throbber
(Slip Opinion)
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` OCTOBER TERM, 2013
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`
`Syllabus
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`1
`
` NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
`
`
`
` being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
`
`
`
` The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
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` prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
`
` See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.
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`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
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`
`
` Syllabus
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` SANDIFER ET AL. v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`
`
`
`
`CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
`
`THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
` No. 12–417. Argued November 4, 2013—Decided January 27, 2014
`
`Petitioner Sandifer and others filed a putative collective action under
`the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, seeking backpay for time spent
`donning and doffing pieces of protective gear that they assert re-
`spondent United States Steel Corporation requires workers to wear
`because of hazards at its steel plants. U. S. Steel contends that this
`donning-and-doffing time, which would otherwise be compensable
`under the Act, is noncompensable under a provision of its collective-
`
`bargaining agreement with petitioners’ union. That provision’s valid-
`ity depends on 29 U. S. C. §203(o), which allows parties to collectively
`
`bargain over whether “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the be-
`
`ginning or end of each workday” must be compensated. The District
`
`Court granted U. S. Steel summary judgment in pertinent part, hold-
`
`
`ing that petitioners’ donning and doffing constituted “changing
`clothes” under §203(o). It also assumed that any time spent donning
`and doffing items that were not “clothes” was “de minimis” and hence
`noncompensable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.
`Held: The time petitioners spend donning and doffing their protective
`
`gear is not compensable by operation of §203(o). Pp. 3–15.
`
`(a) This Court initially construed compensability under the Fair
`Labor Standards Act expansively. See, e.g., Anderson v. Mt. Clemens
`Pottery Co., 328 U. S. 680. The Act was amended in 1949, however,
`to provide that the compensability of time spent “changing clothes or
`washing at the beginning or end of each workday” is a subject appro-
`priately committed to collective bargaining, §203(o). Whether peti-
`
`
`tioners’ donning and doffing qualifies as “changing clothes” depends
`on the meaning of that statutory phrase. Pp. 3–6.
`
`(b) The term “clothes,” which is otherwise undefined, is “interpret-
`
`ed as taking [its] ordinary, contemporary, common meaning.” Perrin
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`

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`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
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`
`Syllabus
`v. United States, 444 U. S. 37, 42. In dictionaries from the era of
`§203(o)’s enactment, “clothes” denotes items that are both designed
`and used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as articles of
`dress. Nothing in §203(o)’s text or context suggests anything other
`than this ordinary meaning. There is no basis for petitioners’ propo-
`sition that the unmodified term “clothes” somehow omits protective
`clothing. Section 203(o)’s exception applies only when the changing
`of clothes is “an integral and indispensable part of the principal activ-
`
`ities for which covered workmen are employed,” Steiner v. Mitchell,
`
`350 U. S. 247, 256, and thus otherwise compensable under the Act.
`
`See 29 U. S. C. §254(a). And protective gear is the only clothing that
`is integral and indispensable to the work of many occupations, such
`as butchers and longshoremen. Petitioners’ position is also incompat-
`ible with the historical context of §203(o)’s passage, contradicting
`
`contemporaneous Labor Department regulations and dictum in Stei-
`ner, see 350 U. S., at 248, 254–255. The interpretation adopted here
`leaves room for distinguishing between clothes and wearable items
`that are not clothes, such as some equipment and devices. The view
`of respondent and its amici that “clothes” encompasses the entire out-
`fit that one puts on to be ready for work is also devoid of any textual
`
`foundation. Pp. 6–10.
`
`(c) While the normal meaning of “changing clothes” connotes sub-
`stitution, “changing” also carried the meaning to “alter” at the time of
`§203(o)’s enactment. The broader statutory context makes plain that
`“time spent in changing clothes” includes time spent in altering
`dress. Whether one exchanges street clothes for work clothes or
`simply chooses to layer one over the other may be a matter of purely
`personal choice, and §203(o) should not be read to allow workers to
`opt into or out of its coverage at random or at will when another
`reading is textually permissible. Pp. 10–11.
`
`(d) Applying these principles here, it is evident that the donning
`
`and doffing in this case qualifies as “changing clothes” under §203(o).
