Tag Archives: Administrative Exemption

Courts Support DOL Positions re: Tip-Credit Regs and Classification of Mortgage Loan Officers

More so than any recent Department of Labor in memory, the DOL’s positions have come under attack by several major industries largely under the battle cry that they amount to unfair or “over” regulation. Although the Supreme Court recently handed the pharmaceutical industry a major victory in its industry-wide litigation regarding the outside sales exemption’s application to its so-called pharmaceutical reps or PSRs, the DOL and workers come out on the winning end in 2 district-level cases, both challenging recent DOL pronouncements of its policies. In the first, the DOL’s recent amendment to the rules governing when an employer may take the tip-credit with respect to tipped employees came under fire. In the second, the Mortgage Bankers Association challenged the DOL’s recent Administrative Interpretation 2010–1 in which the DOL took the position that Mortgage Loan Officers (MLOs) performing typical MLO duties were non-exempt.

National Restaurant Ass’n v. Solis

In the first case, the National Restaurant Association, Counsel of State Restaurant Associations, Inc., and National Federation of Independent Businesses sued the Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, in her official capacity as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor; Nancy Leppink, in her official capacity as Acting Administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor; and the U.S. Department of Labor (“the Department” or “DOL”).

The rule at issue, 29 C.F.R. § 531.59(b), which went into effect on May 5, 2011, provided:

Pursuant to section 3(m), an employer is not eligible to take the tip credit unless it has informed its tipped employees in advance of the employer’s use of the tip credit of the provisions of section 3(m) of the Act, i.e.: The amount of the cash wage that is to be paid to the tipped employee by the employer; the additional amount by which the wages of the tipped employee are increased on account of the tip credit claimed by the employer, which amount may not exceed the value of the tips actually received by the employee; that all tips received by the tipped employee must be retained by the employee except for a valid tip pooling arrangement limited to employees who customarily and regularly receive tips; and that the tip credit shall not apply to any employee who has not been informed of these requirements in this section.

In its challenge to the regulation, the restaurant tradegroup-Plaintiffs alleged that the DOL violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 611, 702 (2006), when DOL promulgated a new regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 531.59(b) (2011), concerning an employer’s obligation to inform tipped employees of the “tip credit” requirements of the Federal Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201219 (2006). The parties filed cross-motions seeking judgment in their respective favor. The court held that because the agency complied with the APA notice requirements when it conducted this rulemaking exercise, and the public was fully and specifically informed of the subject matter under consideration, the DOL was within its rulemaking powers when it promulgated the new tip-credit notice rules.

Click National Restaurant Ass’n v. Solis to read the entire Memorandum Opinion.

Mortgage Bankers Ass’n v. Solis

In the second case, the Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade group for mortgage bankers challenged the DOL’s issuance, in 2010, of Administrative Interpretation, the 2010 AI, which expressly withdrew a DOL’s 2006 Opinion Letter, regarding the exempt status of typical Mortgage Loan Officers (“MLOs”). Whereas, previously the DOL had taken the position that MLOs, performing typical duties of MLO positions met the requirements for application of the administrative exemption, the 2010 Administrative Interpretation took the opposite view- that typical MLOs are non-exempt.

Discussing the AI, the court explained:

The 2010 AI relies on a District of Minnesota decision, Casas v. Conseco Finance Corp., No. Civ.00–1512, 2002 WL 507059 (D.Minn. March 31, 2002) in addition to several other cases, as support for its position that mortgage loan officers are non-exempt employees. Id. at 105. In Casas, loan originators asserted they were entitled to overtime compensation from the defendants under the FLSA, requiring the court to decide whether the plaintiffs were exempt from FLSA overtime pay provisions. The court found that because “Conseco’s primary business purpose [was] to design, create and sell home lending products,” the mortgage loan officers’ primary duty was to sell those lending products on a day-to-day basis, not ” ‘the running of [the] business [itself]‘ or determining its overall course or policies.” Casas, 2002 WL 507059, at *9 (citation omitted) (alterations in original). Relying on the ruling in Casas, the 2010 AI reasons that “because Conseco’s loan officers’ duties were ‘selling loans directly to individual customers, one loan at a time,’ ” the administrative exemption did not apply to them. A.R. at 105 (Administrator’s Interpretation No.2010–01) (internal citation omitted). The 2010 AI further notes that the 2004 amended regulations examined the difference between mortgage loan officers who spend the majority of their time selling mortgage products to consumers, like the Casas plaintiffs, as compared to those who “promot[e] the employer’s financial products generally, decid[e] on an advertising budget and techniques, run[ ] an office, hir[e] staff and set[ ] their pay, service [ ] existing customers …, and advis[e] customers.” Id. at 105 (citing 69 Fed.Reg. at 22145–46). The 2010 AI concluded that in order for mortgage loan officers to be properly classified as exempt employees, their primary duties must be administrative in nature. Id. at 105.

Relying on the facts that a significant portion of mortgage loan officers’ compensation is composed of commissions from sales, that their job performance is evaluated based on their sales volume, and that much of the non-sales work performed by the officers is completed in furtherance of their sales duties, the 2010 AI concluded “that a mortgage loan officer’s primary duty is making sales.” Id. at 106–07. And because their primary duty is making sales, the 2010 AI further concludes that “mortgage loan officers perform the production[, not the administrative,] work of their employers.” Id. at 107.

After concluding that the work of mortgage loan officers is not related to the general business operation of their employers, the 2010 AI considered another factor that could provide the basis for finding that mortgage loan officers are subject to the administrative exemption. Id. at 108. The AI states that “[t]he administrative exemption can also apply if the employee’s primary duty is directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer’s customers.Id. In making this assessment, the 2010 AI notes that “it is necessary to focus on the identity of the customer.” Id. The 2010 AI finds that “work for an employer’s customers does not qualify for the administrative exemption where the customers are individuals seeking advice for their personal needs, such as people seeking mortgages for their homes.” Id. However, it recognizes that a mortgage loan officer “might qualify under the administrative exemption” if the customer that the officer is working with “is a business seeking advice about, for example, a mortgage to purchase land for a new manufacturing plant, to buy a building for office space, or to acquire a warehouse for storage of finished goods.” Id. Nevertheless, the 2010 AI concludes that the typical mortgage loan officers’ “primary duty is making sales for the employer [to homeowners], and because homeowners do not have management or general business operations, a typical mortgage loan officer’s primary duty is not related to the management or general business operations of the employer’s customers.” Id. at 109.

Finally, the 2010 AI took exception with the 2006 Opinion Letter’s apparent assumption “that the example provided in 29 C.F.R. § 541.203(b) creates an alternative standard for the administrative exemption for employees in the financial services industry.” Id. Rather, the 2010 AI states that 29 C.F.R. § 541.203(b) merely illustrates an example of an employee who might otherwise qualify for the exemption based on “the requirements set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 541.200.” Id. Thus, the 2010 AI clarifies that “the administrative exemption is only applicable to employees that meet the requirements set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 541.200.” Id. In providing this clarification, the 2010 AI states, “[t]he fact example at 29 C.F.R. § 541.203(b) is not an alternative test, and its guidance cannot result in it ‘swallowing’ the requirements of 29 C.F.R. § 541.200.” FN4
Id.

In summation, the DOL through the issuance of the 2010 AI explicitly withdrew the 2006 Opinion Letter “[b]ecause of its misleading assumption and selective and narrow analysis[.]” Id. Before taking this action, the DOL did not utilize the APA’s notice and comment process. Compl. ¶¶ 32–33.

The Mortgage Bankers Association relied on two different theories in seeking that the court strike down the AI at issue. First, relying on Paralyzed Veterans, 117 F.3d at 586, the plaintiff argues that once an agency issues an authoritative interpretation of its own regulation, it must utilize the notice and comment process if it desires to modify that interpretation. Second, the Mortgage Bankers Association argued that the 2010 AI does not comport with the 2004 regulations and is therefore “arbitrary, capricious, an abused of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

With regard to the first argument, the rejected it, noting that ” seven courts of appeals have held that the notice and comment provisions found in section 553 of the APA do not apply to interpretative rules.” Further, the court held that the case did not fit within the limited recognized exceptions to that general rule. Similarly, the court held that the DOL’s interpretation of its own 2004 white collar regulations was not inconsistent and therefore not arbitrary and capricious. Thus, the court granted the DOL summary judgment, in part, and denied the Mortgage Bankers Association’s similar motion, and upheld the AI.

Click Mortgage Bankers Ass’n v. Solis to read the entire Memorandum Opinion.

 

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7th Cir.: Pharma Reps Are Administratively Exempt

Schaefer-LaRose v. Eli Lilly & Co.

This case was before the Seventh Circuit on the consolidated appeals of two different summary judgment orders in two different cases. In one case, the trial court had granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment holding that, as a matter of law, pharmaceutical reps were not administratively exempt employees. In the other case, the trial court held that the pharmaceutical reps were subject to the administrative exemption, and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Resolving this issue, at least in the Seventh Circuit, the court agreed with the latter and held that pharma reps do in fact meet both of the duties prongs of the administrative exemption. In so doing, the court joined the Third Circuit and furthered the split with the Second Circuit which had previously held that pharma reps with virtually identical duties are not subject to the administrative exemption.

Initially, the court examined the first duties prong of the administrative exemption and held that the reps’ primary duty as pharmaceutical sales representatives was performance of office work directly related to their employers’ general business operations. In so doing, the Seventh Circuit seems to have taken a particularly broad view of the first prong, in line with other recent Seventh Circuit authority, but in contrast to other circuits such as the Second and Eleventh, which typically require that an administrative employee “run of service” the employer’s business or at least some aspect of it in order to fall under the exemption.

