Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, August 22, 2016


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S.C. Agrees to Decide Whether Wage Claim Can Be Rejected as ‘De Minimis’


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the “de minimis” doctrine provides a defense to a wage claim under state law.

The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco Wednesday, voted unanimously to accept a certified question from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether California recognizes the doctrine. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that there is no remedy under federal law for an employee who was not paid for “a few seconds or minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours.”

The Ninth Circuit has previously applied the doctrine in California cases, but the state high court has apparently never addressed the issue.

The certified question comes in the case of Douglas Troester, whose case was argued before the federal panel in April. The former Starbucks supervisor appealed after U.S. District Judge Gary Feess of the Central District of California—who has since retired—granted the company summary judgment on his claim that it violated the California Labor Code by failing to pay him for short periods of time he worked “off-the-clock” after checking out.   

That time involved simple tasks such as walking out of the store after activating the security alarm, spent turning the lock on the store’s front door, or occasionally reopening the door so that a co-worker could retrieve a personal item that was left behind. Suing on behalf of a class of similarly situated employees, he sued for failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, to provide accurate written wage statements, and to timely pay final wages.

Feess ruled that the amount of time involved, usually less than four minutes and never more than 10 minutes, according to the plaintiff’s testimony, and the “administrative difficulty of recording the additional time” weighed in favor of applying the defense. 

In other conference action, the justices unanimously ordered the disbarment of a Pasadena attorney found to have committed 13 violations of the terms of probation imposed in one of his four prior discipline cases.

The State Bar Court Review Department, in its opinion recommending disbarment, cited Johnnie Lee Taylor’s history of failing to perform legal services competently, including missing or showing up late for hearings and failing to file documents in time to protect his clients’ rights.

The Review Department rejected a number of findings in mitigation by the hearing judge, who had recommended 60 days of actual suspension.

Review Department Judge Richard Honn agreed that Taylor, who was admitted in 1985, had demonstrated good character, but said he did not act in good faith and that his claimed emotional difficulties, related to alcoholism and the death of his brother, did not outweigh the aggravating circumstances.

Those circumstances, Honn said, included the seriousness of the prior misconduct, and the number of probation violations. His emotional difficulties did not constitute mitigating circumstances because he did not show that they were “directly responsible” for the misconduct, and did not show that he has overcome them.


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