`Of the 12 items at issue, only 3—safety glasses, earplugs, and a res-
`
`pirator—do not fit within the elaborated interpretation of “clothes.”
`Apparently concerned that federal judges would have to separate the
`minutes spent clothes-changing and washing from the minutes de-
`voted to other activities during the relevant period, some Courts of
`Appeals have invoked the doctrine de minimis non curat lex (the law
`does not take account of trifles). But that doctrine does not fit com-
`fortably within this statute, which is all about trifles. A more appro-
`
`
`priate way to proceed is for courts to ask whether the period at issue
`
`can, on the whole, be fairly characterized as “time spent in changing
`clothes or washing.” If an employee devotes the vast majority of that
`time to putting on and off equipment or other non-clothes items, the
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`Syllabus
`entire period would not qualify as “time spent in changing clothes”
`under §203(o), even if some clothes items were also donned and
`doffed. But if the vast majority of the time is spent in donning and
`doffing “clothes” as defined here, the entire period qualifies, and the
`time spent putting on and off other items need not be subtracted.
`Here, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the District Court’s conclusion
`that the time spent donning and doffing safety glasses and earplugs
`was minimal. And this Court is disinclined to disturb the District
`Court’s additional factual finding, not addressed by the Seventh Cir-
`cuit, that the respirators were donned and doffed as needed during
`
`the normal workday and thus fell beyond §203(o)’s scope. Pp. 12–15.
`678 F. 3d 590, affirmed.
`SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
`
`
`C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, and KAGAN,
`
`
`
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`JJ., joined, and in which SOTOMAYOR, J., joined except as to footnote 7.
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`3
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`Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2014)
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`Opinion of the Court
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`1
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` NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the
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`
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` preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to
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` notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Wash-
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` ington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order
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` that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
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`SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
`
`_________________
`
` No. 12–417
`_________________
`
` CLIFTON SANDIFER, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. UNITED
` STATES STEEL CORPORATION
`
`ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF
`
`
`APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
`
`
`[January 27, 2014]
`
` JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.*
`
`The question before us is the meaning of the phrase
`“changing clothes” as it appears in the Fair Labor Stand-
`ards Act of 1938, 52 Stat. 1060, as amended, 29 U. S. C.
`
`§201 et seq. (2006 ed. and Supp. V).
`I. Facts and Procedural History
`
`Petitioner Clifton Sandifer, among others, filed suit
`under the Fair Labor Standards Act against respondent
`United States Steel Corporation in the District Court for
`the Northern District of Indiana. The plaintiffs in this
`putative collective action are a group of current or former
`employees of respondent’s steelmaking facilities.1 As
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`——————
`* JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR joins this opinion except as to footnote 7.
`1Petitioners filed this action under 29 U. S. C. §216(b), which estab-
`
`lishes a cause of action that may be maintained “by any one or more
`employees for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other employ-
`
`ees similarly situated.” Pending resolution of the instant summary-
`judgment dispute, a Magistrate Judge set aside a motion to certify the
`
`suit as a collective action, see No. 2:07–CV–443 RM, 2009 WL 3430222,
`
`
`*1, n. 1 (ND Ind., Oct. 15, 2009), but petitioners assert that their ranks
`are about 800 strong.
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`

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`2
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`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`relevant here, they seek backpay for time spent donning
`and doffing various pieces of protective gear. Petitioners
`assert that respondent requires workers to wear all of the
`items because of hazards regularly encountered in steel
`plants.
` Petitioners point specifically to 12 of what they state are
`the most common kinds of required protective gear: a
`flame-retardant jacket, pair of pants, and hood; a hardhat;
`a “snood”; “wristlets”; work gloves; leggings; “metatarsal”
`boots; safety glasses; earplugs; and a respirator.2 At bot-
`tom, petitioners want to be paid for the time they have
`spent putting on and taking off those objects. In the ag-
`gregate, the amount of time—and thus money—involved is
`likely to be quite large. Because this donning-and-doffing
`time would otherwise be compensable under the Act, U. S.
`Steel’s contention of noncompensability stands or falls
`upon the validity of a provision of its collective-bargaining
`agreement with petitioners’ union, which says that this
`time is noncompensable.3 The validity of that provision
`depends, in turn, upon the applicability of 29 U. S. C.
