Tag Archives: Exemptions

D.D.C.: Revised Regulations re Companionship Exemption Reinstated; DOL Acted Within Its Rulemaking Authority and the New Regulation Grounded in Reasonable Interpretation of the FLSA

Home Care Association of America v. Weil

This case was before the D.C. Circuit on the Department of Labor’s appeal of a lower court’s decision that held the DOL’s recent amendments to the companionship exemption regulations to be unenforceable.  Specifically, in 2 separate decisions, the same lower court judge had invalidated the new regulations, both as they applied to third-party staffing companies and as they revised the definition of companionship duties within the scope of the exemption.  The D.C. Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision and reinstated the revised regulation, finding that the DOL acted within its rulemaking authority with regard to the revision pertaining to third-party staffing companies.  The D.C. Circuit declined to reach the second issue regarding the definition of companionship services, because it held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge same in light of the fact that the exemption was inapplicable to them under the regulation in the first instance.

Explaining the issue before it, the court stated:

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s protections include the guarantees of a minimum wage and overtime pay. The statute, though, has long exempted certain categories of “domestic service” workers (workers providing services in a household) from one or both of those protections. The exemptions include one for persons who provide “companionship services” and another for persons who live in the home where they work. This case concerns the scope of the exemptions for domestic-service workers providing either companionship services or live-in care for the elderly, ill, or disabled. In particular, are those exemptions from the Act’s protections limited to persons hired directly by home care recipients and their families? Or do they also encompass employees of third-party agencies who are assigned to provide care in a home?

Until recently, the Department of Labor interpreted the statutory exemptions for companionship services and live-in workers to include employees of third-party providers. The Department instituted that interpretation at a time when the provision of professional care primarily took place outside the home in institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. Individuals who provided services within the home, on the other hand, largely played the role of an “elder sitter,” giving basic help with daily functions as an on-site attendant.

Since the time the Department initially adopted that approach, the provision of residential care has undergone a marked transformation. The growing demand for long-term home care services and the rising cost of traditional institutional care have fundamentally changed the nature of the home care industry. Individuals with significant care needs increasingly receive services in their homes rather than in institutional settings. And correspondingly, residential care increasingly is provided by professionals employed by third-party agencies rather than by workers hired directly by care recipients and their families.

In response to those developments, the Department recently adopted regulations reversing its position on whether the FLSA’s companionship-services and live-in worker exemptions should reach employees of third-party agencies who are assigned to provide care in a home. The new regulations remove those employees from the exemptions and bring them within the Act’s minimum-wage and overtime protections. The regulations thus give those employees the same FLSA protections afforded to their counterparts who provide largely the same services in an institutional setting.

The D.C. Circuit held that the DOL acted within its rulemaking authority when it issued the regulations at issue and that they were not arbitrary and capricious.  For these reasons it held the regulations were proper and enforceable:

Appellees, three associations of home care agencies, challenged the Department’s extension of the FLSA’s minimum-wage and overtime provisions to employees of third-party agencies who provide companionship services and live-in care within a home. The district court invalidated the Department’s new regulations, concluding that they contravene the terms of the FLSA exemptions. We disagree. The Supreme Court’s decision in Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke, 551 U.S. 158, 127 S.Ct. 2339, 168 L.Ed.2d 54 (2007), confirms that the Act vests the Department with discretion to apply (or not to apply) the companionship-services and live-in exemptions to employees of third-party agencies. The Department’s decision to extend the FLSA’s protections to those employees is grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the statute and is neither arbitrary nor capricious. We therefore reverse the district court and remand for the grant of summary judgment to the Department.

To read the entire decision click Home Care Association of America v. Weil.

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U.S.S.C.: DOL Acted Within Its Rulemaking Authority When It Withdrew Its Administrative Interpretation re Exempt Status of Mortgage Loan Officers

Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Assn.

