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Apple’s $30M settlement over worker bag checks OK’d by court

After bouncing around California courts for nearly a decade, a California federal judge has finally given the green light to Apple’s $30 million settlement in a lawsuit that accused it of failing to pay thousands of its retail workers for the time taken up by security checks after their official working hours ended.

Apple agreed to the settlement last year, and on Monday U.S. District Judge William Alsup signed off on it.

The class-action lawsuit involved around 14,000 current and former Apple Store employees in California, each of whom will receive a payout of up to $1,200.

The employees who brought the class action in 2013 worked at 52 Apple Stores across California. The lawsuit claimed that bag checks performed by Apple security staff should take place within their working hours rather than after they had clocked off.

Each search took between 5 and 20 minutes to complete, forcing workers to remain inside the store even though they’d officially finished for the day. The practice of checking bags ran from 2009 through 2015, when Apple finally ended the procedure.

The lawsuit claimed Apple was breaking California state law by performing the checks outside of working hours. But the tech company insisted it had to check the bags to make sure employees weren’t walking out with stolen devices or other important material, adding that anyone who disagreed with the arrangement should leave their bags at home.

In a long-running tussle between Apple and the plaintiffs, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the case in 2015 after deciding that the workers could indeed have avoided the searches by not bringing a bag to work.

But after the plaintiffs pushed back, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided to consult the California Supreme Court for a clearer understanding on whether the bag searches should have been done on the clock or in the employees’ own time.

The Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs in 2020, saying that Apple Store workers were “clearly” still at the store on Apple’s time while waiting for the searches to start, and also during the time that the searches took place.

“The exit searches burden Apple’s employees by preventing them from leaving the premises with their personal belongings until they undergo an exit search,” the court said at the time. It added that its decision should be applied retroactively, leaving Apple with the hefty $30 million bill that the judge waved through on Monday.

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