Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits aren’t exactly fodder for Silver Screen blockbusters.
In a recent decision from the Middle District of Pennsylvania — not known as a Hollywood pipeline — the question was whether donning and doffing basic personal protective equipment (“PPE”) was “integral and indispensable” to the oil rig workers’ principal activities.
Why is this important?
Employers must pay employees for time spent performing activities that are integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform. An activity is “integral and indispensable” if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.
According to the Pennsylvania judge, the PPE wasn’t “integral and indispensable” to the oil rig workers’ principal activities.
So the workers appealed.
And I yawned. After all, the minutiae of donning and doffing cases can be boring AF.
So props to the Third Circuit for using America’s favorite dad to inject much-needed charisma into this case.
Irene Spezzamonte writing for Law360, reported here how Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas gave defense counsel an employment law lesson from The Simpsons at oral argument on Wednesday.
“Let’s talk about someone who works at a nuclear power plant [and] has to wear a hazmat suit all day. Homer Simpson could walk into that nuclear power plant and do the job without it, and he might come home glowing or something, but is your position that it’s not integral because he could, in theory, just come from home with the suit on?”
The Law360 article notes that defense counsel “responded, arguing that the oil rig workers use generic gear that it is not integral to their jobs and that they are not required to put the personal protective equipment on work premises.”
The lower court, too, concluded that “the hazards that the Employees have described are either ordinary, hypothetical, or isolated. And the protection that the Employees’ steeltoed boots, hard hats, safety glasses, fire retardant coveralls, gloves and earplugs provide against them can best be described as so-so. This dooms their donning and doffing and walking and waiting time claims alike.”
I’m looking forward to reading the Third Circuit’s opinion. But, even if it does reference Homer working at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, it will pale in comparison to what, I believe, is the best reference to The Simpsons in an employment law opinion.
That benchmark belongs to this dissent from Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., in which he compared entering into an arbitration agreement to Homer Simpson talking to God:
“Here’s the deal: you freeze everything as it is, and I won’t ask for anything more. If that is OK, please give me absolutely no sign. [no response] OK, deal. In gratitude, I present you this offering of cookies and milk. If you want me to eat them for you, please give me no sign. [no response] Thy will be done.” The Simpsons: And Maggie Makes Three (Fox television broadcast, Jan. 22, 1995).