`§203(o) to the time at issue. That subsection allows par-
`ties to decide, as part of a collective-bargaining agreement,
`that “time spent in changing clothes . . . at the beginning
`or end of each workday” is noncompensable.
`
`The District Court granted summary judgment in perti-
`
`nent part to U. S. Steel, holding that donning and doffing
`
`——————
`2The opinions below include descriptions of some of the items. See
`678 F. 3d 590, 592 (CA7 2012); 2009 WL 3430222, *2, *6. And the
`opinion of the Court of Appeals provides a photograph of a male model
`
`
`wearing the jacket, pants, hardhat, snood, gloves, boots, and glasses.
`
`678 F. 3d, at 593.
`3The District Court concluded that the collective-bargaining agree-
`
`ment provided that the activities at issue here were noncompensable,
`2009 WL 3430222, *10, and the Seventh Circuit upheld that conclusion,
`
`
` 678 F. 3d, at 595. That issue was not among the questions on which we
`granted certiorari, and we take the import of the collective-bargaining
`
` agreement to be a given.
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`
`Opinion of the Court
`the protective gear constituted “changing clothes” within
`
`the meaning of §203(o). No. 2:07–CV–443 RM, 2009 WL
`3430222, *4–*10 (ND Ind., Oct. 15, 2009). The District
`
`Court further assumed that even if certain items—the
`hardhat, glasses, and earplugs—were not “clothes,” the
`time spent donning and doffing them was “de minimis”
`and hence noncompensable.
`Id., at *6. The Court of
`Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld those conclusions.
`678 F. 3d 590, 593–595 (2012).4
`
`We granted certiorari, 568 U. S. ___ (2013), and now
`
`affirm.
`
`
`
`II. Legal Background
`
`The Fair Labor Standards Act, enacted in 1938, governs
`
`minimum wages and maximum hours for non-exempt
`“employees who in any workweek [are] engaged in com-
`merce or in the production of goods for commerce, or [are]
`employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the
`production of goods for commerce.” 29 U. S. C. §206(a)
`(minimum wages); §207(a) (maximum hours); see §213
`(exemptions). The Act provides that “employee” generally
`means “any
`individual employed by an employer,”
`§203(e)(1), and, in turn, provides that to “employ” is “to
`suffer or permit to work,” §203(g).
`
`The Act did not, however, define the key terms “work”
`
`and “workweek”—an omission that soon let loose a land-
`slide of litigation. See IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U. S. 21,
`
`25–26 (2005). This Court gave those terms a broad read-
`
`ing, culminating in its holding in Anderson v. Mt. Clemens
`
`Pottery Co., 328 U. S. 680 (1946), that “the statutory
`
`——————
` 4Petitioners also sought, inter alia, backpay for time spent traveling
`
`between the locker rooms where they don and doff at least some of the
`protective gear and their workstations. The District Court denied that
`portion of respondent’s motion for summary judgment, 2009 WL
`3430222, *11, and the Seventh Circuit reversed, 678 F. 3d, at 595–598.
`
` That issue is not before this Court, so we express no opinion on it.
`
`
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`

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`4
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`
`
`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`workweek includes all time during which an employee is
`necessarily required to be on the employer’s premises, on
`duty or at a prescribed workplace.” Id., at 690–691. That
`period, Anderson explained, encompassed time spent
`“pursu[ing] certain preliminary activities after arriving
`. . . , such as putting on aprons and overalls [and] remov-
`ing shirts.” Id., at 692–693. “These activities,” the Court
`declared, “are clearly work” under the Act. Id., at 693.
`Organized labor seized on the Court’s expansive con-
`
`struction of compensability by filing what became known
`as “portal” actions (a reference to the “portals” or entranc-
`
`es to mines, at which workers put on their gear).
`
`“PORTAL PAY SUITS EXCEED A BILLION,” announced
`a newspaper headline in late 1946. N. Y. Times, Dec. 29,
`1946, p. 1. Stating that the Fair Labor Standards Act
`had been “interpreted judicially in disregard of long-
`established customs, practices, and contracts between
`employers and employees,” Congress responded by passing
`
` the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, 61 Stat. 84, as amended,
`29 U. S. C. §251 et seq. (2006 ed. and Supp. V). §251(a).