In holding that they exercised the requisite independent judgment and discretion, the court cited the arguments raised by the defendants that:

the pharmaceutical companies assert that the representatives had a host of core duties committed to their discretion, including determining how best to gain access to particular physicians and managing their limited discretionary budgets. Their primary argument, however, focuses on the discretion that an individual representative must employ in the course of an individual sales call with a physician to communicate effectively his employer’s core message to the specific audience and to address a physician’s particular concerns.

As in other recent cases regarding the administrative exemption, the Seventh Circuit seems to have lowered the bar for the level of discretion that an employee must exercise in order to qualify for the exemption. Whereas § 541.202(b) explains:

The phrase “discretion and independent judgment” must be applied in the light of all the facts involved in the particular employment situation in which the question arises. Factors to consider when determining whether an employee exercises discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance include, but are not limited to: whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices; whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to operation of a particular segment of the business; whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact; whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters; whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; whether the employee investigates and resolves matters of significance on behalf of management; and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes or resolving grievances.

the court seemed to simply conclude that the plaintiffs’ duties were sufficient because they exercised some level of discretion, a fact that the parties did not dispute. Discussing the discretion exercised by the plaintiffs, the court reasoned:

Beyond these physician interactions, which we consider to be the critical function of the job and the place in which discretion is most evident, the representatives’ other duties related to the actual call on the physician also manifest a substantial measure of judgment. Although representatives are given specific call plans identifying the physicians to be visited and the degree of frequency or priority category for each physician, several representatives testified that they apply a measure of strategic analysis to their work, choosing to see physicians not on their call plans or non-physicians who may influence prescribing patterns. See supra note 14 (describing discretion applied to call plans). They work collaboratively with one another, proposing comprehensive visit plans for the territories and checking in regularly by phone to keep each other abreast of developments in particular visits with physicians. Representatives also spend the vast majority of their time entirely unsupervised. Although they keep extensive records, through which management can and does monitor their progress, neither the fact that management reviews their work nor that they are required to keep such records detracts from the discretion they exercise in the core of their workday.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the plaintiffs’ principal duties involved the application of skill, rather than the judgment required for application of the exemption:

Finally, the plaintiffs and the Secretary briefly contend that the work of the representatives principally involves the application of skill, rather than judgment. Although they are correct that the regulations draw this distinction and caution that skill is insufficient to warrant the exemption, skill and judgment are not mutually exclusive. The records clearly demonstrate that the representatives receive extensive skills training, particularly on sales techniques. They most certainly employ this skill, and, indeed, many others in the course of their daily duties. Nevertheless, applying these skills entails a great deal of judgment. The job requires far more than “applying well-established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals.”

With the issue of whether pharmaceutical reps are subject to the outside sales exemption notwithstanding the fact that they technically do not make such sales currently before the Supreme Court, the conflict between the circuits may or may not continue to be significant in a few weeks time. Regardless of the effects of this decision on the ongoing pharma rep overtime battles, it is becoming more and more clear that the Seventh Circuit is the place employers want to be if they are arguing that any type of employee is administratively exempt.

Click Schaefer-LaRose v. Eli Lilly & Co. to read the entire Order.

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E.D.Pa.: Following Third Circuit Precedent, Pharmaceutical Rep Administratively Exempt

Kesselman v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC

Continuing a split with virtually every other circuit, another court within the Third Circuit has held that a pharmaceutical representative, performing typical duties is administratively exempt under the FLSA (and PMWA, which requires exercise of discetion and independent judgment, but not that same be exercised with regard to matters of significance) is exempt from overtime under the administrative exemption.

Discussing the Third Circuit precedent, the court stated:

The Third Circuit has recently found pharmaceutical sales representatives exempt as administrative employees under the FLSA and the PMWA. In Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, the Court held a sales representative was engaged in work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer because the “position required her to form a strategic plan designed to maximize sales in her territory,” which “involved a high level of planning and foresight.” Because Smith “executed nearly all of her duties without direct oversight” and considered herself “the manager of her own business who could run her own territory as she saw fit [,]” the Court concluded that Smith was subject to the administrative employee exemption under the FLSA.

In Baum v. AstraZeneca, the Court, relying on Smith, held that plaintiff’s work related to her employer’s general operation because she marketed and advertised its pharmaceutical products. The plaintiff also had “significant discretion in how she would approach physicians, whether it be through access meals, peer-to-peer meetings, or other means,” “spent the majority of her time in the field, unsupervised,” “decided how much time she would spend with a given physician …. [and] whether she would use a detail aid,” such that her “day-to-day activities involved making numerous independent judgments on how best to promote [her employer's] products.” The Third Circuit therefore held that plaintiff was subject to the administrative employee exception to the PMWA.

The court rejected plaintiff’s contention that her duties were distinguishable from prior cases within the Third Circuit:

Having carefully considered the undisputed and stipulated facts of this case, Kesselman’s deposition testimony, and record documents reflecting Kesselman’s own assessment of her job responsibilities and accomplishments, the Court finds Smith and Baum controlling. Like the plaintiffs in Smith and Baum, Kesselman spent most of her working hours unsupervised and was responsible for developing her own target list of physicians, daily and monthly sales call itineraries, and a business plan for her territory based on her extensive knowledge of clients and sales data. Although, like Smith and Baum, she often worked from company-approved materials and was expected to convey certain product information during calls, she otherwise had discretion as to how to organize and conduct the calls. In general, she considered herself the “boss” of her territory.

These activities, which closely parallel the activities of Smith and Baum, “reflect [her] ability to develop strategies; to approach, communicate, and cultivate relationships with physicians; and to operate without constant supervision in the field.” Furthermore, they “are consistent with relevant definitions of exempt administrative work because they affect Defendant’s business operations to a substantial… work on behalf of Defendant that reflect the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance….”

While the issue of whether the outside sales exemption applies to pharmaceutical representatives has reached the Supreme Court, with a resolution to be forthcoming shortly, it is not clear whether the administrative exemption issue will have the same fate. Whereas the outside sales exemption issue hinges on the legal definition of the term “sale,” the administrative exemption requires a more fact specific inquiry. Thus, for the foreseeable future, pharmaceutical representatives whose cases are decided in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania may be exempt from the FLSA under the administrative exemption, while those whose cases are adjudicated in the other 47 states are not. Of course, to the extent that the Supreme Court holds that their positions are outside sales exempt, the whole issue will be rendered moot.

Click Kesselman v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC to read the entire Memorandum Opinion and Order.

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U.S.S.C.: Court Denies Certiorari to Novartis and Schering on Appeals of Decisions Finding Pharma Reps Non-Exempt Under the FLSA

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. v. Lopes, Simona M. and Schering Corporation v. Kuzinski, Eugene, et al.

In a case with far sweeping ramifications for the pharmaceutical industry and its employees, following the Second Circuit’s decision that found pharmaceutical representatives (pharma reps) to be non-exempt and therefore, entitled to overtime, the Supreme Court has denied Plaintiff’s Petition for Cert, and therefore the issue remains largely unresolved.  In a decision discussed here, the Second Circuit had previously held that the pharma reps were non-exempt, notwithstanding the pharmaceutical companies’ arguments that they were outside sales and/or administrative exempt.  However, the Third Circuit, on facts it acknowledged were limited to the case before it, recently reached the opposite conclusion, holding Johnson & Johnson pharma reps to be exempt under the administrative exemption.  Most recently, the Ninth Circuit held that, notwithstanding the fact that pharma reps cannot and do not consummate sales, their promotional activities are close enough to render them exempt under the outside sales exemption.

The Department of Labor had submitted an Amicus Brief in support of the employees in both the Second and Ninth Circuit cases.  While the Second Circuit relied on the DOL’s Brief in large part, reaching its conclusion that the pharma reps are non-exempt, the Ninth Circuit rejected the arguments in the Brief.

It will be interesting to see if the large pharmaceutical companies, most of whom are in the midst of FLSA collective actions and/or state wage and hour class actions, will reclassify their pharma reps based on the Novartis decision.  The stakes are huge, and the risk- if they chose not to- could be an imposition of liquidated damages, in addition to unpaid wage awards in any case(s) the employees win.

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11th Cir.: Trial Court Erred In Allowing Defendants To Amend Their Affirmative Defenses At Trial To Add Previously Unpled Exemption

Diaz v. Jaguar Restaurant Group, LLC

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants, her former employer, for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201–216. During trial, the district court allowed Jaguar to amend its Answer pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b) to include the administrative exemption as an affirmative defense as it found that Diaz had injected the issue through her testimony at trial. The jury returned a verdict finding that Diaz had worked more than 40 hours per week for which she was not compensated, but also finding that she was exempt from the requirements of the FLSA as she was an administrative employee.  On appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, Plaintiff challenged the district court’s decision to allow Defendant to amend its Answer during trial. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, and remand the case to the district court for a trial on damages.

