Monthly Archives: January 2010

W.D.Mich.: FLSA Permits Successful Plaintiff To Recover Costs Which Are ‘Normally Charged To A Fee-paying Client’ In Addition To Those Enumerated In § 1920

Carlson v. Leprino Foods Co.

This case was before the Court on both parties’ objections to the Report and Recommendation (R&R) issued by the Magistrate Judge regarding an award of fees and costs following the settlement of a collective action.  Of note, the Plaintiffs objected to the R&R issued by the Magistrate Judge, because the Magistrate cut over $2,000 in miscellaneous costs Plaintiffs  requested.  The Court extensively discussed the award of the attorneys fees to the prevailing Plaintiffs and, as discussed here, reinstated the miscellaneous costs, opining that a prevailing Plaintiff in an FLSA case is entitled to recover those types of costs ‘normally charged to a fee-paying client,’ in addition to those enumerated in § 1920.

Specifically, discussing the award of costs, the Court reasoned:

“Finally, Plaintiffs object that the Magistrate Judge should not have deducted $2,343.45 in miscellaneous expenses from the total award of costs. (Pls.’ Objections to Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge, docket # 221, at 8.) The Court agrees. The Report and Recommendation states that Plaintiffs failed to describe these miscellaneous expenses with particularity and that the expenses therefore are not recoverable. (Report and Recommendation, docket # 219, at 12.) However, Plaintiffs described the expenses with particularity in Exhibit 2 of their original fee petition. (Br. in Support of Mot. for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs, docket # 196, Ex. 2.) The miscellaneous expenses identified include, without limitation, costs for travel, supplies, web maintenance, translations, and telephone service. (Id.) These are the sort of costs which are “normally charged to a fee-paying client.” See, e.g., Renfro v. Indiana Mich. Power Co., 2007 WL 710138 at *1 (W.D.Mich., Mar.6, 2007) (overruled on other grounds, 497 F.3d 573 (6th Cir.2007) (citations omitted)); Communities for Equity v. Mich. High School Athletic Ass’n, 2008 WL 906031 at *22-23 (W.D.Mich., Mar.31, 2008). The total award for costs to Plaintiffs should include the $2,343.45 for miscellaneous expenses.”

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3rd Cir.: Helicopter Pilots Are Not “Learned Professional” Exempt, Because No Specialized Academic Training Required

Pignataro v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

This case was before the Court on the parties cross-appeals.  The Court below granted Plaintiffs, helicopter pilots employed by Defendants, summary judgment, holding that, as a matter of law, helicopter pilots are not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) under the so-called “learned professional” exemption.  The Court below determined that Defendants’ FLSA violations were not willful.  The Third Circuit agreed on all counts, affirming the lower Court’s decision.

Discussing the non-exempt status of helicopter pilots, the Court said:

“The applicable exemption from the FLSA urged here encompasses employees who are determined to be members of the “learned” professions, as defined by 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.3 and 541.301. An employee’s status as a “learned professional” is determined by his or her duties and salary. 29 C.F.R. § 541.3. In order to qualify as a “learned professional” an employee’s primary duties must consist of:

[w]ork requiring knowledge of an advance [sic] type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study, as distinguished from a general academic education and from an apprenticeship, and from training in the performance of routine mental, manual, or physical processes.  29 C.F.R. § 541.3(a)(1); see also29 C.F.R. § 541.301(a).

While there are additional requirements for “learned professional” status, namely receipt of compensation exceeding $250 or more per week and duties requiring the exercise of discretion, we concern ourselves initially with whether Port Authority helicopter pilots satisfy the requirements under § 541.3(a)(1). See29 C.F.R. § 541.3(e). We thus consider what advanced knowledge “in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction” entails, and then examine whether Pignataro and Chase’s primary duties required such advanced knowledge.

Advanced knowledge is knowledge “which cannot be attained at the high school level,” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(b), and which has been obtained through “prolonged study.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.300. The learned professional exemption is available for professions where, in the “vast majority of cases,” the employee is required to have “specific academic training.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d). The exemption does not apply to occupations in which “the bulk of the employees have acquired their skill by experience.” Id. An “advanced academic degree is a standard (if not universal) prequisite [sic]” and is, in fact, “the best prima facie evidence of [professional training].” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(e)(1). The requirement that the employee’s knowledge be from a field of science or learning “serves to distinguish the professions from the mechanical arts where in some instances the knowledge is of a fairly advanced type, but not in a field of science or learning.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(c). Examples of professions included in the “learned professional” exemption are the fields of “law, medicine, nursing, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, various types of physical, chemical, and biological sciences, including pharmacy.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(e)(1).

Although a college or other specific degree may not be per se required to qualify as a “learned professional,” it is clear that employees must possess knowledge and skill “which cannot be attained at the high school level” and which has been obtained through “prolonged study.” 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.301(b); 541.300. Furthermore, some type of academic degree is required, as opposed to skill acquired through experience. 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(e)(1).

We next examine whether the training and study Pignataro and Chase were required to complete constitute “advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.”  In order to qualify for their jobs, Port Authority helicopter pilots must fulfill the following requirements: (1) log 2,000 hours of flying time in helicopters; (2) earn a commercial helicopter pilot certificate with a helicopter instrument rating; (3) earn a Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Second Class Medical certificate; (4) have knowledge of FAA rules and regulations governing helicopter flights; and (5) earn a high school diploma or GED. (App.182, 318.) In order to earn a commercial certificate, applicants must already hold a private pilot certificate and pass both a knowledge and practical test. 14 C.F.R. § 61.123. The Port Authority sends helicopter pilots to Florida for a one-week training, twice each year.

