to 45 seconds. On rare occasions—once every couple of months—Mr. Troester spent a few minutes letting coworkers back inside the store or bringing in patio furniture that he forgot to retrieve before clocking out.


Over the 17-month period of his Starbuck's employment, Mr. Troester’s unpaid time totaled approximately 12 hours and 50 minutes. At the then-applicable minimum wage of $8 per hour, this unpaid time added up to $102.67. 


Mr. Troester, as part of a class action, filed suit in the California court.  Starbucks had the case moved to federal district court and moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) recognizes the de minimis doctrine. The de minimis doctrine is an application of the maxim de minimis non curat lex, which means “[t]he law does not concern itself with trifles.” (Black’s Law Dict. (10th ed. 2014) p. 524.) Federal courts have applied the doctrine in some circumstances to excuse the payment of wages for small amounts of otherwise compensable time upon a showing that the bits of time are administratively difficult to record.  As a result, the federal district court granted Starbucks summary judgment.  Troester v. Starbucks Corp., 2014 WL 1004098 (C.D. Cal. 2014).


On appeal, the Ninth Circuit certified the question of whether California’s wage and hour statutes or regulations adopted the de minimis doctrine of the FLSA.  Troester v. Starbucks Corp., 680 Fed. Appx. 511 (9th Cir. 2016) . The California Supreme Court, in a 7-0 decision held California statutes do not permit application of the de minimis rule on the Troester facts where the employer required the employee to work “off the clock” several minutes per shift. However, the court made clear that it was not deciding whether there are circumstances where compensable time is so minute or irregular that it is unreasonable to expect the time to be recorded. Troester v. Starbucks Corp. 2018 WL 3582702, ---- P.3d ------ (Cal. 2018).  In a concurring opinion one of the justices noted that the court's decision has left employers unclear on what they must keep track of and what must be compensated, 


The result of the court's opinion is that it is not clear what the lower court should do now in light of the decision as well as whether it goes back to state or federal court.




Explain the de minimis doctrine and how it works under the FLSA.

What would you do about keeping track of hours and payments if you were an employer?