Tag Archives: Learned Professional

S.D.Ohio: Compensation System Based on Number and Type of Cases Managed, Did Not Qualify as “Fee Basis,” For Purpose of Applying Learned Professional Exemption

Cook v. Carestar, Inc.

This case was before the court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment regarding the application (or lack thereof) of the learned professional exemption to plaintiffs, nurse case managers. As discussed here, the court held that the case managers were non-exempt as a matter of law, because the defendants’ compensation plan was neither a salary nor a fee basis plan. As such, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion in part (regarding their non-exempt status) and denied the defendants’ motion.

The court outlined the relevant undisputed facts regarding the plaintiffs compensation plan as follows:

The facts of Carestar’s compensation system for case managers are not in dispute. Each case manager is assigned a number of consumers or cases that he or she is responsible for managing. Each case is assigned one of three acuity levels depending upon the “needs/situation” of that particular case. The acuity levels have an associated point value ranging from 1.66 to 2.00 to 3.33. A case manager’s total caseload is determined by totaling the point value of his or her assigned cases.

Upon hiring, a case manager is given a dollar value for each point in his or her caseload. This amount is determined based upon the individual case manager’s educational level, credentials (i.e., RN/LSW/LISW) and experience. The Case Manager’s compensation per pay period is determined by adding up the total number of points in his or her caseload and multiplying that by the dollar value of the points. (See Case Manager Compensation Review, Doc. 34–7.)

The compensation system pays case managers an amount for each case managed, regardless of the time expended in performing such management duties. As Plaintiffs point out, Carestar’s compensation system guidelines nowhere discuss the amount of time expected to be worked by case managers in performing their duties.

Based on their compensation plan, the court held that the plaintiffs were neither paid on a salary or fee basis. Discussing the issue, the court explained:

To qualify for the “learned professional” exemption, Plaintiffs must first be “[c]ompensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week….” 29 C.F.R. § 541.300(a)(1) (emphasis added).5 Defendants concede that Case Managers are not compensated on a “salary basis,” but rather assert that they are compensated on a “fee basis.” The DOL regulation on “fee basis” compensation, explains:

An employee will be considered to be paid on a “fee basis” within the meaning of these regulations if the employee is paid an agreed sum for a single job regardless of the time required for its completion. These payments resemble piecework payments with the important distinction that generally a “fee” is paid for the kind of job that is unique rather than for a series of jobs repeated an indefinite number of times and for which payment on an identical basis is made over and over again. Payments based on the number of hours or days worked and not on the accomplishment of a given single task are not considered payments on a fee basis.

29 C.F.R. 541.605(a).

Defendants rely on Fazekas v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation Health Care Ventures, Inc., 204 F.3d 673 (6th Cir.2000), to argue that Carestar case managers are compensated on a “fee basis.” In Fazekas, the Sixth Circuit considered whether certain home health nurses were paid on a fee basis for the purposes of the FLSA’s “professional” exemption. See id. at 675–79. The Fazekas plaintiffs were compensated on a per-visit basis, regardless of the time spent on each home health visit. Although the nurses performed multiple tasks within a single visit, including case management and care coordination tasks, and even expended some time outside consumers’ homes on “attendant transportation and administrative duties,” all such tasks were “connected with the actual visits themselves.” Id. at 675. Thus, while the nurses often provided ongoing treatments and implemented ongoing care plans over the course of multiple visits, such services were divisible in to discrete components (i.e., the individual visit), and compensated as such. Accordingly, the disputed matter in Fazekas was not whether the nurses were compensated for performing a “single job,” but rather whether each job was “unique” and, therefore, unlike “piecework payments.” Id. at 676. Analogizing a home health nurse to “a singer, who may, after all, perform the same song or set of songs over and over again during a series of performances, or … an illustrator, who may similarly repeat the same drawings or set of drawings as necessary,” id. at 679, the Court determined that each home health visit was indeed unique. Because this was consistent with the controlling DOL opinion on the matter, see id. at 676–678, the Court concluded that home health nurses paid on a per-visit basis were professionals compensated on a fee basis and therefore FLSA-exempt.

