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D.Colo.: Time Spent By Police Officers Donning And Doffing Their Uniforms And Equipment Is Compensable, Because It Is Integral And Indispensable To Their Police Duties
Rogers v. City and County of Denver
This case was before the Court on the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs made several claims for unpaid wages based on a variety of “off-the-clock” claims. Although the Court denied the parties’ motions with respect to most of the claims–either because the record was not fully developed, or because there were issues of fact–it held that the donning and doffing of uniforms and equipment by certain officers was compensable time.
“The first claim seeks compensation for time spent putting on and taking off the police uniform and equipment required for conducting police activity. For convenience of analysis, this claim is considered as it applies to patrol officers. The DPD Operations Manual prescribes the basic uniform to be worn on duty. It consists of a uniform shirt, uniform trousers, trouser belt, socks and authorized footwear. (DPD Op. Manual § 111.02.) A uniformed officer is generally required to carry a metal badge and nameplate, current DPD identification card, a valid Colorado driver’s license, and a standard uniform belt (“duty belt”) containing an authorized holster and firearm, ammunition case and ammunition, handcuffs and handcuff case, department issued tear gas and holder, flashlight, baton ring and belt “keepers.” (Id. § 111.03.) Uniformed officers are not required to wear basic hats or reflective apparel or carry batons, but officers must have those items available at all times. (Id. §§ 111.02(1), 111.02(12) & 111.03(13)). The Operations Manual describes particular situations in which basic hats and reflective apparel must be worn. The wearing of ballistic vests is encouraged, but not required. (Id. § 111.05(2)(e)).
The DPD does not require that donning and doffing the basic uniform take place at the assigned work station. Some district headquarters have storage lockers and rooms available for use at the officer’s individual choice. Some district buildings are too small and the officers must report in full uniform. The City argues that the option to put on and take off the uniform at home or elsewhere distinguishes this case from precedents established in the context of the meat industry and other hazardous occupations.
The option to change away from the duty station is not determinative. The principal activity of the patrol officers is policing the community. The police uniform is not “clothing” in any ordinary sense. It is the visible sign of authority and an essential element of the officer’s ability to command compliance with his commands and directives. It is analogous to the judicial robe. The uniform includes the equipment that are the tools that enable the officer to use physical force, including deadly force, for the protection of himself and others as circumstances require.
The City argues that the Plaintiffs’ clothes changing activities are excluded from compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 203(o). That section provides:
Hours Worked.-In determining for the purposes of sections 206 and 207 of this title the hours for which an employee is employed, there shall be excluded any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday which was excluded from measured working time during the week involved by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement applicable to the particular employee.
CBAs between the City and the Denver Police Protective Association have been in effect since January 1, 1996. DPD officers have never been compensated for donning and doffing their uniforms and personal equipment. The City contends that this history of non-compensation shows an established custom or practice under the CBAs.
That argument is not persuasive. Silence in collective bargaining is not the equivalent of a custom or practice of non-compensability.
In December 1985, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a Wage and Hour Opinion Letter, stating that the time spent by a uniformed police officer donning and doffing the required uniform was not compensable time under the FLSA, where a collective bargaining agreement between a city and the union had no express provision regarding the compensability of clothes-changing time and there had been no custom or practice between the parties to consider such clothes changing time compensable. Wage & Hour Opinion Letter, Dec. 30, 1985, 1985 WL 1087351, Def.’s Ex. A-98. That opinion letter is not persuasive, but may be considered with respect to the issue of willfulness. Similarly, Wage & Hour Advisory Memorandum No.2006-2 dated May 31, 2006 (opining that changing into gear is not a principal activity if employees have the option and the ability to change at home) is relevant only to the issue of willfulness.
The judicially-created de minimis rule provides an exception to the FLSA’s requirement that all work be compensated. There are genuine issues of material fact regarding the time and effort required to don and doff the DPD uniform and protective gear. The City’s de minimis defense is a factual issue for trial.
While donning and doffing the patrol officers uniform and equipment is compensable time under the FLSA as activity that is integral and indispensable to their police duties, the continuous work day does not begin or end with that activity. The plaintiffs are not asking for time spent commuting for those officers who chose to change at home. This ruling is applicable only to the uniformed officers on official duty. The facts concerning wearing uniforms and equipment during secondary employment are not adequately presented in the papers filed. Similarly there is no clear evidentiary record concerning detectives and other non-uniformed officers.”
This decision appears to be in direct conflict with the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision discussed here, which held that time spent donning and doffing police uniforms and equipment was not compensable, because officers had the option of doing it at home.
Click here to read the entire decision.