`
`
`The Portal-to-Portal Act limited the scope of employers’
`
`liability in various ways. As relevant here, it excluded
`from mandatorily compensable time
`“activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to
`[the] principal activity or activities [that an employee
`is employed to perform], which occur either prior to
`the time on any particular workday at which such
`employee commences, or subsequent to the time on
`any particular workday at which he ceases, such prin-
`
` cipal activity or activities.” 61 Stat. 87, 29 U. S. C.
`§254(a)(2).
`The Department of Labor promulgated a regulation
`
`
`explaining that the Portal-to-Portal Act did not alter what
`is known as the “continuous workday rule,” under which
`
`
`compensable time comprises “the period between the
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`5
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`
`Opinion of the Court
`commencement and completion on the same workday of an
`employee’s principal activity or activities . . . [,] whether or
`not the employee engages in work throughout all of that
`period.” 12 Fed. Reg. 7658 (1947); 29 CFR §790.6(b)
`(2013). Of particular importance to this case, a Labor
`
`interpretive bulletin also specified that
`Department
`whereas “changing clothes” and “washing up or shower-
`ing” “would be considered ‘preliminary’ or ‘postliminary’
`activities” when “performed outside the workday and . . .
`under the conditions normally present,” those same activi-
`ties “may in certain situations be so directly related to the
`
`specific work the employee is employed to perform that
`[they] would be regarded as an integral part of the em-
`ployee’s ‘principal activity.’” 12 Fed. Reg. 7659, and n. 49;
`29 CFR §790.7, and n. 49.
`
`In 1949, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards
`Act to address the conduct discussed in that interpretive
`bulletin—changing clothes and washing—by adding the
`provision presently at issue:
`
`“Hours Worked.—In determining for the purposes of
`[the minimum-wage and maximum-hours sections] of
`this title the hours for which an employee is em-
`ployed, 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 par-
`ticular employee.” 63 Stat. 911, 29 U. S. C. §203(o).
`Simply put, the statute provides that the compensability
`of time spent changing clothes or washing is a subject
`appropriately committed to collective bargaining.
`In Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U. S. 247 (1956), the Court
`echoed the Labor Department’s 1947 regulations by hold-
`ing that “changing clothes and showering” can, under
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`6
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`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`some circumstances, be considered “an integral and indis-
`pensable part of the principal activities for which covered
`workmen are employed,” reasoning that §203(o) “clear[ly]
`impli[ed]” as much. Id., at 254–256. And in IBP, we
`applied Steiner to treat as compensable the donning and
`doffing of protective gear somewhat similar to that at
`issue here, 546 U. S., at 30. We said that “any activity
`that is ‘integral and indispensable’ to a ‘principal activity’
`is itself a ‘principal activity’” under §254(a), id., at 37.
`
`As relevant to the question before us, U. S. Steel does
`not dispute the Seventh Circuit’s conclusion that “[h]ad
`the clothes-changing time in this case not been rendered
`noncompensable pursuant to [§]203(o), it would have been
`a principal activity.” 678 F. 3d, at 596. Petitioners, how-
`ever, quarrel with the premise, arguing that the donning
`and doffing of protective gear does not qualify as “chang-
`ing clothes.”
`
`
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`
`
`III. Analysis
`A. “Clothes”
`
`We begin by examining the meaning of the word
`“clothes.”5 It is a “fundamental canon of statutory con-
`struction” that, “unless otherwise defined, words will be
`interpreted as taking their ordinary, contemporary, com-
`
`
`mon meaning.” Perrin v. United States, 444 U. S. 37, 42
`
`(1979).
`
`Dictionaries from the era of §203(o)’s enactment indicate
`that “clothes” denotes items that are both designed and
`used to cover the body and are commonly regarded as
`articles of dress. See Webster’s New International Dic-
`tionary of the English Language 507 (2d ed. 1950) (Web-
`ster’s Second) (defining “clothes” as “[c]overing for the
`——————
`5Although the Labor Department has construed §203(o) on a number
`of occasions, the Government has expressly declined to ask us to defer
`to those interpretations, which have vacillated considerably over the
`
`years.