Here, in contrast, throughout a two-week pay period, case managers perform multiple individual tasks in connection with a particular consumer, which cannot be linked back to a single discrete job like a visit, a performance, or a project. Indeed, the pay-period does not correlate with a discrete set of tasks or goals. (Case Mgmt. Practice Guidelines, Doc. 29–11, 2–4; Bowman Aff., Doc. 33–1, ¶ 5 (“The points system used to compensate me was not based on my completion of any single task. Rather, this compensation system required I provide consumers with a series of services which were repeated an indefinite number of times per year based on the consumer’s particular needs.”); Cook Aff., Doc. 33–2, ¶ 5 (same); Gildow Aff. Doc. 33–3, ¶ 5(same); Kurtz Aff., Doc. 33–4, ¶ 5 (same); Potelicki Aff., Doc. 33–5, ¶ 5 (same); Steele Aff., Doc. 33–6, ¶ 5(same)). Rather, Carestar’s Case Management Practice Guidelines identifies numerous ongoing duties, such as periodic reevaluations and a number of required contacts with the consumer during the first and subsequent six month periods. (Case Mgmt. Practice Guidelines, Doc. 29–11; see also Job Description, Doc. 29–5 (“The Case Manager is responsible for on-going case management services to the consumer, including … the on-going monitoring of consumer outcomes, health, safety, eligibility and costs.”)).6 Thus, unlike a nurse’s home health visits, a singer’s performances, or an illustrator’s drawings, the on-going work done by case managers in connection with a case cannot be reduced a series of two-week-long “single job[s].” Therefore, the only basis for delineating and distinguishing case managers’ unit of compensation is the duration of the pay period. As DOL regulations make plain, however, “[p]ayments based on the number of hours or days worked and not on the accomplishment of a given single task are not considered payments on a fee basis.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(a). Carestar’s case manager compensation system thus fails to meet the DOL’s definition of a “fee basis” of payment as a matter of law.

Because Case Managers are not compensated on a “salary or fee” basis, they cannot satisfy the requirements for a “professional” exemption under the FLSA. See 29 C.F.R. § 541.300(a)(1). Accordingly, this alone is sufficient to grant Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with respect to Carestar’s misclassification of its Case Managers as “exempt” employees.

The court went on to discuss the duties element of the learned professional exemption, but declined to resolve issues of fact at the summary judgment stage, and noted that resolution of the issue was not necessary in light of the defendants’ inability to meet the salary or fee basis prong of the exemption.

Click Cook v. Carestar, Inc. to read the entire Opinion & Order.

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N.D.Ga.: Where Weekly Compensation of RNs and PTs Not Guaranteed and Comprised of Fees Per Visit as Well as Other Pay Based on Time Worked, Not “Salary” or “Fee Basis;” Clinicians Entitled to Overtime

Rindfleisch v Gentiva Health Services, Inc

As discussed here, this case was before the court on the parties’ respective cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs, registered nurses (RNs) and physical therapists (PTs)(collectively “clinicians”), paid in part by-the-visit to defendant’s patient’s homes asserted that they were entitled to unpaid overtime under the FLSA. Defendant contended that plaintiffs were exempt from overtime pursuant to the so-called “professional exemption.” Granting the plaintiffs’ motion and denying that of the defendant, the court held that the plaintiffs did not qualify for such exemption, because they were not paid on a “salary basis” or “fee basis,” a requisite element for application of the exemption.