None of the certifications that helicopter pilots are required to have are academic degrees. Helicopter pilots are not required to spend a significant amount of time in a classroom in order to earn their certifications-nearly all of the instruction takes place in the air. Logging in-flight hours, in-flight instruction, and passing practical and written tests do not qualify as a “prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study.” While the Port Authority is correct that helicopter pilots have “specialized knowledge” and “unique skills” (Port Authority Br. 12-13), this is not sufficient to qualify under the learned professional exemption because pilots’ knowledge and skills were acquired through experience and supervised training as opposed to intellectual, academic instruction. The District Court reasoned that pilots’ flight certificates require specialized instruction beyond a high school education, but do not constitute advanced academic degrees. Thus, the District Court determined that helicopter pilots are “ ‘merely highly trained technicians’ … and therefore do not qualify as professional employees under the FLSA.” (App. 7-8 (citing Martin v. Penn Line Serv. Inc., 416 F.Supp. 1387, 1389 (W.D.Pa.1976))). We agree and conclude that Port Authority helicopter pilots’ work does not require advanced knowledge that is customarily acquired from a prolonged course of specialized instruction. We therefore do not reach the issues of whether Pignataro and Chase were salaried employees or consistently exercised discretion in their work. Our reading of the regulation in light of the requirements for the job leads us to the same conclusion as the District Court. Port Authority helicopter pilots are, therefore, not “learned professionals” and are not exempt from the provisions of the FLSA.

The Department of Labor has reached the same conclusion. As we agree with the agency, we need not discuss the degree of deference we would owe to the agency’s view on the issue.  The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division has noted that the Department has taken the position that pilots are not exempt professionals because “aviation is not a ‘field of science or learning,’ and … the knowledge required to be a pilot is not ‘customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.’ “ Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees, 69 Fed.Reg. 22122, 22156 (Apr. 23, 2004) (citation omitted).

The Department of Labor Review Board (the “Board”) has also decided that airline pilots are not “learned professionals” as defined by 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.3 and 541.301 because there is “no doubt” that airline pilots do not meet the “threshold prerequisite” of “formal specialized academic training in a field of science or learning.” In re U.S. Postal Serv. ANET & WNET Contracts Regarding Review & Reconsideration of Wage Rates for Airline Captains and First Officers, ARB Case No. 98-131, 2000 WL 1100166, at *13-14 (Dep’t of Labor Admin. Rev. Bd. Aug. 4, 2000). The Board found that almost all of the professions delineated in the C.F.R. as “professional” require college or graduate-level study (one exception being certain nursing degrees that require completing a college-like academic program). Id. In contrast:

the training of airline pilots in this country typically does not revolve around specialized college-type academic instruction, but more-closely resembles the classic apprenticeship model-a “structured, systematic program of on-the-job supervised training” coupled with a program of related instruction.  Id. at *16 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 29.4 (1999)).

The Board further noted that many courts have held that a specialized college degree is required to meet the “learned professional” exemption. Id. at *29 n. 11. For example, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that “airfield operation specialists” are not learned professionals because they are only required to have a bachelor’s degree in aviation management or a related field, or four years of full-time experience, or an equivalent combination of education and experience. Fife v. Harmon, 171 F.3d 1173, 1177 (8th Cir.1999). The Fife Court held that “[t]his is advanced knowledge from a general academic education and from an apprenticeship, not from a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that probation officers are not “learned professionals” because their educational requirement (a four-year college degree) is general and not specialized. Dybach v. State of Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 942 F.2d 1562, 1565-66 (11th Cir.1991).

The Board and the Wage and Hour Division also noted, however, that the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Paul v. Petroleum Equipment Tools, Co., 708 F.2d 168, 175 (5th Cir.1983), concluded that an airplane pilot was a “learned professional” and was therefore exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA. 69 Fed.Reg. at 22156;In re U.S. Postal Serv., 2000 WL 1100166 at *13-14. The Board “respectfully disagree[d] with the Paul majority’s analytical approach and conclusion.” In re U.S. Postal Serv., 2000 WL 1100166 at *14. Despite Paul, the Wage and Hour Division decided not to modify its position that pilots are not exempt professionals. 69 Fed.Reg. at 22156. Not surprisingly, the Port Authority urges that we should follow Paul. We note that Paul was decided approximately two decades prior to the Board’s decision and the Wage and Hour Division’s interpretation of the exemption that we cite, and the Paul Court stated that the Wage and Hour Division’s interpretations are entitled to “great weight.” 708 F.2d at 173 (citation omitted).

The Paul Court reasoned that, in order to obtain a commercial license and instrument rating, a pilot must “acquire extensive knowledge of aerodynamics, airplane regulations, airplane operations, instrument procedures, aeronautical charts, and weather forecasting.” 708 F.2d at 172. Additionally, pilots are required to receive instruction from a flight instructor, log a certain number of hours of flight time, and pass written and practical tests . Id. The Paul Court determined that this is “extensive, formal, and specialized training” that is comparable to that undergone by nurses, accountants, and actuaries. Id. at 173. However, in light of our own analysis set forth above, that is consistent with the Department of Labor’s interpretation of the regulations, we decline to follow the reasoning of the Paul Court.

Thus, in a field where most employees gain their skills through intellectual instruction, an individual employee who gained his skills through experience may still be exempt under the FLSA. The Paul Court seems to have focused more on Paul’s individual situation than the regulations permit. See708 F.2d at 174 (“[W]e do not decide that company pilots as a class perform exempt professional work. We face here only a pilot like Paul with the highest flight rating, considerable training, and job experience.”). We cannot endorse this approach. See also Dybach, 942 F.2d at 1565 (finding that the determinative factor is the education that the job requires, not the education that the employee actually has); In re U.S. Postal Serv., 2000 WL 1100166 at *14:

[A] close analysis of the specialized academic training provided to members of a job classification is a threshold step in determining whether the occupation generically meets the professional exemption test. Consequently, we share the view of the dissenting opinion in Paul that it is analytically incorrect to “work backwards” from the level of an employee’s knowledge and skill in order to infer that the occupation requires the kind of advanced academic instruction contemplated by the regulations.