In a widely anticipated decision, a unanimous Supreme Court today held that the DOL acted properly within its authority in 2010 when it withdrew its prior administrative interpretation letter regarding the exempt status of mortgage loan officers and replaced it with an Administrator’s Interpretation concluding that mortgage-loan officers do not qualify for the administrative exemption. Reversing the D.C. Circuit’s decision below, it held that the DOL was not required to adhere to the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment procedures when it wishes to issue a new interpretation of a regulation that deviates significantly from a previously adopted interpretation.

A copy of the Court’s syllabus preceding the official opinion is copied and pasted below:

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) establishes the procedures federal administrative agencies use for “rule making,” defined as the process of “formulating, amending, or repealing a rule.” 5 U. S. C. §551(5). The APA distinguishes between two types of rules: So-called “legislative rules” are issued through notice-and-comment rulemaking, see §§553(b), (c), and have the “force and effect of law,” Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U. S. 281, 302–303. “Interpretive rules,” by contrast, are “issued . . . to advise the public of the agency’s construction of the statutes and rules which it administers,” Shalala v. Guernsey Memorial Hospital, 514 U. S. 87, 99, do not require notice-and-comment rulemaking, and “do not have the force and effect of law,” ibid.

In 1999 and 2001, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division issued letters opining that mortgage-loan officers do not qualify for the administrative exemption to overtime pay requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In 2004, the Department issued new regulations regarding the exemption. Respondent Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) requested a new interpretation of the revised regulations as they applied to mortgage-loan officers, and in 2006, the Wage and Hour Division issued an opinion letter finding that mortgage-loan officers fell within the administrative exemption under the 2004 regulations. In 2010, the Department again altered its interpretation of the administrative exemption. Without notice or an opportunity for comment, the Department withdrew the 2006 opinion letter and issued an Administrator’s Interpretation concluding that mortgage-loan officers do not qualify for the administrative exemption.

MBA filed suit contending, as relevant here, that the Administrator’s Interpretation was procedurally invalid under the D. C. Circuit’s decision in Paralyzed Veterans of Am. v. D. C. Arena L. P., 117 F. 3d 579. The Paralyzed Veterans doctrine holds that an agency must use the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures when it wishes to issue a new interpretation of a regulation that deviates significantly from a previously adopted interpretation. The District Court granted summary judgment to the Department, but the D. C. Circuit applied Paralyzed Veterans and reversed.

Held: The Paralyzed Veterans doctrine is contrary to the clear text of the APA’s rulemaking provisions and improperly imposes on agencies an obligation beyond the APA’s maximum procedural requirements. Pp. 6–14.

(a) The APA’s categorical exemption of interpretive rules from the notice-and-comment process is fatal to the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine. The D. C. Circuit’s reading of the APA conflates the differing purposes of §§1 and 4 of the Act. Section 1 requires agencies to use the same procedures when they amend or repeal a rule as they used to issue the rule, see 5 U. S. C. §551(5), but it does not say what procedures an agency must use when it engages in rulemaking. That is the purpose of §4. And §4 specifically exempts interpretive rules from notice-and-comment requirements. Because an agency is not required to use notice-and-comment procedures to issue an initial interpretive rule, it is also not required to use those procedures to amend or repeal that rule. Pp. 7–8.

(b) This straightforward reading of the APA harmonizes with longstanding principles of this Court’s administrative law jurisprudence, which has consistently held that the APA “sets forth the full extent of judicial authority to review executive agency action for procedural correctness,” FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U. S. 502, 513. The APA’s rulemaking provisions are no exception: §4 establishes “the maximum procedural requirements” that courts may impose upon agencies engaged in rulemaking. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 435 U. S. 519, 524. By mandating notice-and-comment procedures when an agency changes its interpretation of one of the regulations it enforces, Paralyzed Veterans creates a judge-made procedural right that is inconsistent with Congress’ standards. Pp. 8–9.