Describing the pay policy at issue, the court stated:

Gentiva provides home healthcare services to patients throughout the United States[Doc. No. 508, 1].1 To provide these services, Gentiva employs registered nurses and physical or occupational therapists to provide in-home healthcare to Gentiva’s patients (collectively “Clinicians”) [Doc. No. 508, 1]. Since December of 2008, Gentiva pays the majority of its Clinicians on a pay per-visit plan (the “PPV Plan”) [Doc. No. 586, 4–5].2 Under the PPV Plan, Clinicians are paid a set fee for a “routine visit” to a patient’s home (“visit fees”) [Doc. No. 586, 14]. These visit fees do not vary based on the time it takes Clinicians to complete a specific in-home visit [id. at 15]. In addition, Clinicians under the PPV Plan are also paid on what Gentiva describes as a “flat rate” for non-visit related work (“non-visit fees”) [id. at 19]. In setting the amount of non-visit fees, Gentiva factors in the amount of time it takes Clinicians to perform a specific non-visit related activity [id.].

Gentiva maintains that the PPV Plan constitutes a “fee basis” payment under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. [id. at 14]. Therefore, Gentiva classifies all of its Clinicians compensated under the PPV Plan as professional employees exempt from overtime compensation under the FLSA [id. at 10].

The court framed the issue before it as follows: 

In summary, the only issue for the Court to determine at this stage of the litigation process is whether or not the PPV Plan is unlawful under the FLSA.

After explaining the elements required for the application of the professional exemption, and noting that here it was undisputed that plaintiffs me the duties prong of the exemption, the court addressed whether or not the defendant’s pay scheme was a “fee basis” or “salary basis” within the meaning of the applicable regulation:

The DOL regulations state that, in order to satisfy the salary basis test, a professional employee can be paid “on a fee basis, as defined in § 541.605.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.600(a). Section 541.605 states an employee can be paid on a “fee basis” that satisfies the salary basis test if “the employee is paid an agreed sum for a single job regardless of the time required for its completion.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(a). Subsection (b) of section 541.605 states that, in order for a particular fee payment to satisfy the salary basis test, “the amount paid to the employee will be tested by determining the time worked on the job and whether the fee payment is at a rate that would amount to at least $455 per week if the employee worked 40 hours.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(b).

In the alternative, the DOL regulations, under section 541.604, allow an employee exempt from overtime pay to receive “extra” compensation that does not satisfy the salary basis test. Specifically, section 541.604 allows two forms of “extra” payment, articulated respectively in subsections (a) and (b). Anani v. CVS RX Servs., Inc., 788 F.Supp.2d 55, 66 (E.D.N.Y.2011). Subsection (a) of section 541.604 allows an employee to receive “additional compensation,” that does not satisfy the salary basis test, “based on hours worked for work beyond the normal workweek.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.604(a). Subsection (b) allows an employee to receive payment on an hourly, daily, or shift basis without losing the overtime exemption, so long as he is guaranteed weekly payment of at least $455 and there is a “reasonable relationship” between the guaranteed weekly payment and the employee’s usual weekly earnings. 29 C.F.R. § 541.604(b).

Summarizing the parties’ respective positions, the court explained:

In its motion for partial summary judgment, Plaintiffs argue that the PPV Plan, because the non-visit fees vary based on the amount of time it takes a Clinician to complete a non-visit activity, violates the salary basis test. Therefore, Plaintiffs argue the PPV Plan violates the FLSA and, as a result, that they are owed overtime compensation. In its response to Plaintiffs’ motion, as well as in its own motion for partial summary judgment on the lawfulness of its fee payments, Gentiva asserts the following two arguments: 1. Pursuant to subsection (b) of section § 541.605, the non-visit fees can vary based on the time it takes Clinicians to complete a non-visit activity and still satisfy the salary basis test; and 2. Even if Gentiva’s non-visit fees improperly consider time, Gentiva’s visit fees properly satisfy the salary basis test and, therefore, the non-visit fees constitute “extra” payments under section 541.604. The Court will discuss each of Gentiva’s arguments below.