Based on the above analysis, we will affirm the District Court’s grant of summary judgment.”

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11th Cir.: Receipt And Signing WH-58 Form And Cashing Of The Employer’s Check Is Sufficient To Effect A Waiver Of Right To Sue Under FLSA

Blackwell v. United Drywall Supply

Plaintiffs were employed by Defendants.  In September 2007, they sued Defendants pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Plaintiffs alleged that, from 2002 forward, Defendants intentionally violated the Act by failing to pay them properly for overtime.  Plaintiffs further alleged that, in 2007, “as a result of an investigation by the United States Department of Labor involving allegations of the improper payment of overtime compensation to its laborer employees, [United Drywall] made payments to various employees for past due overtime compensation.”  Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants retaliated against Williams for his complaints to the Department of Labor regarding overtime violations.  And, Plaintiffs alleged that the payments made as part of the Department of Labor supervised settlement were “far lower than what the employees were legally due.”  They sought allegedly unpaid overtime compensation for three years before the filing of the complaint and attorney’s fees and expenses pursuant to § 216 of the Act.  The Court below granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment holding that Plaintiffs’ signing of the DOL WH-58 form and cashing of settlement checks was a valid waiver of their FLSA rights.  On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Framing the issue before it, the Court explained, “Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing, among other things: (1) that Plaintiffs had waived their right to sue under the Act when they cashed checks from United Drywall pursuant to the 2007 settlement between the parties supervised by the Department of Labor, and (2) that Plaintiffs are exempt employees under the Motor Carrier Exemption in the Act (“the Exemption”) and therefore are not entitled to back pay pursuant to the Act. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that there were genuine issues of fact regarding whether they had knowingly waived their rights to sue and whether the Exemption applied.  After considering arguments and evidence from both sides, the district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court held that, because Plaintiffs had received Department of Labor form WH-58 (which contained a statement that if Plaintiffs accepted the back wages provided in conjunction with the form, they would give up their rights to bring suit under the Act) and because Plaintiffs had cashed the checks provided in conjunction with the WH-58 forms, Plaintiffs had waived their rights to sue Defendants for the payments they sought under the Act.  The court entered judgment for Defendants.  Plaintiffs appeal the judgment.”

Addressing and denying Plaintiffs’ appeal, the Court reasoned, “Plaintiffs argue that the district court erred in finding waiver because Plaintiffs did not knowingly and intentionally waive their rights to sue. They argue that the WH-58 form provided to them by the Department of Labor is ambiguous and did not put them on notice that, by cashing the checks, they would waive their rights to sue for additional back pay. Defendants argue that the district court correctly found waiver and that the judgment can be supported on the additional ground that the Exemption applies to bar Plaintiffs’ claims. In their reply brief, Plaintiffs respond that affirmance of the judgment based on the Exemption would not be proper because the Exemption is not applicable to Defendants’ business as a matter of law or, in the alternative, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding the application of the Exemption.

We affirm the judgment. We find no error in the district court’s holding “that receipt of a WH-58 form and cashing of the employer’s check is sufficient to effect a waiver of the right to sue under the FLSA.”  There is no dispute that Plaintiffs received WH-58 forms in connection with the checks written by United Drywall and given to Plaintiffs by the Department of Labor as part of the supervised settlement between United Drywall and its employees. Those forms are receipts for payment of “unpaid wages, employment benefits, or other compensation due … for the period up to and including 05/20/2007 … under … The Fair Labor Standards Act….” They contain this language:

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEE UNDER THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT-Your acceptance of back wages due under the Fair Labor Standards Act means that you have given up any right you may have to bring suit for back wages under Section 16(b) of that Act.     ( Id.)

The WH-58 forms then proceed to describe the types of recovery and statutes of limitations under § 16(b) of the Act. We agree with the district court that these forms unambiguously informed Plaintiffs that, if they cashed the checks provided with the forms, they would be waiving their rights to sue for back pay. And, there is no dispute that Plaintiffs cashed the checks. Therefore, the district court correctly determined that ‘both Plaintiffs have waived their right to sue.  Affirming the judgment on waiver grounds, we do not address the parties’ arguments regarding application of the Exemption.’ “

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Filed under Affirmative Defenses, Department of Labor, Settlements

M.D.Ga.: Dollar General “Store Manager” May Have Been Misclassified As Executive Exempt; Defendant’s Motion For SJ Denied

Myrick v. Dolgencorp, LLC

Pending before the Court was Defendant Dolgencorp, LLC’s (Dollar General) Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking an Order holding that Plaintiff, a “Store Manager” was subject to the Executive Exemption to the FLSA, and not entitled to overtime compensation.  The Court denied Defendant’s Motion, reasoning that a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff’s primary duty was not management, as required for application of the Executive Exemption.

Discussing the applicable burden and facts of the case, the Court said, “Dollar General bears the burden of proving the executive exemption affirmative defense. Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1269 (11th Cir.2008). The Eleventh Circuit has recognized the “Supreme Court’s admonition that courts closely circumscribe the FLSA’s exceptions.” Nicholson v. World Bus. Network, Inc., 105 F.3d 1361, 1364 (11th Cir.1997). The exemption “is to be applied only to those clearly and unmistakably within the terms and spirit of the exemption.” Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1269 (quotation omitted). Thus, the Court is required to narrowly construe exemptions to the FLSA overtime requirement. Id .

The Eleventh Circuit does not use a “categorical approach” to decide whether an employee is an exempt executive. Id. “[W]e have noted the ‘necessarily fact-intensive nature of the primary duty inquiry,’ that ‘the answer is in the details,’ and that ‘where an issue turns on the particular facts and circumstances of a case, it is not unusual for there to be evidence on both sides of the question, with the result hanging in the balance.’ “ Id. (quotation and alteration omitted).

