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Starbucks Loses California Wage-Theft Case

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Friday, the California Supreme Court ruled against Starbucks in a wage-theft case that could have widespread implications for wage policies throughout California. Here’s everything you need to know about this landmark case.

California has a huge wage-theft problem.
A 2018 study by labor activist organizations Good Jobs First and Jobs With Justice found more than half of the wage-theft cases brought against U.S. corporations since 2000 originated in California. In that time, corporations paid $8.8 million to settle these disputes.

This particular case is six years in the making.
In 2012, former shift supervisor Douglas Troester filed a lawsuit against the company, saying that he and other employees were often asked to complete work (i.e., put away outdoor chairs and set the store alarm) after they’d clocked out. Under this policy, Troester said that over time he missed out on about $100 of pay.

Starbucks initially won the case under an outdated labor law.
As with most “little guy versus big corporation” situations, Troester’s case didn’t fare well. In 2014, Starbucks asked for a summary judgement under the de minimis doctrine in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which dates back to 1946 and dismisses wage disputes that are too trivial to consider, like not getting paid for an hour’s (or less) worth of work. California’s federal district court ruled in the coffee chain’s favor.

But the California Supreme Court overturned that case.
On Friday, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that the de minimis doctrine doesn’t apply to California’s labor laws. In the court’s opinion, Justice Goodwin Liu wrote: “$100 is enough to pay a utility bill, buy a week of groceries or cover a month of bus fares. What Starbucks calls ‘de minimis’ is not de minimis at all to many ordinary people who work for hourly wages.”

The ruling doesn’t just apply to Starbucks.
Because this case ruling took place at the highest level in the California judicial system, it extends to every employer of hourly workers in the state, opening them to even more wage-theft lawsuits. Bad news for them, good news for hourly employees.

Starbucks Loses California Wage-Theft Case