The court rejected both of the defendant’s arguments in this regard. First, the court concluded that the defendant’s payment of non-visit fees did not satisfy the salary basis test under 29 C.F.R. § 541.605, because they were variable and depended on the amount of time a clinician spent on non-appointment activities:

Subsection (a) of § 541.605 clearly states that a fee for an activity, in order to satisfy the salary basis test, cannot be based on “the time required for [the activity’s] completion.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(a). Subsection (a) further states that “[p]ayments based on the number of hours or days worked and not on the accomplishment of a given single task are not considered payments on a fee basis.” Id. Based on this clear and unambiguous language, a “fee” that varies based on the amount of time it takes to complete a specific activity does not satisfy the DOL regulation’s salary basis test. See Bread Political Action Comm. v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 455 U .S. 577, 580 (1982) (stating that, in the absence of clearly expressed legislative intention, the plain language of a statute controls its construction and must be considered conclusive); see also Evenson v. Hartford Life & Annuity Ins. Co., 244 F.R.D. 666, 667 (M.D.Fla.2007) (“As a general rule of interpretation, the plain meaning of a regulation governs.”).

Gentiva argues that subsection (b) of § 541.605 allows it to alter the amount of its non-visit fees based on the time it takes Clinicians to complete a non-visit activity. Subsection (b) of § 541.605 provides that, in order for a fee to satisfy the salary basis test, the fee must “amount to at least $455 per week if the employee worked 40 hours.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(b). To illustrate this point, subsection (b) provides the following example: “[t]hus, an artist paid $250 for a picture that took 20 hours to complete meets the minimum salary requirement for exemption since earnings at this rate would yield the artist $500 if 40 hours were worked.” Id. Based on this language, Gentiva argues that subsection (b) allows an employer to alter the amount of a fee based on the time it takes an employee to complete a specific activity, so long as the fee is not set on a straight hourly basis.

In essence, Gentiva argues that it can consider the amount of time it takes Clinicians to perform certain non-visit activities prospectively, thereby allowing its non-visit fees to vary based on time. Specifically, Gentiva argues that its non-visit fees factor in time “for the purpose of accommodating the clinician for missed visits that she would have otherwise performed” [Doc. No. 512–1, 25]. In support of this argument, Gentiva provides the following example:

in accordance with one of its conversion charts, Gentiva may pay a visit rate equivalent of $30 for a training that lasted 45 minutes and a rate of $60, equivalent to two visits, for a different training that lasted 3 hours. If, however, Gentiva simply set a flat rate for all trainings at the visit rate equivalent of $30, the training that took 3 hours would not qualify as a bona fide fee ($30 ÷ 3=$10 an hour or $400 over a 40–hour work week)

[id. at 54]. In comparison, Plaintiffs argue that subsection (b) of § 541.605 “describes how to evaluate the payments after the job is completed to determine whether the clinician has been compensated sufficiently to meet the exemption or is instead overtime eligible” [Doc. No. 584, 13]. In summary, Gentiva argues that subsection (b) is in place to allow an employer, in setting a fee for a specific activity, to vary the fee based on the amount of time it takes to complete said activity before it is complete. In contrast to Gentiva’s position, Plaintiffs argue subsection (b) is in place for the purpose of determining if a set fee satisfies the $455/40 hour requirement after the specific activity is complete.

The 2003 version of the fee basis regulation, former 29 C.F.R. § 541.313, is persuasive authority on this point. In the preamble to rule 29 C.F.R. § 541.605, the Department of Labor (the “DOL”) states that “[p]roposed section 541.605 simplified the fee basis provision in the current rule, but made no substantive change.” Dep’t of Labor, Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees, 69 Fed.Reg. 22122, 22184 (Apr. 23, 2004). Based on the lack of substantive change, it can be inferred that 29 C.F.R. § 541.605 is consistent with the language of former 29 C.F.R. § 541.313. See Belt v. Emcare, Inc., 444 F.3d 403, 414 (5th Cir.2006) (“The amendments effectively adopted § 541.314 after notice and comment, without substantive change, [ ] thereby tending to show that the text of § 541.3(e) does not contradict the former § 541.314.”).