Department of Labor regulations interpret the executive exemption defense. Myrick’s claims span between 2001 and 2003. Accordingly, the “old regulations,” which were in effect prior to August 23, 2004, apply to this case. Id. at 1265-66. The regulations contain a short test that defines the phrase “employee employed in a bona fide executive … capacity.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.1 (2003). “This short test has three requirements: (1) an employee ‘is compensated on a salary basis at a rate of not less than $250 per week,’ (2) his ‘primary duty consists of the management of the enterprise in which the employee is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision thereof,’ and (3) his work ‘includes the customary and regular direction of the work of two or more other employees.’ “ Id. at 1266 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 541.1 (2003)).

Myrick does not dispute Dollar General’s argument or evidence showing that she met the salary requirement of the short test, or that she regularly directed the work of two other employees. Thus, the first and last requirements of the short test are met. The parties do, however, dispute the second element-whether Myrick’s primary duty was management.

1. Primary duty is management

The regulations provide examples of managerial tasks:

Interviewing, selecting, and training of employees; setting and adjusting their rates of pay and hours of work; directing their work; maintaining their production or sales records for use in supervision or control; appraising their productivity and efficiency for the purpose of recommending promotions or other changes in their status; handling their complaints and grievances and disciplining them when necessary; planning the work; determining the techniques to be used; apportioning the work among the workers; determining the type of materials, supplies, machinery or tools to be used or merchandise to be bought, stocked and sold; controlling the flow and distribution of materials or merchandise and supplies; providing for the safety of the men and the property.  29 C.F.R. § 541.102.

The regulations do not, however, provide a definition of “primary duty.” “A determination of whether an employee has management as his primary duty must be based on all the facts in a particular case.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (2003). The regulations provide a list of factors a court should consider when determining whether an employee’s primary duty is management. These factors are: (1) “[t]he amount of time spent in the performance of the managerial duties”; (2) “the relative importance of the managerial duties as compared with other types of duties”; (3) “the frequency with which the employee exercises discretionary powers”; (4) “his relative freedom from supervision”; and (5) “the relationship between [the employee’s] salary and the wages paid other employees for the kind of nonexempt work performed by the supervisor.” Id.; Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1267.

a. The amount of time spent in the performance of managerial duties

Myrick testified during her deposition that she spent 20% of her time on managerial duties, and 80% of her time on non-managerial tasks.

Myrick also testified that she did managerial work. This included interviewing potential employees, reviewing the revenue reports, completing various paperwork, ordering merchandise, evaluating employees, preparing the work schedules, receiving mail, hiring some employees, investigating customer complaints, and reviewing store policies. (Myrick dep., pp. 33, 54, 70, 77, 94, 95-96, 99, 130-32, 166, 175, 227, 250).

Myrick was required to complete her paperwork at night after the store closed, and on occasion took the paperwork home with her. (Myrick dep., p. 281). It normally took her an hour every day to do the required paperwork. (Myrick dep., p. 131). Myrick had to perform this managerial task after store hours because “[w]hile I was at the store I was always busy doing something else. Didn’t have time to do paperwork.” (Myrick dep., p. 281).

The regulations state that “an employee who spends over 50 percent of his time in management would have management as his primary duty.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (2003). Taking Myrick’s testimony as true, she does not meet the 50% threshold. However, “[t]ime alone … is not the sole test,” and “in situations where the employee does not spend over 50 percent of his time in managerial duties, he might nevertheless have management as his primary duty if the other pertinent factors support such a conclusion.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (2003). Thus, the Court must consider the other four factors.

b. The relative importance of the managerial duties as compared with other types of duties

The Court must examine the importance of Myrick’s duties in light of their value to Dollar General. See Dalheim v. KDFW-TV, 918 F .2d 1220, 1227 (5th Cir.1990). Dollar General argues that Myrick’s managerial duties were most important, as she had more impact on store profitability than any other employee, and was responsible for ensuring profitability. Because of her efforts, the Quitman store “turned around.” (Myrick dep., p. 52). Myrick also testified that if the store manager leaves the store, “things don’t get done.” (Myrick dep., p. 173). Dollar General also argues that the importance of Myrick’s managerial tasks is evidenced by the Store Manager job description and the criteria on which she was evaluated as a Store Manager. Finally, Dollar General argues that the importance of Myrick’s managerial duties was reflected in the fact that Dollar General paid her a higher salary and she had bonus potential.

While Myrick did testify in her deposition that she thought the Store Manager had the most impact on store profitability (Myrick dep ., p. 173), when asked what she thought had more impact on the profitability of the stores, the managerial duties (scheduling, employee training, hiring, watching for inventory shrink, ensuring customer satisfaction) or the non-managerial duties (cleaning the bathroom, stocking the shelves, sweeping the floor), Myrick testified that “[i]t all goes together.” (Myrick dep., p. 174). Later, Myrick testified that some of the most important job duties she had as a Store Manager for Dollar General were “provid[ing] superior customer service, leadership.” (Myrick dep., p. 274). When asked what went into those tasks, Myrick identified making sure the store was stocked and clean, and making sure inventory got out on the floor. Id. These were all manual labor tasks that Myrick had to do herself because she did not have enough employees to do them. (Myrick dep., p. 276). And while Myrick did testify that she turned the Quitman store around through her efforts, when asked what she did differently than the previous store manager, Myrick stated that she “actually put the merchandise on the floor.” (Myrick dep., p. 52). When asked if she did anything else, Myrick testified, “No. That’s basically it.” Id.

