District Court Rules City is Not Responsible for Donning and Doffing Time

On January 21, 2009, the City of Phoenix obtained summary judgment in a collective action brought by approximately 600 police officers claiming millions in unpaid work. What were the officers claiming? That the City should have compensated them for time spent putting on and taking off police uniforms and gear. In the matter of Dager et al. v. City of Phoenix, Case No. 2:06-cv-01412-PHX-JWS, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the City did not have an obligation to pay its police officers for the time spent donning and doffing (i.e., putting on and taking off ) their police uniforms and gear. Specifically, Judge John Sedwick held that under Ninth Circuit precedent and the persuasive guidelines of the U.S. Department of Labor, only those employees actually required to change at work could claim that the time spent donning and doffing was compensable. The evidence in the case showed that the City allowed officers to change at home or at the station, depending on their own preference, and that a significant number of officers, including some of the claimants, regularly changed into their uniforms and/or gear at home. The court also held that, although the City's police department required officers to wear certain specified uniforms and protective gear, the uniform itself was not 'necessary" to the performance of police work (as the term necessary is defined under applicable regulations and case law).

This decision comes as a group of police officers from the City of Mesa, Arizona is currently pursuing an appeal to the Ninth Circuit of a similar decision issued in March 2008. That case, Bamonte et al. v. City of Mesa, in a decision issued by Judge Neil Wake, also found in favor of the employer, the City of Mesa. The Ninth Circuit is expected to rule on the Bamonte appeal later this year. To date, six district courts have addressed the issue of compensability for donning and doffing of police uniforms in extensive written opinions, with only one finding this activity compensable under the FLSA regardless of where it is performed.

The Impact: Although these cases arise in the context of police departments, they certainly have the potential for far wider reach. If any federal appellate court holds that time spent changing in and out of a uniform can be compensable regardless of where it takes place, employers that require employees to wear a uniform on the job can expect a significant number of similar claims to be made by employees in a variety of industries.

This blog entry was authored by Laurent Badoux.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.