In reversing, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned:

“Jaguar failed to plead the administrative exemption as an affirmative defense in its Answer. In the fourteen months between the filing of its Answer and the commencement of trial, Jaguar never moved to amend its Answer to include the administrative exemption. Jaguar also did not raise the issue of the administrative exemption during discovery. The only time Jaguar raised the issue prior to trial was by inserting it in one line of the Joint Pretrial Stipulation and in the proposed Joint Jury Instructions, to which Diaz objected. Jaguar did not raise the issue during the pretrial conference and the district court did not include the issue in its Omnibus Order Following Pretrial Conference. If ever there were a classic case of waiver, this is it! See Latimer v. Roaring Toyz, Inc., 601 F.3d 1224, 1239 (11th Cir. 2010) (“Failure to plead an affirmative defense generally results in a waiver of that defense.”). Jaguar repeatedly waived the administrative exemption defense by failing to plead the defense in its Answer and by failing to move to amend its Answer before trial.

Ideally, cases should be tried on their merits. Accordingly, even if Jaguar failed to plead the administrative exemption defense, the district court could allow Jaguar to amend its Answer during trial if the issue was tried by the parties’ express or implied consent, or included in a pretrial order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(b); see Steger v. Gen. Elec. Co., 318 F.3d 1066, 1077 (11th Cir. 2003) (“[I]ssues not raised in the pleadings may be treated as if they were properly raised when they are ‘tried by express or implied consent of the parties,’ Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b), or are included in a pretrial order.”). In this case, the issue was not included in the district court’s Omnibus Order Following Pretrial Conference. Further, it is clear that the administrative exemption issue was not tried by the parties’ express consent as Diaz opposed the insertion of the issue in the Joint Pretrial Stipulation, proposed Joint Jury Instructions, and at trial. See R. Vol. 5: 160–65. The district court, however, found that the issue was tried by implied consent as it believed Diaz introduced the issue of the administrative exemption through her testimony at trial. Thus, the district court allowed the amendment.

The district court erred in finding that the administrative exemption issue was tried by implied consent and in thereby allowing Jaguar to amend its Answer.  That issue was not tried by implied consent as Diaz’s testimony was relevant to another defense in this case: Jaguar’s independent contractor defense. “The introduction of evidence arguably relevant to pleaded issues cannot serve to give a party fair notice that new issues are entering the case.” Wesco Mfg., Inc. v. Tropical Attractions of Palm Beach, Inc., 833 F.2d 1484, 1487 (11th Cir. 1987); see Jimenez v. Tuna Vessel Granada, 652 F.2d 415, 421 (5th Cir. 1981) (stating that implied consent cannot be found when “evidence is introduced that is relevant to an issue already in the case and there is no indication that the party who introduced the evidence was seeking to raise a new issue”). Diaz’s testimony was relevant to counter Jaguar’s independent contractor defense, and she clearly was not seeking to raise the administrative exemption as a new issue. Further, we cannot conclude that her testimony was “much more strongly relevant” to the administrative exemption than to the independent contractor defense, which could be construed as notice of a new issue. See United States f/u/b/o Seminole Sheet Metal Co. v. SCI, Inc., 828 F.2d 671, 677 (11th Cir. 1987). Thus, her testimony cannot be considered implied consent to try the administrative exemption.”

Click Diaz v. Jaguar Restaurant Group, LLC, to read the entire opinion.

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S.D.Tex.: Upon Reconsideration, Pharmaceutical Reps Nonexempt; Court Elects To Adopt Second Circuit’s Reasoning

Harris v. Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

This case was before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration of the court’s prior decision granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  The court had previously held that the Plaintiff’s, pharmaceutical representatives were exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) under both the administrative and outside sales exemptions.  Plaintiff sought reconsideration in light of the United States Secretary of Labor’s amicus curiae brief filed in In re Novartis Wage and Hour Litigation.   Granting the Plaintiff’s Motion, the court reversed itself, finding that the Second Circuit’s recent opinion was more persuasive than the contrary jurisprudence.

Discussing the exemption issues, the court reasoned:

“In its previous order, this Court determined that Harris could not bring a FLSA claim because her position as a Medical Sales Consultant (“MSC”), or pharmaceutical representative, took her out of FLSA’s purview. This Court found that the MSC position was exempt from FLSA under the “administrative” and “outside sales” exemptions.

Shortly after this Court’s order came out, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) filed an amicus curiae brief in a case then pending before the Second Circuit, In re Novartis Wage & Hour Litigation, 611 F.3d 141 (2010). In Novartis, The DOL argued that, under its regulations, pharmaceutical representatives “do not meet the requirements for either the outside sales or administrative exemption.” (Br. for the Secretary of Labor as Amicus Curiae in Supp. of Pls.-Appellants, Doc. No. 106-2, at 5.) Regarding the outside sales exemption, the DOL noted that, “[b]ecause the [pharmaceutical representatives] do not sell any drugs or obtain any orders for drugs, and can at most obtain from the physicians a non-binding commitment to prescribe NPC’s drugs to their patients when appropriate, [they] do not meet the regulation’s plain and unmistakable requirement that their primary duty must be ‘making sales.’ “ (Id. at 10.) Under the administrative exemption, the DOL noted that, although pharmaceutical representatives work independently, that “does not suffice to qualify for the administrative exemption; [the representatives] do not perform any primary duties that are largely comparable to those found in 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b), such as formulating or implementing management policies, utilizing authority to deviate from established policies, providing expert advice, or planning business objectives.” (Doc. No. 106-2, at 21.)

While this motion for reconsideration was pending at this Court, the Second Circuit concluded that under the DOL’s regulations, pharmaceutical representatives are not outside salesmen or administrative employees for the purposes of FLSA’s overtime pay requirements. Novartis, 611 F.3d at 149. The Novartis court determined that the DOL’s interpretations were “entitled to ‘controlling’ deference,” id., under the Supreme Court’s decision in Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997).

After a review of the applicable authority, this Court adopts the reasoning of the Second Circuit and holds that Plaintiffs are not outside salesmen or administrative employees under FLSA. This Court recognizes that district courts are split on the issue, and that some courts have specifically rejected the DOL’s reasoning as set forth in its Novartis amicus brief. See, e.g., Christopher v. SmithKlein Beecham Corp., 2010 WL 396300, at *1-2 (D.Ariz. Feb. 1, 2010). In this Court’s opinion, however, the Novartis court sets forth a persuasive and reasoned analysis for its deference to the DOL’s interpretation of its regulations. As the Novartis court pointed out, the DOL’s interpretations “do far more than merely parrot the language of the FLSA,” and are therefore “entitled to ‘controlling’ deference unless those interpretations are ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’ “ 611 F.3d at 153 (quoting Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997)). This Court further agrees that no such error or inconsistency exists. Id.

Auxilium points this Court to two opinions in the Third Circuit that came to the opposite conclusion on this question: Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, 593 F.3d 280 (3d Cir.2010), and Baum v. AstraZeneca LP, 372 F. App’x 246 (3d Cir.2010). Neither of these cases, however, considers the impact of the DOL’s amicus brief on their decisions. Therefore, they do not provide a reasoned counterweight to the Second Circuit’s analysis.”

EDITOR’S NOTE:  There continues to be a split of authority with respect to whether pharmaceutical representatives are exempt or nonexempt under the FLSA.  Within the last week, another court, analyzing the very same issue–whether reconsideration (of an order granting defendant summary judgment) in light of the Novartis ruling and the DOL’s amicus brief(s) was warranted–another court held that the decision was not due to be reconsidered and allowed its prior decision to stand.  Schaefer-Larose v. Eli Lilly and Co., 2010 WL 3892464, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 29, 2010).

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M.D.Ala.: Wal-Mart Assistant Store Managers (ASMs) May Be Entitled To Overtime Pay; Wal-Mart’s Motion for Summary Judgment Denied

Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

This case was before the Court on Wal-Mart’s motion for summary judgment.  Wal-Mart asserted that the Plaintiffs, two (2) former Assistant Store Managers (“ASMs”) were exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  Citing issues of fact raised by the Plaintiffs, the Court denied Wal-Mart’s motion.

After noting that the court was due to accept the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs (as the non-moving party), the court recited the following facts pertinent to the motion:

“The facts of this case concern the job duties of the Plaintiffs. Plaintiff Nancy Davis was employed at the Wal-Mart in Opelika, Alabama as a salaried assistant manager from June of 2006 until September 2009. Davis states that during her employment she performed such tasks as stocking, acting as cashier, sweeping, mopping, cleaning, unloading trucks, bringing in shopping carts, and doing price checks. Plaintiff Shirley Toliver was employed with the Wal-Mart store in Opelika from August 2001 to May 20, 2009. She also states that she performed tasks such as stocking, running the cash register, sweeping, mopping, cleaning, loading trucks, pulling pallets, bringing in shopping carts and performing price checks. The Plaintiffs have testified in their depositions that these tasks comprised 80-90 % of their work duties. Wal-Mart has presented documentary and deposition evidence that Davis and Toliver also engaged in managerial tasks, including delegation of duties, interviewing and hiring applicants, coaching associates, evaluating associates, and terminating associates.”