Dollar General argues that Myrick has raised no issue of fact to dispute that Dollar General found her managerial duties to be of significant importance, and again points to the facts that Dollar General paid Myrick a higher salary and evaluated her on her managerial duties. Dollar General states that Myrick admitted to performing the duties outlined by the Store Manager job description, and that testimony further shows that Myrick performed managerial duties, rather than non-exempt duties. While a review of Myrick’s deposition confirms that she testified that she performed the job functions outlined in the job description, her testimony shows that her physical labor was required to meet these goals, including “facilitat[ing] the efficient staging, stocking and storage of merchandise by following defined company work processes,” “ensur [ing] that all merchandise is presented according to established practices, …” and “maintain[ing] a clean, well organized store, facilitat [ing] a safe and secure working and shopping environment.” (Doc. 26-3, p. 2).

Dollar General contends that what Myrick believed her most important duties to be is unimportant, as an employee’s primary duty is “what [the employee] does that is of principal value of the employer….” (Doc. 27, p. 6). Dollar General repeatedly states that the focus must be on what the employer values, not what the employee subjectively believes her employer values. Yet, the only evidence before the Court is Myrick’s subjective testimony about what she thought was and was not important. Dollar General makes the conclusory statement that it found Myrick’s managerial duties to be of significant importance, but provides no evidence to support that conclusion. It is not for the Court to guess or assume on summary judgment that a higher salary or a bonus means that Dollar General valued one set of duties over another. Dollar General wants to have it both ways. At one point, it states that “Plaintiff’s principal value to Dollar General was her management of her stores, as she herself testified.” (Doc. 25-2, p. 15). But when Myrick points to portions of her testimony which support her position that there is an issue of fact as to whether her managerial or nonmanagerial duties were more important, Dollar General replies that what Myrick believes to be more important is irrelevant and her opinions as to the duties she believes added the most value should be disregarded. (Doc. 27, pp. 6-7). The Court will not accept Myrick’s testimony when it is favorable to Dollar General’s position and ignore it when it is favorable to her own.

Dollar General has not presented sufficient evidence to meet its burden of showing that Myrick’s managerial duties were of principal value to Dollar General.  Thus, this factor does not favor Dollar General.

c. Frequency with which an employee may exercise discretionary powers

Dollar General next argues that Myrick exercised tremendous discretion on a daily basis. Specifically, Myrick exercised discretion with respect to scheduling her subordinates’ hours, apportioning payroll budgets, delegating, assigning, and prioritizing tasks, training employees, counseling employees, appraising employee performance, resolving customer service issues, determining who to hire or fire, and how to best implement company policies and procedures. Dollar General states that Myrick’s managerial discretion was not fettered by the company’s standard operating procedure manual because she testified that she did not know such a manual existed. Dollar General further notes that Myrick was the highest store-level supervisory personnel in her stores, and she “determined what was important and what needed to be done.” (Myrick dep., p. 231).

When asked during her deposition how much discretion she felt like she had to run her own store, Myrick replied, “Not a lot.” (Myrick dep., p. 276). Myrick points to this testimony to show that she did not frequently exercise discretionary powers. To rebut Dollar General’s allegation that she exercised discretion every day in the store, Myrick relies on her deposition testimony that she was severely restricted in the way in which employees were scheduled because of the labor budget she was assigned, that she would be asked questions if she exceeded the labor budget, that she had limited discretion over how to apportion the payroll budget as 40% of it had to be devoted to truck day, and that she could not exercise discretion over delegating and assigning tasks because there was usually only one other employee in the store with her at a time, which meant that she could not delegate non-managerial tasks, as she would end up having to do non-managerial work either in running the register or stocking shelves, for example. (Myrick dep., pp. 70-71, 112, 167, 275).

In Morgan, the Eleventh Circuit found that the evidence presented regarding the frequency with which the employee exercised discretionary power supported the jury’s verdict in favor of the employees. The plaintiffs presented evidence that store managers rarely exercised discretion because either the store’s manuals or the district managers controlled the store’s operations. “The manuals and other corporate directives micro-managed the days and hours of store operations, the number of key sets for each store, who may possess the key sets, entire store layouts, the selection, presentation, and pricing of merchandise, promotions, payroll budgets, and staffing levels.” 551 F.3d at 1270.

Myrick’s testimony shows that Dollar General decided who had keys to the stores and how many were issued, set the weekly payroll budget, decided what merchandise was ordered, set the store hours of operation, and set the store and merchandise layouts, other than in approximately 25% of the store, and even that discretion could be overridden by the district manager. (Myrick dep., pp. 69, 76-77, 128-29, 199-200, 277, 287-88). Furthermore, Myrick had no discretion to deviate from or change the company’s planogram. (Myrick dep., p. 277). She also testified that even if she ordered merchandise, that did not mean she would receive it, as Dollar General could decide not to send it to her. (Myrick dep., p. 77).

Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to Myrick, the discretionary power factor does not favor Dollar General, or is at least neutral.

d. The employee’s relative freedom from supervision

Dollar General argues that Myrick operated autonomously for the most part, as she had limited contact with her district manager, had an office she kept locked that only the Assistant Store Manager had access to, was the only employee with a key to the back door of the stores, and was unaware of the company’s standard operating procedures. (Myrick dep., pp. 46, 49-50, 129, 161, 233).

A review of Myrick’s testimony shows that on at least one occasion, the district manager personally directed Myrick to stock merchandise. Before any repairs could be made at the stores, Myrick had to get approval from Dollar General’s home office. When Myrick took a set of keys from an employee whom she believed to be stealing from the store, the district manager made Myrick give the keys back to the employee. If employees got into a dispute, Myrick had to refer them to the corporate resolution office. Myrick did not have the authority to set rates of pay or recommend raises. When Myrick wanted to take a day off from work, she had to get approval from the district manager. Myrick could only discipline employees for serious infractions after receiving approval from the district manager. The district manager instructed Myrick to spray the parking lot with Round-Up and to make repairs to the eaves of the Quitman store. On at least one occasion, Myrick was required to lend her employees to another store. Myrick could not mark down damaged goods or make special orders without the district manager’s approval. The district manager at least once made Myrick relocated products she had put in a purported “flex” area of the store. Myrick had to have the district manager’s approval before hiring an Assistant Store Manager, though she never actually hired one. When Myrick asked for more hours for her store because she did not have enough manpower to get all of the required work done, the request was refused.  Myrick never terminated any employee without the district manager’s approval. The district manager was in charge when the stores did inventory, and also checked the paperwork completed by Myrick to make sure she did it right. (Myrick dep., pp. 46-49, 63-64, 100-102, 113-114, 175, 188, 197, 202, 220-21, 227, 256, 258, 276, 285, 287-88).