(c) MBA’s reasons for upholding the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine are unpersuasive. Pp. 9–14. (1) MBA asserts that an agency interpretation of a regulation that significantly alters the agency’s prior interpretation effectively amends the underlying regulation. That assertion conflicts with the ordinary meaning of the words “amend” and “interpret,” and it is impossible to reconcile with the longstanding recognition that interpretive rules do not have the force and effect of law. MBA’s theory is particularly odd in light of the limitations of the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine, which applies only when an agency has previously adopted an interpretation of its regulation. MBA fails to explain why its argument regarding revised interpretations should not also extend to the agency’s first interpretation. Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U. S. 576, and Shalala v. Guernsey Memorial Hospital, 514 U. S. 87, distinguished. Pp. 9–12. (2) MBA also contends that the Paralyzed Veterans doctrine reinforces the APA’s goal of procedural fairness. But the APA already provides recourse to regulated entities from agency decisions that skirt notice-and-comment provisions by placing a variety of constraints on agency decisionmaking, e.g., the arbitrary and capricious standard. In addition, Congress may include safe-harbor provisions in legislation to shelter regulated entities from liability when they rely on previous agency interpretations. See, e.g., 29 U. S. C. §§259(a), (b)(1). Pp. 12–13. (3) MBA has waived its argument that the 2010 Administrator’s Interpretation should be classified as a legislative rule. From the beginning, this suit has been litigated on the understanding that the Administrator’s Interpretation is an interpretive rule. Neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals addressed this argument below, and MBA did not raise it here in opposing certiorari. P. 14. 720 F. 3d 966, reversed.

Click Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Assn. to read the entire unanimous decision, delivered by SOTOMAYOR, J., in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined, and in which ALITO, J., joined except for Part III–B.

While it is too soon to tell, many observers believe this unanimous decision bodes well for the other big “exemption” case currently pending at the Supreme Court, regarding the DOL’s power to utilize its formal rulemaking authority to alter the companionship exemption, which was recently struck down by a Judge in the same Circuit where this case originated.

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DOL Announces Final Rule Extending Minimum Wage and Overtime Pay to Home Health Workers

In an announcement that has long been awaited by workers advocates and those in the home health industry as well, today the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced a final rule, to go into effect on January 1, 2015, which extends the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime protections to home health aides that perform typical CNA tasks in the homes of the aged and infirm.  In an email blast, the DOL reported:

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division announced a final rule today extending the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to most of the nation’s direct care workers who provide essential home care assistance to elderly people and people with illnesses, injuries, or disabilities. This change, effective January 1, 2015, ensures that nearly two million workers – such as home health aides, personal care aides, and certified nursing assistants – will have the same basic protections already provided to most U.S. workers. It will help ensure that individuals and families who rely on the assistance of direct care workers have access to consistent and high quality care from a stable and increasingly professional workforce.

Among other things, the final rule overrules the 2007 holding of the Supreme Court in Long Island Care at Home, Ltd. v. Coke, and requires 3rd party employers such as staffing agencies to pay companions and home health workers overtime under the FLSA when they work in excess of 40 hours per week.

The New York Times provides a pretty good synopsis of the changes to the Companionship Exemption, provided by the final rule:

Under the new rule, any home care aides hired through home care companies or other third-party agencies cannot be exempt from minimum wage and overtime coverage. The exemptions for aides who mainly provide “companionship services” — defined as fellowship and protection for an elderly person or person with an illness, injury or disability who requires assistance — are limited to the individual, family or household using the services.

If an aide or companion provides “care” that exceeds 20 percent of the total hours she works each week, then the worker is to receive minimum wage and overtime protections.

The new rule defines care as assisting with the activities of daily living, like dressing, grooming, feeding or bathing, and assisting with “instrumental activities of daily living,” like meal preparation, driving, light housework, managing finances and assisting with the physical taking of medications.

The companionship exemption will not apply if the aide or companion provides medically related services that are typically performed by trained personnel, like nurses or certified nursing assistants.

Live-in domestic service workers who reside in the employer’s home and are employed by an individual, family or household are exempt from overtime pay, although they must be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked.

Click Final Rule to read the published rule, or U.S. News and Report to read an article discussing the announcement.