The Court held that, on these facts, the Plaintiffs could not be said, as a matter of law, to fall under the FLSA’s executive exemption or administrative exemption.  After outlining the elements of the executive exemption, the Court reasoned:

“In a case relied upon by Davis and Toliver, the Eleventh Circuit has engaged in a lengthy analysis of the primary duty requirement in the context of store managers of Family Dollar Stores, a retail establishment. See Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233 (11th Cir.2008).  In Morgan, the plaintiffs were store managers who spent 80 to 90 % of their time performing manual labor tasks such as stocking shelves, running cash registers, unloading trucks, and cleaning. Id. at 1270. They were also assigned tasks such as completing paper work and making bank deposits, but those tasks were strictly prescribed. In evaluating the claim that the executive exemption did not apply to these managers, the court emphasized that at the executive exemption to FLSA overtime pay is to be narrowly construed because the Supreme Court has directed that the exemption be applied only to plaintiffs who fall “clearly and unmistakably within the terms and spirit of the exemption.” Id. at 1269 (citation omitted). The court further noted that the inquiry is fact-intensive, and if there is evidence “on both sides of the question,” the facts should be determined by a jury. Id. The factor of time spent on manual, nonexempt work, however, did not establish that the plaintiffs were nonexempt. Id. Instead, the court found that the jury’s determination that the managers were nonexempt was supported not just by the amount of time spent performing nonexempt work, but also by evidence that non-managerial tasks were of “equal or greater importance to the store’s functioning and success.” Id. The court found significant that the employer described manual labor performed on delivery day as an “essential function” of the position. Id. The court also concluded that the evidence of little time spent in discretionary matters, little freedom from direct supervision, and the difference between managerial and other wages supported the jury’s finding of non-exempt work as the primary duty. Id. at 1270-71. As Wal-Mart points out, the court distinguished other courts’ opinions on the basis that in Morgan the manual labor was not performed concurrently with managerial duties. Id. at 1272-73.

Davis and Toliver contend that here, as in Morgan, all four of the primary duty factors weigh in their favor in this case. With respect to managerial duties, Davis and Toliver contend that they spent the vast majority of their time performing non-managerial tasks, and that the managerial tasks they performed were relatively less important than their non-managerial duties. The court begins with the factor of the amount of time spent performing management duties.

1. Time Spent Performing Management Duties

Davis and Toliver have testified that 80-90 % of their time was spent performing nonmanagerial tasks. Davis Dep. at page 125: 19-126: 4. Davis stated that she would run the cash register for 15 or 20 minutes at a time all day long, three out of five days a week, on day and night shifts, and that she found herself doing sweeping and cleaning, particularly on the third shift. Id. at page 128: 18-129:16. Toliver testified that she performed the same tasks testified to by Davis, adding that sometimes she would be a cashier for three hours at a time. Toliver Dep. at pages 95: 16-96: 4, 17-11-19.

While Wal-Mart characterizes this testimony as self-serving, the court must accept the Plaintiffs’ testimony that they performed the sort of tasks described 80-90 % of the time. Those tasks testified to are not considered managerial duties.

Managerial duties are defined by the C.F.R. to include interviewing, selecting and training employees, directing the work of employees, maintaining sales records, appraising employees’ productivity and efficiency, handling employee complaints and grievances, disciplining employees, planning work, determining techniques to be used, apportioning work, determining merchandise to be bought and sold, controlling distribution of merchandise, providing for safety and security of employees or property, planning and controlling the budget, and implementing and monitoring legal compliance measures. 29 C.F.R. § 541.102. Clearly the tasks which Davis and Toliver have identified as comprising 80-90 % of their working time do not fall within these examples of managerial tasks. The C.F.R. also states, however, that

Occasional, infrequently recurring tasks that cannot practicably be performed by nonexempt employees, but are the means for an exempt employee to properly carry out exempt functions and responsibilities, are considered exempt work. The following factors should be considered in determining whether such work is exempt work: Whether the same work is performed by any of the exempt employee’s subordinates; practicability of delegating the work to a nonexempt employee; whether the exempt employee performs the task frequently or occasionally; and existence of an industry practice for the exempt employee to perform the task.  29 C.F.R. § 541.707.

The Plaintiffs argue that the extent to which they performed nonmanagerial tasks meant that the tasks cannot be considered to be exempt work. Davis and Toliver state that their time spent doing the managerial duties of performance evaluation was minimal, averaging 10 to 15 minutes. Toliver Dep. at page 98: 8-16. Davis described her duties as running the register, pulling pallets, unloading trucks, working freight by pulling it off a truck and putting it on the shelf, zoning by fronting merchandise, and cleaning. Davis Dep. at 156: 3-10. Given the testimony of the extent of their nonmanagerial duties, the court concludes that a reasonable jury could conclude that the tasks which, according to the Plaintiffs’ testimony, comprised 80-90 % of their work, were more than occasional, infrequently recurring tasks and, therefore, were nonexempt tasks.

Wal-Mart argues that the Plaintiffs’ choice to perform nonexempt tasks, rather than to delegate those tasks, because they were ultimately responsible for those tasks, does not make them nonexempt. Wal-Mart points to the C.F.R. and argues that concurrent performance of exempt and nonexempt work does not disqualify an employee from the executive exemption. See 29 C.F.R. § 106(a). That C.F.R. section states, however, that if exempt and nonexempt work occurs concurrently, the exemption can still apply, if the requirements for the exemption are otherwise met. Id. The C.F.R. offers as an example an assistant manager who supervises employees and serves customers at the same time, without losing the executive exemption. § 541.106(b). The C.F.R. draws a distinction between persons who make the decision of when to perform nonexempt duties and those directed to perform exempt work. § 541.106(a).

The Eleventh Circuit relied on such a distinction in Morgan. The court distinguished cases from other courts which had given less weight to plaintiffs’ estimates of time performed on nonexempt tasks because those plaintiffs concurrently performed exempt tasks. Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1272. The court explained that the amount of manual labor performed by the managers in Morgan overwhelmed their capacity to perform managerial duties concurrently during store hours. Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1272. The court further explained that management duties could not be performed concurrently because, for example, “a store manager unloading a truck and stocking the storeroom was not concurrently supervising the cashier out front.” Id. at 1273. The court noted that many of the tasks were performed before and after the store closed.   Id. at 1272. The court concluded that the jury “may well have given more weight to the Plaintiffs’ evidence that they spent 80 to 90 % of their time solely on nonexempt work.” Id.

Davis stated in her deposition that she would receive managerial notes from the store manager which would tell her tasks that needed to be accomplished during a shift. Id. at page 126:15-127:14. She explained that “[w]e were told what to do, either find somebody to do it or do it yourself.” Id. at page 126: 15-16. Davis explained that she was assigned duties by the store manager or co-manager in the shift notes that told her what they wanted done. Id. at 150:8-22. If there were minimal associates working, she had to perform the manual labor tasks herself. Id. at page 150: 17-151:17. Davis gave as an example that if two or three trucks came in carrying freight during the third shift, she would have to go to that department. Id. at 151:10-17. She further explained that she would get in trouble for not getting the tasks done. Id. at 151:21-22. Davis testified that she performed sweeping, mopping, and cleaning duties “mostly on third shift” because there were not “enough associates to get everything done that needed to be done.” Id. at 129: 8-16. She also stated that she has been told to scrape dirt from under shelves with a scraper on third shift. Id. at 156:18-157. Davis also testified that she would stay on past the end of her shift on some occasions so that she averaged 54 to 65 hours per week. Id. at page 110: 13-19.

According to the Plaintiffs’ evidence, they were not responsible for the scheduling of associates. The scheduling of employees was conducted by co-Manager Ken King. King explained in his deposition that he set the schedules based on a budget he was provided by corporate headquarters, which came down through the regional and district manager. King Dep. at page 12. Although King also stated that assistant managers also set schedules, in her deposition, Toliver disputed that she made schedules, and stated that the co-manager made the schedules. Toliver Dep. at page 20: 8-12, 21-3.

While Wal-Mart has contended that the Plaintiffs chose to perform nonmanagerial tasks instead of delegating those tasks, viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movants, the Plaintiffs were directed to perform tasks even in the face of inadequate staffing levels. Furthermore, the nonexempt tasks performed by Davis and Toliver in this case were similar to those in Morgan, such as unloading of freight, which would not allow for the supervision of associates in other sections of the store. The court concludes, therefore, that Wal-Mart has not conclusively shown that the nonexempt tasks were performed concurrently with exempt tasks, for purposes of its affirmative defense. Here, as in Morgan, the court concludes that there is sufficient evidence to support the Plaintiffs’ estimate that 80 % to 90 % of their work was nonexempt work.

The C.F.R. states that the amount of time spent on managerial tasks “can be a useful guide in determining whether exempt work is the primary duty of an employee,” but it is not the sole test. § 541.700(b). A person who spends more than 50 percent of her time performing exempt work generally will satisfy the primary duty requirement, but “employees who do not spend more than 50 percent of their time performing exempt duties may nonetheless meet the primary duty requirement if the other factors support such a conclusion.” Id.

Given the Plaintiffs’ evidence, the factor of the amount of time spent on nonexempt tasks, while not dispositive, weighs against a finding of exempt work as the primary duty in this case. See Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1270.

2. Relative Importance of Managerial Duties

The next primary duty factor to be examined is the relative importance of managerial duties as compared to other duties. 29 C.F .R. § 541.700(a).

Wal-Mart has submitted multiple records evidencing managerial tasks, such as coaching for improvement of hourly associates, performance evaluations, and job offers. Wal-Mart states that Davis and Toliver managed recognized departments during the day shift, and were “in charge” of the store on night shifts. Wal-Mart further states that these duties were important, as they were evaluated in the Plaintiffs’ performance evaluations.

Davis and Toliver do not dispute that they coached associate employees, evaluated performance of associates, checked the status of inventory, and monitored store conditions. See Doc. # 20 at page 15. As noted above, however, they state their time spent doing managerial duties, for example, employee evaluation, was minimal, consisting of 10 to 15 minutes, and that these duties were secondary to their primary duties of waiting on customers, stocking shelves, cleaning, merchandising, unloading delivery trucks, and bringing in shopping carts. As further evidence of the relative importance of the nonmanagerial tasks, the Plaintiffs point out that in the job description’s listing of physical activities necessary to perform essential job functions an assistant manager is required to move, lift, carry, and place merchandise and supplies weighing up to 25 pounds without assistance, and to grasp, turn, and manipulate objects of varying size and weight, requiring fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. As described extensively above, there is evidence that Davis and Toliver were required to perform manual tasks also performed by associates, and that the budget-based schedule, which left the store understaffed at times, required them to perform manual labor tasks.