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`Opinion of the Court
` human body; dress; vestments; vesture”); see also, e.g., 2
`
`Oxford English Dictionary 524 (1933) (defining “clothes”
`as “[c]overing for the person; wearing apparel; dress,
`raiment, vesture”). That is what we hold to be the mean-
`ing of the word as used in §203(o). Although a statute
`may make “a departure from the natural and popular
`acceptation of language,” Greenleaf v. Goodrich, 101 U. S.
`278, 284–285 (1880) (citing Maillard v. Lawrence, 16 How.
`251 (1854)), nothing in the text or context of §203(o) sug-
`gests anything other than the ordinary meaning of
`“clothes.”
`Petitioners argue that the word “clothes” is too indeter-
`
`minate to be ascribed any general meaning but that,
`whatever it includes, it necessarily excludes items de-
`signed and used to protect against workplace hazards.
`That position creates a distinction between “protection,”
`on the one hand, and “decency or comfort,” on the other—a
`distinction that petitioners appear to have derived from
`Webster’s Second, which elaborates that “clothes” is “a
`general term for whatever covering is worn, or is made to
`be worn, for decency or comfort.” Webster’s Second 507
`
`(emphasis added). But that definition does not exclude,
`either explicitly or implicitly, items with a protective
`function, since “protection” and “comfort” are not incom-
`
`patible, and are often synonymous. A parasol protects
`against the sun, enhancing the comfort of the bearer—just
`as work gloves protect against scrapes and cuts, enhanc-
`ing the comfort of the wearer. Petitioners further assert
`that protective items of apparel are referred to as “cloth-
`
`ing” rather than “clothes.” They point out that, when
`introduced by the adjective “protective,” the noun “cloth-
`ing” is used more commonly than “clothes.” That is true
`enough, but it seems to us explained by euphonic prefer-
`ence rather than difference in meaning. We see no basis
`
`for the proposition that the unmodified term “clothes”
`somehow omits protective clothing.
`
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`7
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`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`
`
`
` Petitioners’ proffered distinction, moreover, runs the risk
`of reducing §203(o) to near nothingness. The statutory
`compensation requirement to which §203(o) provides an
`exception embraces the changing of clothes only when that
`conduct constitutes “an integral and indispensable part of
`the principal activities for which covered workmen are
`employed.” Steiner, 350 U. S., at 256. But protective gear
`
`is the only clothing that is integral and indispensable to
`
`the work of factory workers, butchers, longshoremen, and
`a host of other occupations. Petitioners’ definition of
`“clothes” would largely limit the application of §203(o) to
`what might be called workers’ costumes, worn by such
`employees as waiters, doormen, and train conductors.
`Petitioners insist that their definition excludes only items
`with some specific work-hazard-related protective func-
`tion, but that limitation essentially abandons the asser-
`tion that clothes are for decency or comfort, leaving no
`basis whatever for the distinction.
`
`Petitioners’ position is also incompatible with the histor-
`ical context surrounding §203(o)’s passage, since it flatly
`
`contradicts an illustration provided by the Labor Depart-
`ment’s 1947 regulations to show how “changing clothes”
`
`could be intimately related to a principal activity. See 29
`CFR §790.7, and n. 49. Those regulations cited the situa-
`tion in which “an employee in a chemical plant . . . cannot
`perform his [job] without putting on certain clothes” and
`specified that “[s]uch a situation may exist where the
`changing of clothes on the employer’s premises is required
`by law, by rules of the employer, or by the nature of the
`
`
`
`work.” 12 Fed. Reg. 7660, and n. 65; 29 CFR §790.8(c),
`and n. 65. And petitioners’ position contradicts this
`Court’s only prior opinion purporting to interpret §203(o).
`Steiner, announced less than a decade after the statute’s
`passage, suggested in dictum that, were there a pertinent
`provision of a collective-bargaining agreement, §203(o)
`would have applied to the facts of that case—where work-
`
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`Opinion of the Court
`ers “ma[d]e extensive use of dangerously caustic and toxic
`materials, and [we]re compelled by circumstances, includ-
`ing vital considerations of health and hygiene, to change
`clothes” on the job site. 350 U. S., at 248, 254–255.