Former 29 C.F.R. § 541.313 provides that “[t]he adequacy of a fee payment … can ordinarily be determined only after the time worked on the job has been determined.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.313(c) (2003) (emphasis added). To illustrate this point, 29 C.F.R. § 541.313 provides the following example:

An illustrator is assigned the illustration of a pamphlet at a fee of $150. When the job is completed, it is determined that the employee worked 60 hours. If the employee worked 40 hours at this rate, the employee would have earned only $100. The fee payment of $150 for work which required 60 hours to complete therefore does not meet the requirement of payment at a rate of $170 per week and the employee must be considered nonexempt.

29 C.F.R. § 541.313(d)(3) (2003). Based on this language, the Court agrees with Plaintiffs that 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(b) articulates how to determine a fee for a specific activity satisfies the salary basis test after the activity is completed. Therefore, 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(b) does not authorize an employer to prospectively alter a fee based on the amount of time it takes an employee to perform a specific work activity.

Without question, Gentiva’s non-visit fees vary based on the amount of time it takes Clinicians to complete a specific non-visit activity. Therefore, the non-visit fees violate the clear language of 29 C.F.R. § 541.605(a), which specifies a fee only satisfies the salary basis test when it is “an agreed sum for a single job regardless of the time required for its completion.” Subsection (b) of 29 C.F.R. § 541.605 merely provides a basis for determining whether or not a fee for a specific activity satisfies the salary basis test after the activity is complete. Therefore, Gentiva cannot rely on subsection (b) as justification for varying its non-visit fees based on the amount of time it takes Clinicians to complete a non-visit activity. Such a reading of subsection (b) would completely contradict and negate the clear and unambiguous language of subsection (a). Therefore, Gentiva’s non-visit fees do not satisfy the salary basis test under 29 C.F.R. § 541.605.

The court also rejected the defendant’s alternative argument that the non-visit fees constituted an “extra” payment under 29 C.F.R. § 541.604:

Section 541.604 provides that “[a]n employer may provide an exempt employee with additional compensation without losing the exemption or violating the salary basis requirement, if the employment arrangement also includes a guarantee of at least the minimum weekly-required amount [$455] paid on a salary basis.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.604(a). Gentiva argues that, because its visit fees satisfy the salary basis test, its non-visit fees constitute extra payments under section 541.604. The Court does not find this argument persuasive under either subsection (a) or subsection (b) of section 541.604.

Subsection (a) of section 541.604 allows an exempt employee to receive “extra” payment as “additional compensation … paid on any basis (e.g., flat sum, bonus payment, straight-time hourly amount, time and one-half or any other basis), and may include paid time off.” Id. However, such “extra” or “additional” compensation is only available under subsection (a) for “extra” or “additional” work, meaning “hours worked for work beyond the normal workweek.” Id. Under subsection (a), “beyond the normal workweek” signifies hours worked in excess of forty. See Anani, 788 F.Supp.2d at 67 (stating “common sense as well as the purpose of the FLSA supports the interpretation that the words ‘the normal workweek’ clearly contemplate a forty (40) hour workweek because the FLSA itself generally establishes the right to overtime for hours worked in excess of forty (40) hours.”) (internal quotation marks, alterations and citation omitted).

Here, Gentiva does not designate non-visit activities as additional work only performed after Clinicians have completed forty hours of in-home visits [Doc. No. 586, 34–35]. Instead, in the weeks non-visit activities are performed, non-visit fees are a part of the Clinicians’ compensation for a normal forty hour workweek. Therefore, non-visit fees are not a form of compensation separate from the Clinicians’ forty hour workweek, but are instead a part of the Clinicians’ compensation for a forty hour workweek that includes non-visit activities. Because non-visit activities, and by extension the non-visit fees, are not designated as separate from the Clinicians’ normal workweek, it is irrelevant that Gentiva’s visit fees satisfy the salary basis test. The visit fees do not encompass the complete form of payment for a Clinicians’ normal workweek and, therefore, do not justify payment of the non-visit fees which do not satisfy the salary basis test. As a result, the non-visit fees cannot be considered “extra” payment under subsection (a) of 29 C.F.R. § 541.604.

