Apple’s treatment of its retail workers in spotlight again after new court ruling

Employees prepare display iPhone 5S's at the Apple store in preparation for opening ahead of the iPhone 5S and 5C going on sale in central London on September 20, 2013.   Apple's eagerly-awaited iPhone 5S and 5C went of sale in London at 8am. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Apple’s policies “made taking meal and rest breaks extremely difficult” and forced employees to work more than five hours without a break, according to a California judge who this week certified a class-action lawsuit that covers around 20,000 current and former Apple Store workers in the state.

The court ruling comes in response to a 2011 lawsuit and likely paves the way for a settlement. It follows a separate ruling in June in which a federal judge allowed Apple employees to press nationwide claims that accuse the retail giant of failing to pay wages during mandatory bag and technology inspections.

Taken together, the cases offer a rare window into the worlds of the blue-shirted workers who staff Apple’s highly-profitable retail stores.

In the latest California ruling, the judge states that Apple employees had to wait until they were done helping each particular customer before they could go on break — creating a “domino effect on the next … employee’s scheduled breaks,” and resulting in many workers not receiving the meal or rest periods they were entitled to by law. The judge also pointed to a sudden shift in Apple policies in 2012, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, as evidence of the company’s liability.

The federal case, meanwhile, describes unpaid “personal technology checks” in which managers compare the serial numbers of employees’ Apple devices to a recorded list. The final outcome of that case is on held pending the outcome of Supreme Court case involving unpaid activities of Amazon warehouse workers.

Apple, which has vigorously opposed the lawsuits in court, did not reply to a request for comment.

From a legal perspective, the California judge’s decision to certify the case amounts to a victory for the Apple Store workers since certification, which lets people sue as a group, is the highest hurdle to clear. While the workers technically still have to win at trial, defendants almost always settle once a case is certified. Apple can (and likely will) appeal the ruling, however.

Overall, Apple remains massively profitable, beating Wall Street estimates this week with quarterly earnings of $7.7 billion.

Here’s the California ruling via TechCrunch:

California Apple Certification Order

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