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10th Cir.: Jury Instruction That Employer Bore Burden of Proving Exemption “Plainly and Unmistakably” Was in Error

Lederman v. Frontier Fire Protection, Inc.

Following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff-employee in a misclassification case, the defendant appealed. At issue was one jury instruction that the plaintiff had requested and which the trial court had given, instructing the jurors that:

An employer seeking an exemption from the overtime requirements of the FLSA bears the burden of proving that the particular employee fits plainly and unmistakably within the terms of the claimed exemption.

While the court acknowledged that the Tenth Circuit had regularly used the “plainly and unmistakably” language for decades, it ultimately held that such language is only applicable to statutory construction in the context of issues of law (i.e. decisions made by the court such as those on summary judgment motions) and not apply to issues of fact (i.e. decisions made by the jury or fact-finder). The court further clarified that the burden of proof on a defendant-employer raising an exemption defense under the FLSA is simply a preponderance of the evidence. Moreover, because the court held that the instruction had prejudiced the defendant, the court reversed the judgment in favor of the plaintiff and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial.

After sifting through three decades worth of Tenth Circuit jurisprudence, the court explained:

[a]ll of our other cases employing this phrase have done so in addressing legal rather than factual issues… In sum then, just as some courts have mistakenly viewed “clear and affirmative evidence” as a heightened evidentiary standard, the same is true with the phrase “plainly and unmistakably.” When our prior cases employing this phrase are read as a whole, they do not establish a heightened evidentiary requirement on employers seeking to prove an FLSA exemption. Instead, the ordinary burden of proof—preponderance of the evidence—controls the jury’s evaluation of whether the facts establish an exemption to the FLSA.

Click Lederman v. Frontier Fire Protection, Inc. to read the entire Decision.

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W.D.Tex.: Plaintiffs Retained Right to Open and Close at Trial; Defendants’ Attempt to Shift Burden With Admissions on the Eve of Trial Denied

Ransom v. M. Patel Enters, Inc.

This case was before the court on the Defendants’ Motion to Open and Close Evidence and Case.  Apparently seeking to gain the tactical advantage of addressing the jury first and last (opening and closing), normally reserved for the plaintiff in a typical case, the defendants sought leave just prior to trial to file a third amended complaint.  If granted, defendants’ motion would have permitted them to admit the plaintiffs’ prima facie case (i.e. that they worked uncompensated overtime), and rendered the issue of whether plaintiffs were exempt the sole issue at trial.  The plaintiffs refused to accept defendants stipulations regarding their prima facie case, instead preferring to retain the right to open and close the case.  Largely due to the fact defendants’ filed their motion on the eve of trial, the court denied defendants’ motion.

Denying defendants’ motion(s), the court reasoned:

“This presents the Court with an atypical controversy—and one which the Court could not find case law discussing: the Plaintiffs oppose the Defendants’ motion to admit facts proving a portion of the Plaintiffs’ case, facts that the Plaintiffs have the burden of proving at trial. Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs’ refusal to agree to the amendment demonstrates that they are trying to unnecessarily prolong the evidence solely to hold on to the right to open and close.

The deadline to amend pleadings passed months ago. Therefore, the Defendants must demonstrate good cause to obtain leave to amend. Meaux Surface Prot., Inc. v. Fogleman, 607 F.3d 161, 167 (5th Cir.2010). “Four factors are relevant to good cause: (1) the explanation for the failure to timely move for leave to amend; (2) the importance of the amendment; (3) potential prejudice in allowing the amendment; and (4) the availability of a continuance to cure such prejudice.” Id. As the Defendants admit, this is a strategic move. They want to present their evidence first. Obtaining a strategic advantage is not good cause for leave to amend. Had the Defendants wished to obtain this advantage, they should have admitted these facts early in the case, instead of contesting them until the final pretrial conference. The Plaintiffs note that they spent time and money gathering evidence on both their prima facie case and on the issue of the individual defendants’ status as “employers” under the FLSA. Therefore, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Original Answer (Clerk’s Doc. No. 135).