In Morgan, the court concluded that nonmanagerial duties were more important because the essential job functions as listed by the employer required that the managers do the same work as stock clerks and cashiers, and that a large amount of manual labor by managers was a key to the business model, given the limited payroll and large amount of labor that had to be performed. Morgan, 551 F.2d at 1270.

Viewing the evidence presented in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, the court concludes that here, as in Morgan, there is enough evidence for a jury to find not only that nonmanagerial tasks consumed 80-90 % of Davis and Toliver’s time, but also that the nonmanagerial work was relatively more important than managerial work.

3. Relative freedom from Direct Supervision

As to the analytical factor of relative freedom from direct supervision, Davis and Toliver argue that not only were they governed by policies put in place by Wal-Mart at its corporate headquarters, but also policies created, implemented, and enforced by the store manager or co-manager who were present in the store daily. For instance, Toliver states in her deposition that there was a time during which assistant managers set the schedules, but during the relevant time period, the co-manager set schedules. Toliver Dep. at page 20: 4-12. She also explained that she thought it should be within her discretion to decide whom to interview for an position which was open, but that she was told whom to choose at times. Id. at page 78: 3-12. She testified that the rate of starting pay was dictated by policy and that she was not allowed to give raises. Id. at 107:10-23.

Davis testified that when the store manager and co-manager were present in the store, they were supervising the assistant supervisors and were supervising the hourly associates. Davis Dep. at page 148: 9-17. With respect to the placement of merchandise, Davis testified that the home office, store manager, or co-manager directed where to place merchandise, and that placement was dictated by planograms. Id. at page 152:12-153:4. Even on the third shift, when Wal-Mart insists the Plaintiffs were “in charge” of the store, as set out above, upper management gave instructions of what was to be done, down to tasks such as scraping dirt from beneath shelves.

In Morgan, the Eleventh Circuit found that the factor of freedom from supervision weighed in favor of a finding of the primary duty being nonexempt work, because managers above the level of the store managers were responsible for enforcing detailed store operating policies, closely reviewed inventory, closely monitored the payroll, controlled employee hourly rates and pay raises, routinely sent to-do lists and emails with instructions to the managers, closely supervised displays, and closely supervised store operations.   Morgan, 551 F.3d at 1271. When viewed in a light most favorable to the non-movants, many of the same considerations present in Morgan, such as instructions from upper management as to tasks to perform, and pay rates and budget-controlled staffing by upper management, are present in this case as well. Therefore, the court concludes that this factor also weighs in Davis and Toliver’s favor.

4. Relative wages

As to the fourth primary duty factor, the relationship between employee’s salary and wages paid to other employees for the kind of nonexempt work performed by the employee, although Davis and Toliver have argued, correctly, that the court should account for the extra hours they worked in comparing salaries and wages, the court has not been pointed to evidence of the amount of hourly wages paid for the same nonexempt work duties. Therefore, the court cannot conclude that this factor weighs in favor of the Plaintiffs in this case.

Considering together the evidence of the relative importance of the management duties as compared with other types of duties, the amount of time spent performing management duties, the employee’s relative freedom from direct supervision, and the lack of evidence of relative wages, along with the fact that there is evidence that the Plaintiffs performed several types of managerial duties, it appears to the court there is a close question as to whether Davis and Toliver had primarily nonexempt duties. While the Morgan case is helpful in applying the analytical factors and considerations set forth in the C.F.R., the Morgan decision is also distinguishable to the extent that the evidence of managerial responsibilities of the plaintiffs in that case was somewhat limited. Bearing in mind that Wal-Mart has the burden of proof on its affirmative defense, and viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movants, however, the court concludes that there is sufficient evidence to create a question of fact as to whether the Plaintiffs’ primary duties were managerial. Having concluded that there are questions of fact which preclude judgment in Wal-Mart’s favor on the exemption requirement of primary duty, the court need not address the remaining requirements for application of the executive exemption.”

The Court then went on to hold that Plaintiffs may not be administratrively exempt either.  While, this case was limited to the facts of the two (2) ASM Plaintiffs here, this will be an interesting one to watch.

Cliok here Davis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to read the entire opinion.

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D.Minn.: “Insurance Investigators” Were Non-Exempt, Because Their Duties Lacked Independent Judgment and Discretion

Ahle v. Veracity Research Co.

Among other motions, the case was before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.  Of note here, the parties asked the Court to determine whether Plaintiffs, who were “Insurance Investigators” qualified as Administrative Exempt or not.  Holding that their duties did not require the independent judgment and discretion necessary, the Court held that Plaintiffs were non-exempt under the FLSA.

Examining the Plaintiffs’ duties the Court explained:

“Veracity is a full-service investigative firm specializing in insurance defense investigations. Answer to Compl., Defenses and Am. Counterclaim (Counterclaim) [Docket No. 29] ¶ 5. Named Plaintiffs Ahle, Jordan, and Wiseman formerly worked as investigators for Veracity. Id. ¶¶ 6-8; Collective Action Compl. [Docket No. 1] ¶¶ 4-6. Approximately 150 other individuals have opted into this litigation. The plaintiff class members are current or former investigators for Veracity.

Veracity is hired by insurance companies, third-party administrators, and law firms to investigate suspect claims. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010 [Docket No. 186], Ex. 1 (Foster Dep.) 45:22-46:8. Veracity categorizes its investigators by title and level; the titles and levels that are at issue in this litigation are surveillance investigators (levels 1-3), claims investigators (level 4), and senior field investigators (level 5). Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 2 (Doyle Dep.) 60:10-19. Surveillance investigators primarily work in the field conducting surveillance, undercover investigations, and background checks. Id. 50:15-21; Foster Aff ., July 7, 2009 [Docket No. 59], ¶ 7. Claims investigators generally perform the same duties as surveillance investigators, but they also interview witnesses, obtain statements, take photographs, and, occasionally, perform sales functions. Foster Aff., July 7, 2009, ¶¶ 8, 10-11. Senior field investigators supervise and manage surveillance and claims investigators in the field, train new investigators, and perform occasional promotion and sales duties. Id. ¶ 13. Thus, all of the titles and levels of investigators at issue have in common some surveillance duties, although the parties dispute whether the primary duty of investigators in each of these titles and levels is surveillance.

After receiving an assignment from Veracity but before driving to the surveillance site, the investigator typically completes several tasks including reviewing the assignment sheet, performing a background check on the subject, matching the name of the subject to an address, mapping out directions to the surveillance site, and ensuring that the investigator’s camera, laptop computer, and cellular phones are fully charged. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 8 at VRC001063-64. According to Plaintiffs, investigators also are required to perform maintenance including cleaning the windows and filling the fuel tank on their vehicles before leaving for a surveillance site. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Exs. 13, 14, ¶ 6. At the surveillance site, investigators monitor and video record the subject and take notes of their observations. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 13, ¶ 5. Claims investigators may also interview witnesses, obtain statements, and collect documents. Foster Dep. 149:7-23.

Investigators record their activities in a daily investigative report (“DIR”). Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Exs. 13, 14 ¶ 7. An investigator’s DIR discloses when the investigator left home for the surveillance site, the drive time, the arrival time, observation notes, the departure time from the site, and the arrival time back at the investigator’s home. Id. Once completed, the investigator sends the DIR online to Veracity. Id. Investigators send any video recording taken during the day to their managers by depositing the tapes at a FedEx drop-off location. Id .

The dispute in this action centers on whether Plaintiffs, given their daily duties, were properly classified as FLSA “exempt” employees who are not required to be paid overtime for work in excess of forty hours per week. Based on Veracity’s founders’ view of the “industry standard,” Veracity classified its investigators as exempt when it began business in 1995. Doyle Dep. 15:10-17:6. Plaintiffs initiated this action on January 8, 2009, claiming that they were improperly classified as exempt and, therefore, were wrongfully denied compensation for overtime hours allegedly worked while employed by Veracity as investigators.”

After concluding that it lacked information sufficient to determine whether the second prong of the Administrative Exemption was met or not here, the Court held that Defendant could not, as a matter of law, establish that Plaintiffs’ activities required the independent judgment and discretion required for application of the exemption:

“Discretion and Independent Judgment

Although claims investigations is directly related to the management or general business operations of Veracity’s clients, such a primary duty must also involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance for claims investigators to meet the final element of the definition of administrative employees. DOL regulations explain that “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves the comparison and the evaluation of possible courses of conduct, and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(a).

Factors to be considered when determining whether an employee exercises discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance include, but are not limited to: whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices; whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to operation of a particular segment of the business; whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact; whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters; whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; whether the employee investigates and resolves matters of significance on behalf of management; and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes or resolving grievances. Id. § 541.202(b). “The exercise of discretion and independent judgment implies that the employee has the authority to make an independent choice, free from immediate direction or supervision,” but “employees can exercise discretion and independent judgment even if their decisions or recommendations are reviewed at a higher level,” and discretion and independent judgment can “consist of recommendations for action rather than the actual taking of action.” Id. § 541.202(c). However, “[t]he exercise of discretion and independent judgment must be more than the use of skill in applying well-established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals or other sources.” Id . § 541.202(e).

