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Apple to face damages trials on employee bag check policy

A federal judge on Wednesday said he is prepared to rule in favor of a class of 12,400 Apple retail employees who allege the tech giant unjustly enforced bag screening policies without pay, setting up what could be a series of damages trials.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in a hearing on Monday said he plans to grant summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, but will allow Apple to dispute individual claims on a case-by-case basis, reports Reuters.

The case dates back to 2013, when employees sued Apple over anti-theft measures including "demeaning" bag checks that were instituted in 2009. Plaintiffs in the class action argued they should have been compensated for time spent complying with Apple's screening protocols, which were designed to dissuade theft of company property.

According to court documents, the "Employee Package and Bag Searches" rule called for managers to search an employee's bags and personal devices (like iPhones) after clocking out at the end of the workday and, in some cases, lunch breaks. Plaintiffs claimed that routine wait times during these security checks deprived them of wages amounting to more than $1,400 per year.

Alsup dismissed the originating case in 2014, but allowed a class action to move forward under California law. That suit was also dismissed in 2015, with the jurist saying employees could have effectively bypassed Apple's searches by not bringing a bag to work.

Alsup's ruling was reversed when the California Supreme Court last year determined that employees were and are in Apple's control during mandatory exit searches of bags, packages, devices and other items. State law requires companies to compensate employees for time spent on anti-theft programs. A later decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived the class action as it stands.

On Wednesday, Alsup said he plans to hold a series of "mini-trials" on damages, during which Apple lawyers can argue against individual member claims. Specifically, some class members might not have waited long enough to reach a threshold for compensation. Apple lawyers pushed for employees to fill out detailed forms regarding time spent in security checks and when those checks were carried out, but that idea was shot down.

"I'm not going to require the claimants to figure out every day they stood in line and how long they stood in line; if they gave dates, they would not be telling the truth," Alsup said. "Apple is just out of luck on that point."

Instead, employees will estimate time spent on bag screening exercises.

Court documents show Apple could be responsible for some $60 million in damages, the report said.