The unanimous ruling came in a case involving workers at a U.S.
Steel Corp <X.N> plant that was closely watched by industries that
employ workers who wear safety clothing.
The decision will make it harder for unionized workers to seek pay
for time spent changing clothes before and after work if it is not
specifically addressed during labor negotiations. Such claims have
been the subject of widespread litigation nationwide.
Federal labor law excludes "changing clothes" from the time for
which unionized employees must be paid, unless they have negotiated
otherwise. The Supreme Court clarified on Monday that safety gear
generally fits within that definition, resolving a question that had
split lower courts.
"A good bit of the uncertainty was cleared away," said Lawrence
DiNardo, an attorney for U.S. Steel.
The workers' lawyer, Eric Schnapper, could not immediately be
reached for comment.
"DONNING AND DOFFING"
Roughly 800 current and former workers at U.S. Steel's Gary,
Indiana, plant said flame-retardant jackets and pants, work gloves,
wristlets, hard hats and other items they have to wear are "personal
protective equipment," not clothing.
U.S. Steel disagreed, saying any wearable item is clothing. As a
result, it said it should not have to pay unionized employees for
"donning and doffing."
Writing on behalf of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the time
spent putting on safety gear was not subject to compensation because
it was not sufficiently different from "changing clothes."
He mentioned such items as pants, hardhats and leggings as "commonly
regarded as articles of dress."
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Scalia conceded that safety glasses, ear plugs and respirators,
which the workers also wear, are not generally viewed as clothes,
but he said a ruling separating different types of items would
create a problem for judges handling such cases.
It is unlikely that Congress intended to "convert federal judges
into time-study professionals," Scalia wrote. He referred to a lower
court ruling that said the time spent putting on safety glasses and
earplugs was "minimal" and that respirators are put on as needed at
Various industry groups, mainly in the food industry, had backed
If backdated claims had been allowed, it would have been
"devastating to many employers," the Grocery Manufacturers
Association said in a friend-of-the court brief.
The case is Sandifer v. United States Steel Corporation, U.S.
Supreme Court, No. 12-417.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley;
sdditional reporting by Amanda Becker and Carlyn Kolker; editing by
Howard Goller, Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)
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