Subsection (a) of 29 C.F.R. § 541.604 does not allow an employee to receive two forms of payment, with one form failing to satisfy the fee basis test, for two forms of activities completed as part of an employee’s forty hour workweek. An additional form of payment that does not satisfy the salary basis test can only be awarded for work outside of an employee’s normal workweek. As Gentiva’s non-visit fees are a part of the Clinicians’ compensation for a normal workweek that includes non-visit activities, they do not constitute an “extra” payment under subsection (a) of section 541.604.

 Subsection (b) of section 541.604 allows an employer to pay its employee on an hourly, daily or shift basis without negating the overtime exemption “if the employment arrangement also includes a guarantee of at least the minimum weekly required amount paid on a salary basis [$455] regardless of the number of hours, days or shifts worked, and a reasonable relationship exists between the guaranteed amount and the amount actually earned.” 29 C.F.R. § 541 .604 (emphasis added). In summary, subsection (b) allows an employee to be paid on an hourly, daily, or shift basis without losing the overtime exemption, so long as the “reasonable relationship” test is met. Anani, 788 F.Supp.2d at 62. Subsection (b) provides that “[t]he reasonable relationship test will be met if the weekly guarantee is roughly equivalent to the employee’s usual earnings at the assigned hourly, daily or shift rate for the employee’s normal scheduled workweek.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.604(b).

Perhaps most significantly, the court noted that the defendant apparently conceded that there was no guarantee that the clinicians would receive at least $455.00 per week, regardless of the characterization of the non-visit fees:

In its reply brief regarding its motion for summary judgment on the lawfulness of its fee payments, Gentiva appears to concede that the visit fees do not guarantee Clinicians paid under the PPV Plan even $455 in a given week [Doc. No. 617, 24–25]. Based on this concession, Gentiva argues that “fee-based employees need not be guaranteed pay of at least $455 per week to be eligible for extras under section 541.604, they only need to be guaranteed fees that pay them at a rate that would result in at least $455 if they were to work a full 40–hour week performing those fee-compensated tasks” [id. at 25]. This argument, when applied to Clinicians and their usual weekly earnings, supports the very form of payment scheme that the reasonable relationship test of subsection (b) is attempting to guard against…

Here, Gentiva argues in favor of a compensation framework, without even establishing a set amount of “guaranteed” weekly payment, that allows an even greater discrepancy between the Clinicians’ normal weekly earnings and their “guaranteed” weekly payment. Specifically, Gentiva argues that Clinicians can receive one visit fee in a given week and still meet the guarantee requirement of subsection (b), so long as that single fee satisfies the fee basis test under section 541.605. However, under that scenario, Clinicians would have to receive an amount of non-visit fees that is significantly greater than the amount received from the one visit fee. For example, Gentiva asserts “the more productive opt-in clinicians in this action were able to earn more than $150,000 per year, and one plaintiff earned over $240,000″ [Doc. No. 512–1, 15].11 To earn this amount of compensation in a given year, Clinicians have to receive a weekly amount of earnings that greatly exceeds $455, let alone an undetermined amount that is less than $455. Therefore, under the compensation framework put forth by Gentiva, Clinicians’ “guaranteed” payment is an illusion, having no reasonable relationship to the amount of pay that Clinicians usually receive in a given week. See Dep’t of Labor, 69 Fed.Reg. at 22184 (stating “if an employee is compensated on an hourly basis, or on a shift basis, there must be a reasonable relationship between the amount guaranteed per week and the amount the employee typically earns per week. Thus, if a nurse whose actual compensation is determined on a shift or hourly basis usually earns $1,200 per week, the amount guaranteed must be roughly equivalent to $1,200; the employer could not guarantee such an employee only the minimum salary required by the regulation.”). Therefore, Gentiva’s non-visit fees do not constitute an “extra” payment under subsection (b) of 29 C.F.R. § 541.604.