The evidence presented by Myrick could support a finding that she was not relatively free from direct supervision. Thus, this factor does not weigh in favor of Dollar General.

e. The relationship between the employee’s salary and the wages paid other employees for the kind of non-exempt work performed by the supervisor

When Myrick first became a store manager at Pavo, she was paid $500 weekly. She later received a raise to $510 weekly. After her move to the Quitman store, Myrick was paid $650 weekly. She was paid this flat rate for all hours worked. (Myrick dep., p. 39). Myrick testified that she worked an average of 66 hours per week. (Myrick dep., p. 122). She also earned annual bonuses as a Store Manager of $1,474.59 in 2002 and $1,500 in 2003. (Myrick dep., p. 140).

Using Myrick’s figure of 66 hours per week, she made $7.58 per hour when first made a store manager, then $7.73 per hour, and finally $9.85 per hour. According to documents produced by Dollar General, Assistant Store Managers earned $7 per hour and clerks generally earned $5.35 per hour.

The evidence in Morgan showed that assuming a 60-hour week, store managers earned approximately $2 to $3 more per hour than hourly-paid assistant store managers. The Eleventh Circuit found that “[g]iven the relatively small difference between the store managers’ and assistant managers’ hourly rates, it was within the jury’s province to conclude that this factor either did not weigh in Family Dollar’s favor or at least did not outweigh the other factors in Plaintiffs’ favor.” 551 F.3d at 1271. Similarly, Myrick made, at most, $2.85 more per hour than the Assistant Store Managers. As this difference in pay is similar to that in Morgan, this factor does not weigh in Dollar General’s favor, or at least, is neutral as to whether management was Myrick’s primary duty.”

Based on a review of all of the specific facts of this case, as applied to the factors necessary for the Executive Exemption to apply, the Court concluded, “[i]t is Dollar General’s burden to show that the executive exemption applies in this case. It has failed to establish each element of the exemption. As a question of fact exists as to whether Myrick’s primary duty was management, Dollar General’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 25) is denied.”

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D.N.J.: Defendants’ Purported Use Of Fluctuating Workweek (FWW) Violated FLSA, Because They Did Not Pay Plaintiffs A “Fixed Amount As Straight Time Pay”

Adeva v. Intertek USA, Inc.

This case was before the Court on the parties respective Motions for Summary Judgment on a variety of issues.  Significantly, the Defendants purported to pay Plaintiffs under a Fluctuating Workweek methodology, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. §778.114.  Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court rejected this claim, holding that since Defendants failed to pay Plaintiffs a “fixed amount as straight time pay” each week, the pay methodology at issue violated the FLSA.

In framing the issue, the Court stated, “[t]he essential question is whether Defendants paid Plaintiffs on a proper Fluctuating Workweek (‘FWW’) method pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). Defendants pay Plaintiffs a percentage of their annual salary, and, if eligible, ‘day off pay,’ ‘off shore pay,’ and ‘holiday pay.’ Plaintiff alleges that because of such special payments, Defendants cannot demonstrate that the amount paid each week was “fixed.” A “fixed amount as straight time pay” is necessary to apply the FWW under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a).”

Reasoning that the pay method at issue did not comply with the FLSA, the Court discussed the general principles of the FLSA and the specific pre-requisites for application of the FWW.

“29 U.S.C. § 207(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires the payment of overtime compensation “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate.” The fluctuating workweek method (“FWW”) provides an alternative for calculating overtime premiums when certain conditions are met. In short, to apply the FWW method, Defendants must demonstrate that:

1) Plaintiffs’ hours fluctuate from week to week, 2) Plaintiffs receive a fixed salary that does not vary with the number of hours worked during each workweek (excluding overtime premiums), 3) the fixed amount received by Plaintiffs provides compensation every week at a regular rate that is at least equal to the minimum wage, and 4) that Defendants and Plaintiffs share a ‘clear mutual understanding’ that Defendants will pay that fixed salary regardless of the number of hours worked. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a); O’Brien v. Town of Agawam, 350 F.3d 279, 288 (1st Cir.2003); Flood v. New Hanover, 125 F.3d 249, 252 (4th Cir.1997).

The essential question before the Court is whether Defendants have met the prerequisites for applying the FWW method. The Court is not convinced that Defendants pay Plaintiffs “a fixed salary that does not vary with the number of hours worked during each workweek (excluding overtime premiums).” 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). The record demonstrates that Plaintiffs’ compensation for non-overtime hours varied, depending upon earned offshore pay, holiday pay or day-off pay. The Court is convinced that due to such payments, Plaintiffs cannot receive the fixed salary required to apply the FWW. See, e.g., O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 288 (holding that a ten-dollar night-shift increase precluded application of the FWW); Ayers v. SGS Control Services, Inc., 2007 WL 646326 (S.D.N.Y.2007) (holding “any Plaintiff who received sea pay or day-off pay did not have fixed weekly straight time pay, in violation of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a).”); Dooley v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 369 F.Supp.2d 81, 86 (D.Mass.2005) (holding that payment of a premium rate for weekend work precludes application of the FWW).