That still leaves the order of proof. The Defendants argue that, regardless of whether the Plaintiffs accept the stipulations they have offered, the Defendants bear the burden of proof on the primary issue at trial, whether the Plaintiffs were exempt employees under the FLSA.  Because the Defendants bear the burden of proof on that issue, they contend that they should present their evidence first.

It appears that there are three primary issues for trial: (1) whether the Plaintiffs can demonstrate a prima facie case under the FLSA (on which there appears to be little or no controversy); (2) whether the Plaintiffs were exempt employees under the FLSA; and (3) whether the Defendants failed to pay overtime “willfully.” The Plaintiffs bear the burden of proof on the first and last of these three items, and the Defendants on the second. As the Defendants note, the bulk of the evidence at trial will no doubt relate to the issue on which they bear the burden of proof. This does not mean that the Defendants should automatically be permitted to open and close, however. The Plaintiffs were the parties who were forced to take the initiative to file this lawsuit, the Defendants have vigorously defended it, and only in the last few days have they sought the right to open and close the evidence. Rule 16 makes it clear that these issues should be raised early in the case, not late. See FED. R. CIV. P. 16(c)(2)(A), (D), (N) and (P) (directing courts at the pretrial conference to address, among other things, “formulating and simplifying the issues,” “avoiding unnecessary proof and cumulative evidence,” “ordering the presentation of evidence early in the trial on a manageable issue that might, on the evidence, be the basis for a judgment,” and “facilitating in other ways the just, speedy, and inexpensive disposition of the action”).

The Court has wide discretion on these matters. Moreau v. Oppenheim, 663 F.2d 1300, 1311 (5th Cir.1981) (“The matter of a court’s allocation of the right to open and close … does not go to the merits of a controversy and has long not been the subject of writ of error, even when coupled with the denial of requested party realignment.”) (citing Day v. Woodworth, 54 U.S. 363, 370, 13 How. 363, 14 L.Ed. 181 (1851)). On balance, considering all of the above, the Court believes that it is appropriate to leave the order of proof as is, so that the Plaintiffs shall open and close. Accordingly, the Court DENIES the Defendants’ Motion to Open and Close Evidence and Case (Clerk’s Doc. No. 128).”

Click Ransom v. M. Patel Enters, Inc. to read the entire Order.

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WHD Proposes Update To FLSA Recordkeeping Requirements With “Right To Know Under The Fair Labor Standards Act” Regulation

According to the DOL’s Fall 2010 Semi-Annual Agenda, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor (WHD), intends to issue updated FLSA recordkeeping requirements in the near future.

Several of the initiatives the department is considering could have major impacts on both employees and employers.

For example, the WHD is considering a proposed rule that would require covered employers to notify workers of their rights under the FLSA, and to provide information concerning hours worked and wage computation, similar to the Wage and Hour laws some states like New York and California already have on the books.

Under the proposed rule, employers would be required to perform a written classification analysis for every worker that is excluded from FLSA coverage. In addition, the employer would have to disclose the individual analysis to each worker, and retain the documents in the event of a WHD investigation.

Thanks to Valiant for alerting us to this significant development.

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11th Cir.: “Dual Assignment” Regulation Still In Full Affect; Whether An Employee With Police And Fire Duties Is Entitled To Overtime Based On Which Duties Take Up Majority Of Working Time

Cremeens v. City of Montgomery

The Appellants, fire investigators for the City of Montgomery’s fire department, appealed the dismissal via summary judgment of their collective action seeking overtime pay from the city.  Their appeal raised the question of the continuing validity of the Department of Labor’s dual assignment regulation, which addresses overtime for firefighters who perform law enforcement duties.  The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the regulation remains valid and therefore, reversed the judgment of the district court.