`
`Petitioners contend that any attempt at a general defi-
`nition of “clothes” will cast a net so vast as to capture all
`manner of marginal things—from bandoliers to barrettes
`to bandages. Yet even acknowledging that it may be
`impossible to eliminate all vagueness when interpreting a
`word as wide-ranging as “clothes,” petitioners’ fanciful
`hypotheticals give us little pause. The statutory context
`makes clear that the “clothes” referred to are items that
`are integral to job performance; the donning and doffing of
`other items would create no claim to compensation under
`the Act, and hence no need for the §203(o) exception.
`
`Moreover, even with respect to items that can be regarded
`as integral to job performance, our definition does not
`embrace the view, adopted by some Courts of Appeals,
`that “clothes” means essentially anything worn on the
`body—including accessories, tools, and so forth. See, e.g.,
`Salazar v. Butterball, LLC, 644 F. 3d 1130, 1139–1140
`(CA10 2011) (“clothes” are “items or garments worn by a
`
`person” and include “knife holders”). The construction
`we adopt today is considerably more contained. Many
`accessories—necklaces and knapsacks, for instance—are not
`
`
`“both designed and used to cover the body.” Nor are tools
`“commonly regarded as articles of dress.” Our definition
`leaves room for distinguishing between clothes and wear-
`able items that are not clothes, such as some equipment
`
`and devices.6
`Respondent and its amici, by contrast, give the term in
`
`
`——————
` 6Petitioners and their amici insist that equipment can never be
`
`
`clothes. While we do not believe that every wearable piece of equip-
`ment qualifies—for example, a wristwatch—our construction of
`“clothes” does not exclude all objects that could conceivably be charac-
`terized as equipment.
`
`
`
`9
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`10
`
`
`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`question a capacious construction, effectively echoing the
`Courts of Appeals mentioned above. On this view,
`“clothes” encompasses the entire outfit that one puts on to
`be ready for work. That interpretation is, to be sure, more
`readily administrable, but it is even more devoid of a
`textual foundation than petitioners’ offering. Congress
`could have declared bargainable under §203(o) “time spent
`in changing outfits,” or “time spent in putting on and off
`all the items needed for work.” For better or worse, it used
`the narrower word “clothes.” “The role of this Court is to
`apply the statute as it is written—even if we think some
`
`other approach might accord with good policy.” Burrage v.
`United States, ante at 14 (internal quotation marks and
`brackets omitted).
`
`
`
`
`
`B. “Changing”
`
`
`Having settled upon the meaning of “clothes,” we must
`now consider the meaning of “changing.” Petitioners
`assert that when used with certain objects—such as “tire,”
`“diaper,” or, indeed, “clothes”—the term “changing” connotes
`substitution. That is undoubtedly true. See Webster’s
`
`Second 448 (defining “change” as “to make substitution
`of, for, or among, often among things of the same kind
`. . . ; as, to change one’s clothes”). One would not normally
`
`
`say he has changed clothes when he puts on an overcoat.
`Petitioners conclude from this that items of protective gear
`that are put on over the employee’s street clothes are not
`covered by §203(o).
`
`We disagree. Although it is true that the normal mean-
`ing of “changing clothes” connotes substitution, the phrase
`is certainly able to have a different import. The term
`
`“changing” carried two common meanings at the time of
`§203(o)’s enactment: to “substitute” and to “alter.” See,
`e.g., 2 Oxford English Dictionary 268 (defining “change,”
`among other verb forms, as “to substitute another (or
`others) for, replace by another (or others)” and “[t]o make
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`11
`
`
`Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`(a thing) other than it was; to render different, alter,
`modify, transmute”). We think that despite the usual
`meaning of “changing clothes,” the broader statutory
`context makes it plain that “time spent in changing
`clothes” includes time spent in altering dress.
`
`The object of §203(o) is to permit collective bargaining
`over the compensability of clothes-changing time and to
`promote the predictability achieved through mutually
`beneficial negotiation. There can be little predictability,
`and hence little meaningful negotiation, if “changing”
`means only “substituting.” Whether one actually ex-
`changes street clothes for work clothes or simply layers
`garments atop one another after arriving on the job site is
`often a matter of purely personal choice. That choice may
`be influenced by such happenstances and vagaries as what
`month it is, what styles are in vogue, what time the em-
`ployee wakes up, what mode of transportation he uses,
`and so on. As the Fourth Circuit has put it, if the statute
`imposed a substitution requirement “compensation for
`putting on a company-issued shirt might turn on some-
`thing as trivial as whether the employee did or did not
`
`take off the t-shirt he wore into work that day.” Sepulveda
`
`v. Allen Family Foods, Inc., 591 F. 3d 209, 216 (2009).
