Apple Store employees who sued Apple over bag searches at the iPhone maker's 52 brick and mortar outlets in California had their case certified as a class-action by a federal judge on Thursday US time.
The ruling, from US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, is part of a 2013 lawsuit alleging Apple should compensate thousands of store employees for the time taken to search their bags to ensure they did not steal any merchandise.
At least two Apple retail store workers complained directly to chief executive Tim Cook that the technology company's policy of checking retail employees' bags as a security precaution was embarrassing and demeaning, according to court filings made public earlier in the case.
Lawsuits certified as class actions allow plaintiffs to sue as a group and generally give them more leverage to negotiate a settlement. Class members in the bag search case include more than 12,000 current and former employees, the ruling said.
An Apple representative declined to comment.
Plaintiffs Amanda Frlekin and Dean Pelle alleged that "screenings" or bag searches, designed to discourage theft, are conducted every time sales reps leave the store, including for meal breaks. Lawsuits from within Apple's ranks are rare.
One worker, whose name was blacked out of a court filing, told Cook in a 2012 message that Apple managers "are required to treat 'valued' employees as criminals".
Cook forwarded it to top retail and human resources executives with the query: "Is this true?" The court filing did not include what responses Cook received.
Apple had argued in court filings that the case was not suitable for class action status because not all store managers conducted bag searches, and any searches that did occur took a tiny amount of time which don't deserve compensation.
Alsup ruled that those issues could be litigated at trial.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)