In addition to describing the Plaintiff’s firefighting duties and fire suppression training, the Court explained that, “Fire investigators investigate fires involving loss of life, arson and other crimes, and multiple fire alarms. They gather physical evidence, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, and testify in court. They have the power to make arrests without first calling the Montgomery police department. Candidates for the job of fire investigator must graduate from state and national fire investigation academies; graduate from the Montgomery police academy; and be certified by the state as a peace officer. Candidates also must pass continuing education and firearms qualifications.”  Thus, the record demonstrated that Plaintiffs perform both police duties and firefighting duties.

Reasoning that the “Dual Assignment” Rule continued in full effect, notwithstanding the revised definition of those engaged in firefighting duties (and thus exempt), the Court explained:

“Similarly, because the plain language of the dual assignment regulation does not purport to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities, it skirts the province of § 203(y) and does not conflict with it. The simpler reading of the dual assignment regulation is that it dictates how to apply the overtime rules to those employees who have already satisfied the definitions both for fire protection and law enforcement. The dual assignment regulation does no defining. It is fair to say that while § 203(y) defines, the dual assignment regulation applies.

This analysis explains why our well-reasoned precedents in Huff and Gonzalez do not control here. For one, neither of those cases addressed the dual assignment regulation. Rather, those cases held that the regulatory definition of fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule by their texts purported to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities. The 80/20 rule stated, after all, that “[a] person who spends more than 20 percent of his/her working time in nonexempt activities is not considered to be an employee engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities for purposes of this part.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.212(a) (emphasis added). Therefore the regulations had to yield to the statute, and were deemed obsolete. And lastly, the analysis in Huff and Gonzalez centered on whether the plaintiffs there satisfied § 203(y)’s requirement for a “responsibility” to fight fires. Here, the plaintiffs have already conceded § 203(y) applies to them.

The city nevertheless urges us to apply a broader interpretation of Huff and Gonzalez to this case-to conclude that § 203(y) mandates, without exception, firefighter overtime for anyone who fits the statute’s definition of firefighter. The city argues that the dual assignment regulation must fall because it creates an exception to § 203(y). It essentially claims that what the 80/20 regulation did through its text, the dual assignment regulation does in its effect. Therefore, concludes the city’s argument, the dual assignment regulation poses a “direct conflict” to the operation of § 203(y). The district court adopted this line of reasoning, concluding that 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b) “further refined” § 203(y)’s definition of an employee in fire protection activities in the same way the 80/20 rule did. Mem. Op. and Order 12. The district court concluded that the dual assignment regulation posed an “inherent conflict” with § 203(y). Id. 13.

We find no conflict between § 203(y) and the dual assignment regulation, and we reject the broader reading of Huff and Gonzalez that the city urges. The plain words of the regulation create no problematic interaction with the statute, in the way the regulations at issue in Huff and Gonzalez did. Therefore those cases do not control the outcome here.

We also note that in order to effectuate the FLSA, Congress, in passing § 203(y), clearly relied on the existence and operation of numerous pre-existing DOL regulations. One such regulation, by way of example, is regulation 29 C.F.R. § 553.230, which specifies the numerical overtime ceilings for firefighters and law enforcement employees. It is not unreasonable to conclude that Congress, in passing § 203(y), was also aware of the dual assignment regulation, implicitly relied on it, and thereby ratified its continuing application.

One last issue bears addressing. The district court identified a second ground for finding the dual assignment regulation obsolete: the dual assignment regulation invokes the obsolete regulations for fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule. However, we do not find such citation, by itself, disabling. Rather, it is easy to read the dual assignment regulation as importing and applying § 203(y)’s updated statutory definition of an employee in fire protection activities as seamlessly as it once applied the now-obsolete regulatory definition. And, the mention of the 80/20 rule in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(a) has no bearing on the operation of the dual assignment provision in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b).”

Thus, the Court held that the “dual assignment” regulation, which provides that, when public employee qualifies both as fire protection and law enforcement personnel, he receives overtime according to rules for activity that takes up majority of his working time, was not definitional and did not conflict with updated statutory definition of “[e]mployee in fire protection activities,” so as not to be rendered obsolete by amendment of statute.

The full opinion is available at Cremeens v. City of Montgomery

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