D.Idaho: “Sales Representative” Who Educated Retailers, But Did Not “Sell” To Customers, Not Subject To Outside Sales Exemption Under FLSA

Burling v. Real Stone Source, LLC

The case was before the Court on the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment on exemption issues. The Court agreed with Plaintiff that he was not subject to the outside sales exemption, and further held that issues of fact precluded a finding regarding the applicability of the administrative exemption. Here, we discuss only the portion of the decision pertaining to the outside sales exemption.

The Court first recited the relevant facts, “Mr. Burling, was employed as a sales representative from March 15, 2006 to November 29, 2007 by Defendant Real Stone Source, LLC, d/b/a Rox Pro. Real Stone is a distributor of Rox Pro products which is a natural modular stone system used in construction. (Dkt. No. 28,Dkt. No. 27-3, p. 37). Real Stone products are distributed exclusively through a network of local dealers from whom the ultimate consumer buys the product. (Dkt. No. 26, Ex. E). Mr. Burling was hired as a Real Stone sales representative for a seven state area comprised of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. Mr. Burling was tasked with contacting existing and potential local dealers and pitching Real Stone’s products to them. For prospective local dealers, Mr. Burling’s pitch was in an effort to get them interested in serving as a local dealer of Real Stone products. Once interested, Real Stone would determine whether the prospective dealer met its qualifications and, if so, approve them as a local dealer. For existing dealers, Mr. Burling continued to educate them on Real Stone Products and also aided them in selling Real Stone products through various efforts including promotions and outreach to consumers.”

Agreeing with Plaintiff, and the cases holding that the outside sales exemption can only apply where an employee makes actual sales, the Court said, “This Court finds the cases cited by Mr. Burling to be the correct analysis to apply here. See Kuzinski v. Schering Corp., 604 F.Supp.2d 385 (D.Conn. March 30, 2009). Although the California District Court cases cited by Real Stone discuss the FLSA, they were applying California Labor Law. Notably, the Barnick court recognized that there is a distinction between the FLSA and California Labor Law. There, the court stated that the employee’s argument that he was only promoting, not selling, because he never received commitments from the physicians was “likely a correct application of the distinction between promotion and sales laid down by the Department of Labor and several federal courts with regard to the FLSA” but that it did not apply to the California Labor Law. Barnick, 522 F.Supp.2d at 1264.FN2Where, as here, the case does not raise claims of California Labor Law but, instead, the FLSA, the analysis from cases applying the FLSA are more appropriately used. As such the Court will first consider whether Mr. Burling made sales as defined by the FLSA. See Kuzinski v. Schering Corp., 604 F.Supp.2d 385 (D.Conn. March 30, 2009).”

The Court adopted the reasoning of several of the pharmaceutical sales representative cases, stating, “[t]he Court finds Real Stone has failed its burden of demonstrating that, as a matter of law, Mr. Burling was an exempt outside salesperson. The facts in the record demonstrate that Mr. Burling did not make any sales. The Court rejects Real Stone’s theory that its sales representatives were a part of every sale in their territory. (Dkt. No. 27-3, pp. 109-111), (Dkt. No. 27-4, pp. 24, 51-52), (Dkt. No. 31-2, p. 103). Mr. Burling’s job was to create a network of local dealers, educate the local dealers and contractors about the product, and bolster consumer desire to purchase the product from the local dealers who in turn bought from Real Stone. (Dkt. No. 27-3, pp. 94-96). This is consistent in the depositions of both Mr. Burling and Mr. Motarex as well as Real Stone’s “Sales Philosophy and Market Strategy” document. (Dkt. No. 26-2, Ex. E), (Dkt. No. 27-3, pp. 96-111, Motarex Depo.), (Dkt. No. 27-3, pp. 54-66, Burling Depo.). Both Mr. Burling and Mr. Motarex testified that Real Stone sales representatives were hired to establish a network of dealers in their territory, provide sales support to those dealers by promoting the products and educating the consumers, and engaging in further advanced marketing strategies to “create buzz” for the products and increase consumer purchases from the dealers. (Dkt. No. 26-2, Ex. E). In sum, to “generate” and/or “drive” sales to the local dealers. (Dkt. No. 27-3, pp. 25-28), (Dkt. No. 31-2, pp. 93, 95-96).”

Ultimately, the Court concluded, “[b]ecause the facts here do not demonstrate that Mr. Burling actually made sales, the Court finds the outside salesperson exemption does not apply. Instead the facts show that Mr. Burling’s primary duty was to promote and market the Real Stone brand in such a way so as to create a network of local dealers in his territory and to bolster a market for the products such that consumers were continually buying the products from the local dealers. Accordingly, the Court will grant Mr. Burling’s motion for partial summary judgment on this point.”

Although not discussed at length here, the Court also analyzed the applicability of the claimed administrative exemption, before ultimately deciding issues of fact precluded a finding one way or another.

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