In Musticchi v. City of Little Rock, 2010 WL 3327998 (E.D. Ark. Aug 24, 2010), a federal district court dismissed part of a collective action involving police officers, under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (FLSA). The case principally involved legal arguments by the police officers involved that the City of Little Rock had not properly paid police officers time and one-half rates for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a week.
In particular, the Musticchi case involved claims by Little Rock police officers that they had not been paid properly under the FLSA for “donning and doffing their uniform at the beginning and end of every shift.” The officers involved in the civil suit also had alleged that that they were entitled to overtime compensation related to maintenance of equipment (ballistic vests, radios, etc.), polishing their shoes and duty belts, and maintaining their duty weapons / ballistic vests. The police officers in this case had alleged that the City of Little Rock had been aware of the large amounts of time for these duties without receiving compensation. In evaluating the Musticchi case, the court evaluated the issues involved as relating to donning and doffing.
The Musticchi court first evaluated one of the key cases involving donning and doffing cases, Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247 (1956) (showing and changing integral to workers’ principal activity and therefore compensable under the FLSA). Following a review of other applicable case law, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas held that the donning and doffing of police uniforms in the case was not a compensable activity because the police department in Little Rock did not require the officers to change on the premises.
The court ruled that the police officers were not entitled to FLSA overtime on the donning and doffing issue because the “officers acknowledge that when they or their fellow officers do choose to change at the station they primarily do so for their own benefit.” Further, the court found that the officers in the case could not identify why they must change on department premises to perform their duties successfully. An additional that came up in the Musticchi in case involved the issue of whether or not safety gear and uniforms constituted “clothing” for purposes of the FLSA. The Musticchi court found that safety gear should be considered to be clothing.
One other issue that arose in the case, involved past practices. The court evaluated this issue for purposes of the Musticchi decision. In particular, the court ruled upon the issue of whether or not a past practice might impact the donning and doffing issue. The court found that longstanding past practices of non-compensation for donning and doffing could preclude FLSA compensation in a later brought lawsuit. In Musticchi, the period of time at issue was 32 years.
The court in this case also held that time spent polishing shoes and boots (not compensable), as well as the maintenance of safety equipment was non-compensable (de minimus). The Musticchi court left open the issue of whether or not the missed meal breaks and travel time violated the FLSA, but ordered the parties to brief these issues. A copy of the ruling can be found here Download Musticchi case