In support of their argument that the duties of the claims investigators do not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment regarding matters of significance, Plaintiffs again cite Gusdonovich, as well as Fenton v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, 663 F.Supp.2d 718 (D.Minn.2009), a case from this district. In Gusdonovich, the court concluded that the insurance “investigators were merely applying their knowledge and skill in determining what procedure to follow, which … is not the exercise of discretion and independent judgment contemplated by the [DOL] regulation[s].” 705 F.Supp. at 265.

The plaintiffs in Fenton were insurance investigators employed by a company to investigate potentially fraudulent insurance claims. 663 F.Supp.2d at 721. The court held that the job duties of such “special investigators” did not involve a sufficient exercise of discretion and independent judgment to qualify for the administrative exemption. Id. at 726. Instead, the special investigators’ job duties were “sufficiently aligned with the employment circumstances” of (1) the insurance investigators who were the plaintiffs in Gusdonovich, (2) the employees performing background investigations discussed in the 2005 DOL Opinion Letter, and (3) the police investigations addressed in DOL regulation 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(b)(1). Id. at 726. In reaching that conclusion, the court noted that the employer’s written guidelines explained in great detail how the investigators should approach issues that often arise in conducting and documenting an investigation, there was “nothing in the residual discretion available to investigators that [was] sufficient to justify exemption,” and there was no dispute that the investigator’s subjective opinions and conclusions were excluded from their written reports. Id. at 726-27. In addition, written guidelines instructed the investigators to include, with equal detail and emphasis, all inculpating and exculpating information in their reports, and investigators had no authority to determine whether a claim should be denied or whether the insurance company should seek to negotiate a settlement. Id. at 727.

Like in Gusdonovich and Fenton, Plaintiffs’ duties as claims investigators for Veracity do not involve a sufficient degree of discretion and independent judgement with respect to matters of significance. Claims investigators do not have the discretion to decide when to conduct an investigation, where to conduct it, or the length of time to spend on it. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 13, ¶ 6. In addition, Veracity does not allow claims investigators to (1) make any recommendations or give their opinions as to whether fraud occurred when submitting their DIRs or (2) recommend or participate in the decision whether to deny or pay a claim or whether to conduct further investigation. Id. ¶ 8. Furthermore, Plaintiffs’ declarations state that they received guidelines and manuals describing how claims investigations are conducted and that they are “expected to follow such guidelines and manuals when conducting day-to-day investigations.” Id. ¶ 11. For example, a Veracity document entitled “Introduction to Claims Investigation and Responsibilities” informs claims investigators as follows:

Your job will be to obtain facts that relate to a specific claim. This will include, but is not limited to, taking recorded statements from the person making the claim …, witnesses to the specific incident, [and] persons that may have direct knowledge about the incident…. Your responsibility is to get the facts of the case by means of questioning or research. At times you will be called upon to obtain needed documentation to include medical records, receipts …, employment information, and police reports. You will have to develop comprehensive investigative and communication skills, and you must be able to decide which leads must be followed, and which ones should be reported but need no further effort.

One of the most challenging areas of [your job as a claims investigator] will be your ability to transfer the information that you gather into a coherent and informative report…. [I]n most cases you will not have the opportunity to speak directly with the client and therefore your report must be accurate, concise, easily understood, and complete.  Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 9 at VRC001154.

The manual includes outlines to follow when taking a recorded statement in all investigations and in particular types of investigations (e.g., employment injuries, motor vehicle accidents resulting in deaths, products liability, property loss or theft, vehicle or property damage). Id. at VRC001167, 1176, 1216, 1230, 1233, 1240. Although claims investigators are not required to follow the outlines verbatim, the outlines do command, in several instances, that some specific information is not optional, employing language such as, “must be on every recorded statement,” “must be covered,” or “must be asked.” Id. at VRC001167, 1176, 1216, 1230, 1233, 1240. Furthermore, the outlines instruct investigators to “obtain all of the facts,” and remind the claims investigators that it is Veractiy’s responsibility to “obtain the information and then let the [client] and their legal department make the determination.” Id. at VRC001230.

The record establishes that (1) Veracity’s written guidelines explain in great detail how claims investigators should conduct an investigation, (2) the claims investigators are required to obtain all the facts regardless of their impact, and (3) the claims investigators do not include their own opinions, conclusions, or recommendations regarding the decision whether to pay or deny the claim. Because the claims investigators do not provide opinions and conclusions about their investigative observations, they are significantly different than the insurance investigators in Foster v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. See 695 F.Supp.2d 748, 761 (S .D.Ohio 2010) (concluding that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the plaintiffs, insurance investigators, exercised discretion and independent judgment because “[m]ost significantly, there is a factual dispute as to whether Special Investigators’ primary duty encompasses providing their opinions and conclusions regarding their investigative findings”). Admittedly, claims investigators do make decisions regarding the precise manner in which they conduct an investigation-creating action plans, deciding who to interview, what documents to review, what leads to follow, and whether to recommend hiring an expert-however, such decisions are more appropriately viewed as choices among “established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals or other sources,” which do not amount to the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(a), (e); see also 2005 Opinion Letter at 4-5 (advising that “prioritizing the pursuit of particular leads, assessing whether the leads … have provided information that requires further investigation, determining which potential witnesses to see and which documents to review, and making similar decisions that promote effective and efficient use of … work time in performing assigned investigative activities” do not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance); Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997) (stating that the DOL’s interpretation of its own regulations are “controlling unless plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation”).

The cases cited by Veracity are unavailing. In Stout v. Smolar, the court viewed evidence that a private investigator had the authority to make decisions as to how to “investigate the scene of an accident, including determining what materials to be preserved and whether expert witnesses would be required” as showing that the investigator exercised discretion and independent judgment. No. 1:05-CV-1202, 2007 WL 2765519, at *6 n. 2 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 18, 2007). The court also commented that treating insurance investigators as not qualifying for the administrative exemption “would appear contrary to the insurance claims adjuster example of administrative exemption cited by the [DOL].” Id. This Court finds more persuasive the reasoning in DOL regulations, cases such as Fenton, and the 2005 Opinion Letter, which suggest that having discretion over the types of matters discussed in Stout does not equate to having discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. See Foster, 695 F.Supp.2d at 761 (recognizing, in light of the 2005 Opinion Letter, that deciding who to interview, what documents to review, what leads to pursue, and “similar tactical matters” were “fact-finding logistics [that] do not necessarily rise to the level of discretion and independent judgment contemplated by DOL regulations, for they do not amount to matters of significance”).

Equating Veracity’s claims investigators to claims adjusters is not a fair comparison or particularly helpful. The core function of a claims adjuster is to decide whether and to what extent an insurance claim should be paid, a task that requires considerable exercise of discretion on a matter of significance. Inclusion of the term “adjuster” in the title of the job strongly suggests that conclusion. All employees exercise some discretion in deciding how to perform their jobs, and the way in which they exercise that discretion likely will affect matters of significance. In the case of claims investigators, how they exercise their discretion in conducting an investigation will impact or affect how a claims adjuster working for one of Veracity’s clients decides the significant matter of the value of the claim. But an exercise of discretion that impacts or affects a matter of significance is not exercising discretion with respect to a matter of significance. If the rule were otherwise, all employees would arguably meet the third element of the definition of administrative employees. Because the analogy to claims adjusters is not persuasive, Veracity’s reliance on cases such as Roe-Midgett, 512 F.3d at 874, where the Seventh Circuit held that claims adjusters routinely used their discretion and independent judgment to make choices that impact damage estimates, settlement, and other matters of significance, does not alter the result here.

The Court concludes that Veracity has failed to demonstrate a triable issue as to whether the duties of claims investigators include the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. Because claims investigators do not meet the third element of the definition in 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a), they do not qualify for the administrative exemption.”

Not discussed here, the Court also held that the Plaintiffs lacked the requisite duties to be deemed outside sales exempt.  Further, the Court held that certain time claimed as compensable by the Plaintiffs was not and that the appropriate method for determining Plaintiffs damages–as “salaried misclassified” employees was the Fluctuating Workweek (“FWW”), adopting the reasoning in the recent Seventh Circuit decision discussed here.  Lastly, the Court denied Defendant’s motion for decertification of the collective action.

To read the entire decision, click here.

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D.N.J.: Following 3rd Circuit Precedent Pharma Reps Found To Be Administrative Exempt

Jackson v. Alpharma, Inc.

Less than a month after the Second Circuit held that pharmaceutical representatives, who performed typical marketing duties, were non-exempt and entitled to overtime pay, a District Court in New Jersey reminds us that the Third Circuit disagrees, and believes that pharma reps are administrative exempt.  However, like some other courts before it, the Court declined to address whether such employees qualify for the outside sales exemption as well.

The Court cited the following facts as relevant to its inquiry:

“The plaintiffs worked as PSRs for Alpharma, which manufactures Kadian and Flector, two treatments for pain. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 2-4; Doc. No. 81-4.) Because of federal statutes and regulations, Kadian and Flector can be sold or dispensed to the public only by a prescription written by a licensed healthcare professional. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Therefore, plaintiffs did not “sell” the drugs, but rather called on doctors and pharmacies to encourage them to prescribe or stock Alpharma’s products over the products of its competitors. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 6.)

