Apple store workers’ lawsuit over bag and gadget searches can go to trial, judge rules

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A federal judge refused to dismiss lawsuits brought by Apple store employees who are seeking wages for the time they spent waiting for managers to perform anti-theft checks of their bags and Apple devices.

In a Friday ruling that offers a rare window into the secretive company’s H.R. practices, U.S. District Judge William Alsup rejected Apple’s request to throw out the lawsuit and said a trial would be helpful to learn more about the nature of the employee searches.

The ruling comes in response to a series of class actions lawsuits filed last year in which Apple retail employees complained they were not paid for the 10-15 minutes they spent in the security procedures, including waiting in line, whenever they clocked out for lunch or at the end of a shift.

The ruling reveals that Apple managers explained the searches to staffs in so-called “Daily Download” meetings, and that two types of searches take place at approximately 250 Apple stores in 44 states: 1) bag searches; 2) “personal technology checks” in which managers compare the serial numbers of employees’ Apple devices to a recorded list.

Apple, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment, has claimed in court filings that its store employees should not be paid for the searches because they are optional. The company says that its approximately 26,000 retail staff are not required to bring bags to work, and that they can avoid the technology checks if they don’t use iPhones or other Apple devices.

Judge Alsup, however, writes that avoiding the searches is not as simple as all that:

Apple employees may need to bring a bag to work for reasons they cannot control, such as the need for medication, feminine hygiene products, or disability accommodations.

Alsup also noted that the specific search practices appeared to vary from store to store, and that going forward with a trial would serve to produce a more complete record in the event the case ends up before an appeals court.

Finally, the judge agreed to stay part of the proceedings pending a Supreme Court case about unpaid searches of employees who work in Amazon warehouses. That case, set for 2015, is expected to provide more guidance about a 1947 federal labor law that defines what constitutes “work” activities.

Alsup added that, whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court case, the case can likely go forward under California law. It will be interesting to see whether Apple digs in, or if it instead uses some of its approximately $159 billion cash hoard to settle the case.

This story was updated, per Jh in the comments below, to clarify the nature of “Daily Download” meetings.

Here’s the ruling with some of the relevant bits underlined:

Apple Bag Check Ruling

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