Most recently, the Southern District of New York was faced with the identical issue currently before this Court. Ayers, 2007 WL 646326. In granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, that Court held that because plaintiffs received sea-pay and day-off pay, their salaries were not fixed, consequently precluding usage of the FWW method of payment. Id. at 8-9. In rendering its decision, the Ayers court relied on the O’Brien and Dooley decisions. In O’Brien, the First Circuit noted that the plain text of § 778.114 requires payment of a “fixed amount as straight time pay for whatever hours he is called upon to work in a workweek, whether few or many.”   O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 288. Guided by the statutory language, the Court held that workers who received additional compensation (in the form of a $10 shift differential payment) could not have received a fixed amount as required under § 778.114. Id. at 289;see also Dooley, 369 F.Supp.2d 81, 86 (holding that payment of a premium rate for weekend work precludes application of the FWW). The sea-pay, day-off pay, night-shift pay and weekend-pay analyzed in the Ayers, O’Brien and Dooley decisions are nearly identical to the types of payments received by Plaintiffs in this case. Clearly, the payment of differentials such as sea-pay differential or increased pay for working a “night-shift,” means that employees are not being paid a “fixed” salary regardless of hours worked. Instead, the salary fluctuates, based upon whether the employee is or is not receiving “sea-pay” or “night-shift pay.” If the regulation merely required that employees received a minimum salary every week, which could be increased by such bonuses, then Defendants’ argument would have substantial force. The regulation, however, contains no such thing. Consequently, the Court holds that Defendants are precluded from using the FWW method of payment as such premiums and bonuses run afoul of the “fixed salary” requirement of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted, in part, as Defendants’ FWW compensation methodology violates the FLSA.”

Although not discussed here, the Court granted Defendants’ Cross Motion, in part, holding that Defendants’ FLSA violation(s) were not willful.  To read more about the case click here.

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D.Or.: FLSA Supports Award Of Attorney Fees For Post-Judgment Collection Efforts

Van Dyke v. BTS Container Service, Inc.

After plaintiff prevailed in this FLSA case, Judgment was entered for $4,724.29 and a Supplemental Judgment for $35,248.10 in attorney fees and costs.  Due to financial difficulties, Defendants failed to satisfy the judgment, necessitating Plaintiff to garnish certain monies from Defendants to satisfy the judgment.  Before the court was Plaintiff’s Supplemental Motion for Attorney Fees for Post-Judgment Collection.  The Court granted the Motion.

The Court explained, “[u]nder Oregon law, attorney fees to enforce a judgment are “legal services related to the prosecution or defense of an action” which the court may consider when it awards attorney fees. Johnson v. Jeppe, 77 Or.App. 685, 688, 713 P.2d 1090 (1986) (quoting ORCP 68).

The Ninth Circuit has not determined if the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) supports the court awarding attorney fees for post-judgment collection efforts. But cf. Jones v. Giles, 741 F .2d 245, 250 (9th Cir.1984) (finding no abuse of discretion in the size of the trial court’s $2,500 award for post-judgment attorney fees in an FLSA case without addressing whether such fees were available under the statute). Federal courts have awarded attorney fees for post-judgment collection efforts in other contexts. See Shaw v. AAA Eng’g & Drafting, Inc., 213 F.3d 538, 544-45 (False Claims Act case); Free v. Briody, 793 F.2d 807, 808-09 (7th Cir.1986) (ERISA case). I conclude that the FLSA also allows me to award post-judgment collection fees. Without such an award, a judgment is a hollow victory for a plaintiff who was improperly paid.”

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2d. Cir.: Advertising Salespeople Are Not Administratively Exempt Under The FLSA; Sales Are Not “Directly Related To Management Policies Or General Business Operations”

Reiseck v. Universal Communications of Miami, Inc.

This case was before the Court on Plaintiff’s appeal an Order at the district court below, granting Defendants summary judgment on all counts of Plaintiff’s claim.  The Court affirmed all parts of the judgment below, except for that pertaining to the FLSA.  Resolving a question of first impression, the Court held that advertising salespeople, who conduct sales with individual customers are not subject to the administrative exemption as a matter of law, because such sales work is production work not administrative.

The Court discussed the following facts as relevant to its decision:

“September 2002, Reiseck began working as a Regional Director of Sales at Universal in New York City. As Regional Director of Sales, Reiseck was responsible for generating advertising sales in the northeastern United States and Canada from the travel and finance sectors for Universal’s magazine publication, Elite Traveler. While an employee of Universal, Reiseck was paid a base salary plus certain commissions. Plaintiff was paid no overtime during her tenure with Universal.

Elite Traveler is distributed on a complimentary basis. Advertising sales therefore constitute the majority of Universal’s revenue from Elite Traveler. The magazine had a sales staff, a marketing staff, and an editorial staff. The sales staff sold advertising space; the marketing staff created promotional material to increase advertising sales; and the editorial staff produced the “content” of the magazine.”

Discussing the inapplicability of the administrative exemption to the case at bar, the Court applied the s0-called pre-2004 “short test.”

“Under the short test as it applies here, an employee falls under the administrative employee exemption if the employee is paid on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $250 per week (i.e., the “salary test”), id. § 541.2(e)(2), and the employee’s “primary duty consists of … the performance of office or nonmanual work directly related to management policies or general business operations of his employer,” id. § 541.2(a), and requires “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment,” id. § 541.2(e)(2), (i.e., the “duties test”). As noted above, there is no dispute that Reiseck’s employment satisfies the salary test prong of the short test.

Because the first prong of the short test is not in dispute, we move to the second prong-the duties test. Here, it is uncontested that Reiseck’s primary duty consisted of “the performance of office or non-manual work”; therefore we must consider whether Reiseck’s primary duty was “directly related to management policies or general business operations” of Universal. Id. § 541.2(a).