Defendant paints a picture of the PSR with unlimited autonomy, given only a list of doctors and an expense account with which to effectuate their goal. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 38-71.) The facts that defendant highlights to pinpoint the PSRs’ discretion include: (1) that each PSR worked alone and not with partners or on teams; (2) that plaintiffs spent only two days with their District Manager every one to two months; (3) that upon the beginning of their employment with Alpharma, each plaintiff was given a list of 500 physicians in their territory, and it was up to each PSR to narrow this list to approximately 120 physicians, and further that it was up to each PSR to decide how best to contact these doctors and move their business; (4) that PSRs had similar experiences when dealing with pharmacies; (5) that the PSRs planned their own routing, the process by which they would map out what their activities would be for the upcoming weeks; and (6) that each PSR prepared an annual business plan, which laid out how the PSR intended to grow his or her business in the coming year.

Plaintiffs, on the other hand, paint a picture of Alpharma “micro-managing” its PSRs. Alpharma notes that from the beginning of their employment, Alpharma PSRs receive training and instruction from Alpharma specifically designed to ensure the Alpharma Representatives did not deviate from corporate-approved messages about the drugs. (Pl.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 22; Doc. No. 83-1.) Plaintiffs also state that they had no discretion concerning, and did not exercise independent judgment in framing Alpharma’s message, and Alpharma explicitly directed its PSRs to use company scripted messages. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-25.) Further, with respect to Kadian, plaintiffs state that they had no discretion in describing its effectiveness, but instead were trained to adhere to the information that was already on the package insert. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Alpharma also provided specific information in the form of handouts and promotional literature that could not be altered or modified by the PSRs, nor could the PSRs develop their own aids to use in their work. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Further, according to plaintiffs, their direct supervisors were micro-managers that “wanted to know everything you were doing” and required plaintiffs to check in with management at least three times per day. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.)”

Reasoning that that Plaintiffs were exempt under the administrative exemption, the Court stated:

“The parties concede that the plaintiffs in this case meet the salary requirement of the rules. (Pl.’s Br. in Opp. at Fn. 8; Doc. No. 83.) The main disputes are the second and third prongs: whether the PSRs work is directly related to management or general business operations, and whether the PSRs exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.

With respect to the second prong, the phrase “directly related to the management or general business operations” refers to the type of work performed by the employee. “To meet this requirement, an employee must perform work directly related to assisting with the running or servicing of the business.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.201(a). The regulations distinguish this type of work from, for example, “working on a manufacturing production line” or “selling a product in a retail or service establishment.” Id. The regulations state that “[w]ork directly related to management or general business operations includes, but is not limited to, work in functional areas such as … advertising; marketing … and similar activities.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.201(b). The regulations specifically include “marketing” and “promoting sales” in the definition of general business operations. Id. Because the PSRs in this case were clearly marketing and promoting the sale of Alpharma’s products, the Court concludes that they were performing work “directly related to the management or general business operations” of Alpharma.

With respect to the third prong:

In general, the exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves the comparison and the evaluation of possible courses of conduct, and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered. The term “matters of significance” refers to the level of importance or consequence of the work performed.  29 C.F.R. § 541.202(a).

Defendant argues that the primary duties of the PSRs require discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. (Def.’s Br. at 24; Doc. No. 81-2.) Defendant relies heavily on Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, 593 F.3d 280 (3d Cir.2010), the pending outcome of which caused this matter to be stayed. In Smith, the Third Circuit held that a pharmaceutical sales representative was not entitled to overtime pay because she qualified for the administrative exemption under the FLSA. Id. at 285. In Smith, the plaintiff testified regarding the independent and managerial qualities that her position required. Smith described herself as “the manager of her own business who could run her own territory as she saw fit.” Id. Though the duties of a particular position is a fact-sensitive inquiry, the facts in Smith are startlingly similar to the case at bar. Johnson & Johnson (“J & J”), Smith’s employer, gave her a list of target doctors that it created and told her to complete an average of ten visits for day. Id. at 282. J & J left the itinerary and order of Smith’s visits to the target doctors to her discretion. Id. The J & J target list identified “high-priority” doctors that issued a large number of prescriptions for the drug that Smith was promoting, or a competing product. Id. While meeting with doctors, Smith worked off of a prepared “message” that J & J provided, although she had “some discretion when deciding how to approach the conversation. Id. J & J gave her visual aids and did not permit her to use other aids.” Id.

Here, the plaintiffs were assigned a geographic territory for which they were solely responsible. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 40; Doc. No. 81-4.) They worked alone the majority of the time. (Id. at ¶ 42.) PSRs controlled their territory by developing business plans designed to grow their business and also by governing their own day-to-day activities (Id. at ¶ 72.) PSRs decided when and where to travel (their “routing”) and with whom to meet in order to effectuate the most business. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 51, 67-68.) In executing individual calls, the plaintiffs had discretion by deciding how to approach the physician, what topics to discuss with the physician, and what materials to use (though the universe of materials were provided to them, as in Smith ). (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at 59, 83, 97.)

Plaintiffs argue that this case is distinguishable from Smith, because here the plaintiffs worked under a “closely supervised and tightly controlled regime, exercising no independence and discretion in any important matters.” (Pl.’s Br. in Opp. at 35; Doc. No. 83.) Plaintiffs argue that the controlling nature of Alpharma, as noted in the facts section above, differs from the type of “freelancing” done by the plaintiff in Smith. (Id. at 36.) Further, plaintiffs note that the regulations provide a nonexhaustive list of factors for use in the Court’s examination of whether or not an employee exercises the requisite discretion and judgment to fit within the exemption. (Id. at 31.) The list includes:  whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to the operation of a particular segment of the business; … whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; … whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; … and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes, or resolving grievances.  29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b). Plaintiffs argue that they do not meet a single one of the identified factors, nor any surrogates of those factors, and thus do not exercise discretion or independent judgment. (Pls.’ Br. at 32; Doc. No. 83.)

The Court concludes that the plaintiffs in this case, like the plaintiff in Smith, qualify for the administrative employee exemption. While this case lacks the direct testimony of the plaintiffs regarding their autonomy and independent nature, the underlying facts differ little from the facts in Smith. Through either stipulation or undisputed facts (not plaintiffs’ characterizations of those facts), it is clearly shown that the plaintiffs in this case (1) earn a salary high enough to qualify for the first prong of the exemption, (2) perform non-manual work directly related to the general business operations of their employer, and (3) exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. Of the ten factors listed in § 541.202(b), the Court concludes that the plaintiffs satisfy the same two that Smith did: their work for advancing the sales of their products within their territories “affects business operations to a substantial degree,” and they are “involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives” related to the marketing of their products within their territories. 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b). These conclusions are buttressed by the plaintiffs’ duties to write reports and business plans to determine where their business was coming from, to detect trends in the sales of the drug, and to generate ideas on how to grow the business. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 76; Doc. No. 81-4.)

In supplemental submissions, the plaintiffs direct the Court’s attention to two new cases: Jirak v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., Civ. No. 07-3626 (N.D. Ill. June 10, 2010) (Doc. No. 85) and In re Novartis Wage and Hour Litigation, Civ. No. 09-0437 (2d Cir. July 6, 2010) (Doc. No. 87). In light of the Third Circuit’s clear opinion in Smith, and subsequent nonprecedential opinion in Baum v. Astrazeneca LP, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 6047 (3d Cir. Mar. 24, 2010), the Court does not find it necessary to discuss these other cases.”

Although the holding here should come as no surprise, given Third Circuit precedent, it does create a situation where abutting districts (New Jersey and the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York) ascribe entirely different meanings to the administrative exemption generally, and specifically its effect on the classification of pharmaceutical reps.  With so much at stake, it’s likely this conflict of law is headed to the United States Supreme Court for resolution.

To read the entire decision, click here.

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2d. Cir.: Pharmaceutical Reps Are Neither Outside Sales Nor Administrative Exempt

In re Novartis Wage and Hour Litigation

This case was before the Second Circuit on Plaintiffs’ appeal of the lower Court’s Order granting Defendant summary judgment, which held that Plaintiffs, Pharmaceutical Representatives, were exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA under both the outside sales exemption and the administrative sales exemption.  Reversing the Court below, the Second Circuit held that, based on their duties, the Plaintiffs were neither outside sales exempt nor administrative sales exempt.

Discussing the outside sales exemption first, the Court explained:

“We note that the distinction between obtaining commitments to buy and promoting sales by other persons has been respected in areas other than the pharmaceutical industry. See, e.g., Gregory v. First Title of America, Inc., 555 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir.2009) (employee who obtained commitments to buy her employer’s title insurance service and was credited with those sales, and all of whose efforts were directed towards the consummation of her own sales and not towards stimulating sales for the employer in general, was an outside sales employee within the meaning of the FLSA and the regulations); Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224, 1228 (10th Cir.2008) (civilian military recruiters who did not obtain commitments from recruits were not outside salesmen within the meaning of, e.g., 29 C.F.R. § 541.504); Wirtz v. Keystone Readers Service, Inc., 418 F.2d 249, 253, 260 (5th Cir.1969) (“student salesmen” were not outside sales employees where their promotional activities were incidental to sales made by others).

We think it clear that the above regulations, defining the term “sale” as involving a transfer of title, and defining and delimiting the term “outside salesman” in connection with an employee’s efforts to promote the employer’s products, do far more than merely parrot the language of the FLSA. The Secretary’s interpretations of her regulations are thus entitled to “controlling” deference unless those interpretations are “ ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’ “ Auer, 519 U.S. at 461 (quoting Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 359 (1989) (other internal quotation marks omitted)).