Thus, the court held that the defendant’s payment plan failed to satisfy the salary or fee basis requirement and thus the professional exemption was inapplicable to the plaintiffs.

Click Rindfleisch v. Gentive Health Services, Inc to read the entire Order.

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Recent Exemption Cases of Interest

The last few weeks have brought their share of interesting misclassification/exemption cases. In one case, a law school graduate performing non-lawyer duties was held to be non-exempt. In another, a court within the Fifth Circuit held that a tax lien negotiation business- clearly within the CFR’s definitions of a business lacking a retail concept- was in fact a retail business subject to 7(i)’s so-called retail sales exemption. Lastly, despite his managerial duties at times, a court held that a police sergeant might not be exempt under the executive exemption and denied the police department-employer’s motion for summary judgment. Each of these decisions is discussed in greater detail below.

Law School Graduate Employed as a Graphic Consultant Non-Exempt

Kadden v. VisuaLex, LLC

In the first case, the defendant- a litigation support company- employed plaintiff- a college and law school graduate as a graphics consultant. At issue was whether the defendant had properly deemed plaintiff to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. The defendant (“VisuaLex”) contended that the plaintiff was exempt under either the creative professional exemption, the administrative exemption, or the so-called combination exemption whereby an employer can utilize elements of multiple white-collar exemptions to render an employee exempt. While acknowledging that the case presented a close call, the court held that the plaintiff lacked the requisite primary duties to meet the elements of any of the exemptions asserted. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff had been misclassified and should have been paid proper overtime. In so doing, the court reiterated that the fundamental tenet of exemption cases is an examination of the employees primary duties and not simply a job description or a list of duties performed. The court also reminded us that the learned professional examination is only applicable where the advanced degree of learning or science is actually required for and by the position performed by the employee- holding such a degree alone is not sufficient to meet the stringent exemption requirements.

Click Kadden v. VisuaLex, LLC to read the entire Opinion and Order.

Tax Consultants Subject to 7(i) Retail Exemption Notwithstanding CFR Regs Defining “Tax Services” Establishments as “Lacking a Retail Concept”

Wells v. TaxMasters, Inc.

The second case was before the court on the parties’ competing motions for summary judgment. Deciding the case in favor of the defendants, the court held that the plaintiffs were subject to the so-called retail exemption codified in 7(i) of the FLSA. It was uncontested that the plaintiffs regularly worked in excess of 40 hours. Similarly, the duties they performed were not at issue nor was the methodology by which they were paid (qualifying for the pay element of the retail sales exemption). Rather the sole issue appears to have been whether or not defendants- an enterprise engaged in rendering “tax resolution services”- was in a retail establishment within the meaning of 7(i) such that plaintiffs could properly be deemed to be exempt from overtime under the so-called retail exemption.

Holding that the defendants were a retail establishment, notwithstanding the Department of Labor’s regulations stating otherwise, the court reasoned:

Whether Defendants were exempt under Section 207(i) thus turns on whether they were “an establishment 75 percentum of whose annual dollar volume of sales of goods or services (or of both) is not for resale and is recognized as retail sales or services in the particular industry.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(2). According to Department of Labor regulations, a retail or service establishment must have a “retail concept.” 29 C.F.R. § 779.316 (2005). Section 318 of the regulations describes the “characteristics and examples” of retail or service establishments:

Typically a retail or service establishment is one which sells goods or services to the general public. It serves the everyday needs of the community in which it is located. The retail or service establishment performs a function in the business organization of the Nation which is at the very end of the stream of distribution, disposing in small quantities of the products and skills of such organization and does not take part in the manufacturing process.

Such an establishment sells to the general public its food and drink. It sells to such public its clothing and its furniture, its automobiles, its radios and refrigerators, its coal and its lumber, and other goods, and performs incidental services on such goods when necessary. It provides the general public its repair services and other services for the comfort and convenience of such public in the course of its daily living. 29 C.F.R. § 779.318. Section 317 of the regulations provide a “partial list of establishments lacking ‘retail concept’ ” which includes, among over one hundred other examples, “tax services.” 29 C.F.R. § 779.317.