The phrase “directly related to management policies or general business operations” is not self-defining, and the Secretary of Labor has promulgated interpretive regulations to aid our application of this test. See, e.g., id. § 541.2. Although the Secretary’s legislative regulations-those promulgated pursuant to an express grant of authority by Congress, like 29 C.F.R. § 541.2-have the power to control courts’ reading of the law, the Secretary’s interpretive regulations have only the power to persuade courts. See Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 139-40 (1944). See generally United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U .S. 218 (2001). And thus we defer to the Secretary’s interpretative regulations only to the extent that we find them persuasive. See Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140.

In its interpretive regulations, the Department of Labor describes “directly related to management policies or general business operations” in several ways. First, the interpretive rules state that the phrase at issue “describes those types activities relating to the administrative operations of a business as distinguished from ‘production’ or, in a retail or service establishment, ‘sales’ work.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.205(a). They also state that “the phrase limits the exemption to persons who perform work of substantial importance to the management or operation of the business.” Id. Alternatively, the interpretive rules state that the administrative operations include “advising the management, planning, negotiating, representing the company, purchasing, promoting sales, and business research and control.” Id. § 541.205(b).

At first glance, the two definitions of the phrase “directly related to management policies or general business operations” in the interpretive regulations seem to point to contradictory conclusions in Reiseck’s case. On the one hand, plaintiff was a salesperson responsible for selling specific advertising space, and so seems to fit comfortably on the “sales” side of the administrative/sales divide. See id. § 541.205(a). On the other hand, Reiseck also “promoted sales” in some sense, and thus seems to have performed administrative operations. See id. § 541.205(b). We are required to resolve this apparent contradiction. Whether advertising salespersons are administrative employees for the purposes of the exemptions to the FLSA’s overtime pay provisions is a question of first impression for this Court. In answering this question, we also refine our interpretation of the administrative exemption to the FLSA.

First, we consider the Department’s distinction between “administrative” and “sales.” As a magazine publisher, Universal is not one of the archetypal businesses envisaged by the FLSA; it is neither a manufacturer nor a retailer. Accordingly, placing Reiseck’s work into either the administrative or sales category is difficult initially. Nevertheless, a careful consideration of Universal’s business model provides some clarity. Because Universal does not charge readers for Elite Traveler, advertising sales are a critical source of revenue for Universal. One could thus conclude that advertising space is Universal’s “product.” If advertising space is Universal’s product and Reiseck’s primary duty was the sale of that product, then she may reasonably be considered a sales employee, rather than an administrative employee.

Next, we consider the contradictory conclusion suggested by the second description found in the interpretive regulations-namely, that administrative operations include “promoting sales.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.205(b). Because Reiseck sold advertising space, it seems that she must have “promoted sales.” But under that theory, any sales clerk in a retail store would “promote sales” when assisting potential customers, and there would be no administrative/sales distinction in a retail store despite the clear assertion of the interpretive rule that sales work in a retail store is not administrative work for the purposes of the FLSA. Id. One of our sister circuits has provided some helpful guidance on this matter. In Martin v. Cooper Electric Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896, 905 (3d Cir.1991), the Third Circuit reasoned that sales promotion “consists of marketing activity aimed at promoting (i.e., increasing, developing, facilitating, and/or maintaining) customer sales generally.” According to the logic of the Third Circuit, which we now adopt, an employee making specific sales to individual customers is a salesperson for the purposes of the FLSA, while an employee encouraging an increase in sales generally among all customers is an administrative employee for the purposes of the FLSA. Consider a clothing store. The individual who assists customers in finding their size of clothing or who completes the transaction at the cash register is a salesperson under the FLSA, while the individual who designs advertisements for the store or decides when to reduce prices to attract customers is an administrative employee for the purposes of the FLSA.

Here, Reiseck is plainly a salesperson. Although she did “develop new clients” with the goal of increasing sales generally, this was not her primary duty. Under the interpretive regulations, an employee’s “primary duty” is the duty that consumes a “major part, or over [fifty] percent, of the employee’s time.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (defining “primary duty” for the executive employee); see also 29 C.F.R. § 541.206 (applying the definition of “primary duty” for the executive employee to the administrative employee). The record shows that Reiseck’s primary duty was to sell specific advertising space to clients. Even Gollan, plaintiff’s supervisor, conceded that Reiseck was a member of the “sales staff” and not the “marketing staff.”  Because Reiseck’s primary duty was the sale of advertising space, she is properly considered a “salesperson” for the purposes of the FLSA and therefore does not fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA.

Recent amendments to the interpretive regulations provide helpful guidance to support our conclusion above. Although these interpretive regulations do not apply retroactively, see ante note 5, (and even if they did apply retroactively, we need not consider them if we find them unpersuasive, see Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140), we nevertheless note that the new regulations reach the same conclusion that we reach above. When providing examples of employees who fall under the administrative exemption, the interpretative regulations state that an employee in the financial sector whose primary duty includes “marketing, servicing, or promoting the employer’s financial products” likely falls under the administrative exemption. 29 C.F.R. § 541.203(b) (2004). But, the regulations then specify that “an employee whose primary duty is selling financial products does not qualify for the administrative exemption.” Id. (emphasis added). For example, if a bank employee, acting within the scope of her primary duty, encourages a customer to open a money market account while she opens a checking account for that customer, she would not likely be an administrative employee because she simply was selling a financial product. If, however, an employee’s primary duty included deciding which interest rates to offer to encourage customers to open money market accounts, then that employee would likely be considered an administrative employee, because she was “marketing … or promoting” the financial products. Universal’s sale of advertising space is similar to a financial services company’s sale of financial products. Neither fits neatly within the traditional retail sales model, yet both are standard products sold directly to clients. Additionally, the new interpretative regulations confirm t

Because Reiseck’s primary duty is not administrative, she cannot fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA. Our inquiry ends there-we need not inquire whether her work requires “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment,” because the short test requires both that the employee’s primary duty be administrative and that the employee’s work involves the use of discretion. 29 C.F.R. § 541.2(e)(2).”

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