`Where another reading is textually permissible, §203(o)
`
`should not be read to allow workers to opt into or out of its
`
`coverage at random or at will.7
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`——————
`7This Court has stated that “exemptions” in the Fair Labor Stand-
`
`ards Act “are to be narrowly construed against the employers seeking to
`
`
`
`assert them.” Arnold v. Ben Kanowsky, Inc., 361 U. S. 388, 392 (1960).
`
`
`We need not disapprove that statement to resolve the present case.
`The exemptions from the Act generally reside in §213, which is entitled
`
`“Exemptions” and classifies certain kinds of workers as uncovered by
`
`various provisions. Thus, in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.,
`
`
`567 U. S. ___, ___–___, n. 21 (2012) (slip op., at 19–20, n. 21), we de-
`clared the narrow-construction principle inapplicable to a provision
`appearing in §203, entitled “Definitions.”
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`12
`
`
`SANDIFER v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP.
`
`Opinion of the Court
`C. Application
`
`Applying the foregoing principles to the facts of this
`case, we hold that petitioners’ donning and doffing of the
`protective gear at issue qualifies as “changing clothes”
`within the meaning of §203(o).
`
`Petitioners have pointed to 12 particular items: a flame-
`
`retardant jacket, pair of pants, and hood; a hardhat; a
`
`snood; wristlets; work gloves; leggings; metatarsal boots;
`safety glasses; earplugs; and a respirator. The first nine
`clearly fit within the interpretation of “clothes” elaborated
`above: they are both designed and used to cover the body
`and are commonly regarded as articles of dress. That
`proposition is obvious with respect to the jacket, pants,
`
`hood, and gloves. The hardhat is simply a type of hat.
`The snood is basically a hood that also covers the neck and
`upper shoulder area; on the ski slopes, one might call it a
`“balaclava.” The wristlets are essentially detached shirt-
`sleeves. The leggings look much like traditional legwarm-
`
`ers, but with straps. And the metatarsal boots—more
`commonly known as “steel-toed” boots—are just a special
`kind of shoe.
`
`
`
`The remaining three items, by contrast, do not satisfy
`our standard. Whereas glasses and earplugs may have a
`
`covering function, we do not believe that they are commonly
`regarded as articles of dress. And a respirator obviously
`falls short on both grounds. The question is whether the
`
`time devoted to the putting on and off of these items must
`be deducted from the noncompensable time. If so, federal
`judges must be assigned the task of separating the
`minutes spent clothes-changing and washing from the
`minutes devoted to other activities during the period in
`
`question.
`
`Some Courts of Appeals, including the Court of Appeals
`
`in this case, have sought to avoid, or at least mitigate, this
`
`
`difficulty by invoking the doctrine de minimis non curat
`lex (the law does not take account of trifles). This, they
`
`
`
`

`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`
`Cite as: 571 U. S. ____ (2014)
`
`Opinion of the Court
`hold, enables them to declare noncompensable a few
`minutes actually spent on something other than clothes-
`
`changing—to wit, donning and doffing non-clothes items.
`
`
`Although the roots of the de minimis doctrine stretch to
`ancient soil, its application in the present context began
`with Anderson. There, the Court declared that because
`“[s]plit-second absurdities are not justified by the actuali-
`ties of working conditions or by the policy of the Fair
`
`Labor Standards Act,” such “trifles” as “a few seconds or
`minutes of work beyond the scheduled working hours”
`
`may be “disregarded.” 328 U. S., at 692. “We [thus] do not
`. . . preclude the application of a de minimis rule.” Ibid.
`
`
`
`We doubt that the de minimis doctrine can properly be
`applied to the present case. To be sure, Anderson included
`“putting on aprons and overalls” and “removing shirts” as
`
`activities to which “it is appropriate t

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