We find no such inconsistency and see no such error. Although Novartis contends that the position taken by the Secretary as amicus on this appeal is contrary to the regulations, we disagree. The basic premise of the regulations explaining who may properly be considered an exempt “outside salesman”-a term for which the FLSA explicitly relies on the Secretary to promulgate defining and delimiting regulations-is that an employee is not an outside salesman unless he does “in some sense make the sales,” 2004 Final Rule at 22162. And although that phrase (on which Novartis relies heavily (see, e.g., Novartis brief on appeal at 12, 22, 25, 29)) does not appear in any of the regulations that explicate the term “outside salesman,” the regulations quoted above make it clear that a person who merely promotes a product that will be sold by another person does not, in any sense intended by the regulations, make the sale. The position taken by the Secretary on this appeal is that when an employee promotes to a physician a pharmaceutical that may thereafter be purchased by a patient from a pharmacy if the physician-who cannot lawfully give a binding commitment to do so-prescribes it, the employee does not in any sense make the sale. Thus, the interpretation of the regulations given by the Secretary in her position as amicus on this appeal is entirely consistent with the regulations.

Nor can we conclude that the regulations constitute an erroneous interpretation of the FLSA definition of “sale” to “include [ ] any sale, exchange, contract to sell, consignment for sale, shipment for sale, or other disposition,” 29 U.S.C. § 203(k). Although the phrase “other disposition” is a catch-all that could have an expansive connotation, we see no error in the regulations’ requirement that any such “other disposition” be “in some sense a sale.” Such an ejusdem generis-type interpretation is consistent with the interpretive canon that exemptions to remedial statutes such as the FLSA are to be read narrowly, see Arnold, 361 U.S. at 392; see generally A.H. Phillips, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 490, 493 (1945), and is neither erroneous nor unreasonable, see, e.g., Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842-43 (1984). We accordingly owe the Secretary’s interpretation deference, and we turn to the question of its applicability to the present cases.

There is no genuine dispute over the sales path generally traversed by Novartis pharmaceuticals. As described in Part I.A. above, Novartis sells its drugs to wholesalers; the wholesalers then sell them to pharmacies; and the pharmacies ultimately sell the drugs to patients who have prescriptions for them. The Reps promote the drugs to the physicians; the Reps do not speak to the wholesalers or to the pharmacies or to the patients.

Nor is there any dispute as to what occurs during the Reps’ “sales” calls on physicians. The meetings are brief-generally less than five minutes-and the physicians neither buy pharmaceuticals from the Reps nor commit to buying anything from the Reps or from Novartis. The Reps may give physicians free samples, but the Reps cannot transfer ownership of any quantity of the drug in exchange for anything of value. The physician is of course an essential step in the path that leads to the ultimate sale of a Novartis product to an end user; a patient cannot purchase the product from a pharmacy without a prescription, and it is the physician who must be persuaded that a particular Novartis drug may appropriately be prescribed for a particular patient. But it is reasonable to view what occurs between the physicians and the Reps as less than a “sale.”

Novartis suggests that “sale” should be read broadly in light of the statement in the Preamble that “ ‘[e]mployees have a primary duty of making sales if they “obtain a commitment to buy ” from the customer and are credited with the sale.’ “ (Novartis brief on appeal at 23 (quoting 2004 Final Rule at 22162) (emphases in brief).) It argues that the Reps “make sales in some sense” because “they are responsible for eliciting commitments from the physicians on whom they call to write prescriptions for NPC drugs and that these prescriptions are, in essence, orders for NPC drugs to be used by the patients in purchasing the drugs from pharmacies.” (Novartis brief on appeal at 25-26 (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).) Novartis’s emphatic reliance on the word “commitments,” however, does not lead to a conclusion that the Reps make sales, for it ignores the nature of the “commitment” expressly envisioned by the Secretary in enacting the regulations: “a commitment to buy,” 2004 Final Rule at 22162, 22163 (emphasis added). The type of “commitment” the Reps seek and sometimes receive from physicians is not a commitment “to buy” and is not even a binding commitment to prescribe. As the district court noted, “physicians have an ethical obligation to prescribe only drugs suitable for their patients’ medical needs, meaning that they cannot make a binding commitment to a Rep to prescribe ” a particular Novartis product. Novartis I, 593 F.Supp.2d at 650 (emphasis added). Thus, although physicians may say that they will prescribe a given Novartis drug for patients with appropriate diagnoses, such an assurance is not a binding commitment, and physicians remain entirely free to prescribe a competing product made by a company other than Novartis.

In sum, where the employee promotes a pharmaceutical product to a physician but can transfer to the physician nothing more than free samples and cannot lawfully transfer ownership of any quantity of the drug in exchange for anything of value, cannot lawfully take an order for its purchase, and cannot lawfully even obtain from the physician a binding commitment to prescribe it, we conclude that it is not plainly erroneous to conclude that the employee has not in any sense, within the meaning of the statute or the regulations, made a sale.

Novartis points out that a number of district courts have held that pharmaceutical sales representatives are exempt from the FLSA overtime pay requirements as outside salesmen (and/or administrative employees). Those cases are, of course, not binding on us, and their reasoning does not persuade us that the Secretary’s interpretations of the regulations should be disregarded. To the extent that the pharmaceuticals industry wishes to have the concept of “sales” expanded to include the promotional activities at issue here, it should direct its efforts to Congress, not the courts. Given the existing statute and regulations, we conclude that the district court should have ruled that the Reps are not outside salesmen within the meaning of the FLSA and the regulations.”

Next the Court rejected the lower Court’s holding that the Plaintiffs were administratively exempt:

“On appeal, the Reps contend that they do “low-level, discretionless marketing work, strictly controlled by Novartis,” and that their duties and authority do not satisfy the requirements for applicability of the administrative employee exemption. (Plaintiffs’ brief on appeal at 40.) Novartis, in contending that the Reps exercise discretion and independent judgment, argues that the Reps, for example, “must determine how best to develop a rapport with a physician and develop strategies to engage physicians in an interactive dialogue to draw out their patient concerns, treatment styles and predilections”; must “be able to react to expressed physician concerns by emphasizing particular clinical findings regarding the efficacy and safety of NPC’s drugs for specific patient types”; “must determine when and how to deliver the [Novartis-determined core] message, taking into consideration,” e.g., “the prior call history with each physician, the physician’s time constraints, expressed concerns, prescription-writing tendencies and patient population”; and must “determine how best to close each call by evaluating whether sufficient groundwork has been laid to seek the physician’s commitment on that call to write prescriptions.” (Novartis brief on appeal at 50-51.)

The Secretary points out that the regulations make clear that the requirement for authority to “exercise … discretion and independent judgment” means more than simply the need to use skill in applying well-established techniques or procedures prescribed by the employer, see 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(e). The Secretary takes the position that for the administrative exemption to apply to the Reps, the regulations require a showing of a greater degree of discretion, and more authority to use independent judgment in matters of significance, than Novartis allows the Reps. Again we find it appropriate to defer to the Secretary’s interpretation.

Comparing the record as to the Reps’ primary duties against the illustrative factors set out in § 541.202(b), for example, we see no evidence in the record that the Reps have any authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement Novartis’s management policies or its operating practices, or that they are involved in planning Novartis’s long-term or short-term business objectives, or that they carry out major assignments in conducting the operations of Novartis’s business, or that they have any authority to commit Novartis in matters that have significant financial impact. Although Novartis argues that the Reps do commit Novartis financially when they enter into contracts with hotels, restaurants, and other venues for promotional events, “which may cost NPC thousands of dollars” (Novartis brief on appeal at 3-4), the record reveals that the Reps have been given budgets for such events by the Novartis managers and that the Reps have no discretion to exceed those budgets. Nor have we been pointed to any evidence that the Reps have authority to negotiate and bind Novartis on any significant matters, or have authority to waive or deviate from Novartis’s established policies and procedures without its prior approval. What Novartis characterizes as the Reps’ exercise of discretion and independent judgment-ability to answer questions about the product, ability to develop a rapport with a physician who has a certain social style, ability to remember past conversations with a given physician, ability to recognize when a message has been persuasive-are skills gained and/or honed in their Novartis training sessions. As described in Part I.A. above, these skills are exercised within severe limits imposed by Novartis. Thus, it is undisputed that the Reps, inter alia,

• have no role in planning Novartis’s marketing strategy;

• have no role in formulating the “core messages” they deliver to physicians;

• are required to visit a given physician a certain number of times per trimester as established by Novartis;

• are required to promote a given drug a certain number of times per trimester as established by Novartis;

• are required to hold at least the number of promotional events ordered by Novartis;

• are not allowed to deviate from the promotional “core messages”;

• and are forbidden to answer any question for which they have not been scripted.

Novartis argues that the Reps exercise a great deal of discretion because they are free to decide in what order to visit physicians’ offices, free to decide how best to gain access to those offices, free to decide how to allocate their Novartis budgets for promotional events, and free to determine how to allocate their samples. (See Novartis brief on appeal at 51.) In light of the above controls to which Novartis subjects the Reps, we agree with the Secretary that the four freedoms advanced by Novartis do not show that the Reps are sufficiently allowed to exercise either discretion or independent judgment in the performance of their primary duties. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court should have ruled that the Reps are not bona fide administrative employees within the meaning of the FLSA and the regulations.”

To read the entire decision, click here.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  On the same day it handed down this decision, the Second Circuit also affirmed, by summary order, the decision from a lower court that held pharmaceutical representatives employed by Schering Corp. were not outside sales exempt under the FLSA.  To read the entire summary order in Kuzinski v. Schering Corp., click here.

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