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It’s come to this: the process of getting ready for work is being litigated. In lawsuits filed across the nation, employees from police officers to poultry workers are suing to be paid for the time it takes to put on and take off their uniforms and required safety gear. Many of the lawsuits are fallout from a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the high court ruled that employees should be paid for the time it takes to “don and doff” mandatory uniforms or equipment. The case, IBP v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21 (2005), involved poultry and meatpacking workers. The ruling, meanwhile, has turned into legal ammunition for numerous employees � the biggest group being police officers. In the last year, police officers in California, New York, Denver, Phoenix, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Milwaukee have filed “donning and doffing” lawsuits, claiming overtime for the time they spend putting on their uniform, safety equipment and inspecting their weapons. “It’s not as easy as putting on a shirt and pants,” said Alison Berry Wilkinson, of Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson in Pleasant Hill, Calif., who is handling 12 donning-and-doffing lawsuits on behalf of police officers in California. “Police are required to report for their shifts already geared up and ready to go,” Wilkinson said. “You can’t be a police officer on patrol arresting bad guys without a minimum of a bulletproof vest, a handgun, pepper spray, handcuffs and all of the other various items of gear that are on the belt.” All that suiting up takes between 15 and 30 minutes a day, Wilkinson said, arguing, “People should be paid to put on gear that they have to wear in order to do their job.” Peter Brown of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore in Los Angeles, who is defending the city of San Luis Obispo, Calif, in a donning-and-doffing lawsuit, does not believe that getting ready for work warrants overtime. Strobridge v. City of San Luis Obispo, No. 2:06CV06400 (C.D. Calif.). “It’s an insignificant amount of time,” Brown said. “If you ask police officers, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and chiefs how long it takes to don and doff specialized protective gear, you will get a variety of answers.” Brown said that based on police officers he has spoken to, the art of getting ready for work takes less than three minutes. “Police officers have been getting ready to come to work pretty much the same way for the last 100 years,” he said. Police officers are not alone. Last August, a subsidiary of German automaker BMW agreed to pay $629,869 in overtime back wages to more than 1,000 auto-body and paint-shop workers in South Carolina for time spent donning and doffing required safety gear and for time spent walking to and from work stations. Chao v. BMW Manufacturing Co., No. 7:06-CV-2174-HFF (D.S.C.). In May 2006, George’s Processing Inc. agreed to pay more than $1.2 million to settle allegations that it failed to pay workers at a poultry processing plant for time spent donning and doffing protective gear and walking to and from the changing area to their work stations. Chao v. George’s Processing, No. 6:02CV03479 (W.D. Mo.). Tennessee action Currently, a similar class action is pending in Tennessee against Tyson Foods Inc. on behalf of more than 600 workers who are suing for overtime for the donning and doffing of required safety gear. Jordan v. IBP, No. 3:02-1132 (M.D. Tenn.). Attorney Charles Yezbak, one of several lawyers who is representing the plaintiffs in the Tyson case, said the Alvarez ruling should bolster the plaintiffs’ claims. “I think the Supreme Court said that from the time you start putting this stuff on you need to get paid,” said Yezbak of the Yezbak Law Office in Nashville, Tenn. “We believe the workday starts when you put on your first piece of equipment, or when you open your locker to put on the first piece of equipment.” Michael Mueller of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s Washington office, who is representing Tyson in the Tennessee case, was unavailable for comment.

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