Plaintiffs do not dispute that Defendants sold more than 75 per cent of their products directly to the consumer. Instead, Plaintiffs insist that the Department of Labor regulations, which expressly define “tax services” companies as lacking a retail component, are determinative. See Doc. 60, 61, 63. Defendants contend both that they were not a “tax services” establishment and that Section 779.317 therefore does not apply and that Fifth Circuit precedent holds that the Department of Labor’s list of non-retail establishments is not determinative. Doc. 64.

The Defendants are correct that the Fifth Circuit has declined to follow strictly the Department of Labor’s list. See Rachal v. Allen, 376 F.2d 999 (5th Cir.1967) (rejecting Secretary of Labor’s position that a fixed base aeronautics operator’s business has no retail concept merely because it is part of an industry, namely, the air transportation industry, that Section 779.317 lists as lacking a retail concept). “There is no magic in placing a business in a category and then asserting that since it is in that category, it is like all businesses with which it has been placed.” Id. at 1003. In Rachal, the Fifth Circuit rejected the Secretary of Labor’s argument that because a fixed-base operator engaged in servicing and selling aircraft at airports was in the air transportation industry, and because the Secretary had made a determination in Section 779.317 that the air transportation industry lacked a retail concept, a fixed base operator necessarily lacked a retail concept:

[T]he Secretary’s argument … assumes the result of the issue we are asked to determine…. The issue is whether, under the statute, there may be, as a matter of law, and if so whether there is as a matter of fact, a retail concept in the defendants’ business, notwithstanding the Secretary’s determination. It is, of course, the function of the Court, as well as of the Secretary, to interpret the statute. Id. (citing Walling v. La Belle S.S. Co., 148 F.2d 198 (6th Cir.1945)). The question for this Court, then, is whether Defendants provided services that meet the Secretary’s four criteria for establishments with a retail concept. 29 C.F.R. § 770.319 (listing criteria).

Certainly Defendants sold their services to the general public. In fact, the Plaintiffs in this action worked as salespeople in a call center and sold Defendants’ services directly to consumers. Plaintiffs contend, however, that Defendants’ “services do not serve the every day needs of the public” because “these services provide a specialized function that is not necessary for the community’s daily routine.” Doc. 68 at 22. It is not the case that an establishment must provide a product or service used by each member of the community on daily basis for it to serve the everyday needs of the community. Addressing just such an argument, the District Court for the Middle District of Florida reasoned that:

[t]he list provided in the regulations of businesses which are recognized as retail reflects that such narrow interpretation would be incorrect. This list includes billiard parlors, bowling alleys, cemeteries, coal yards, crematories, dance halls, embalming establishments, funeral homes, fur repair and storage shops, hotels, masseur establishments, recreational camps, taxidermists, theatres, and undertakers, none of which would be used daily by everyone in the community. Reich v. Cruises Only, Inc., 1997 WL 1507504, *4 (M.D.Fla.1997).

This Court agrees. The summary judgment evidence before the Court indicates that Defendants provided not only tax preparation services that each member of the community may well utilize, but also tax dispute services to address issues that may, in some instances, arise in the course of filing taxes. Doc. 64–1 at 7–8. Each member of “the community” does not require tax services on a daily basis any more than they require frequent visits to the undertaker. Yet these services derive inevitably from the only two certainties in life. Such certain, but periodic, services are no less retail in nature than the sale of “automobiles, … radios and refrigerators,” or the “incidental services on such goods when necessary.” 29 C.F.R. § 779.318. Defendants’ tax resolution services clearly were “services for the comfort and convenience of such public in the course of its daily living.” Id.

It is not clear if the case would have been decided differently outside the Fifth Circuit. Of interest, in footnote 5 of its opinion, the court declined to follow a Sixth Circuit opinion on point that reached the opposite conclusion, Hodgson v. N.G. Kallas Co., 480 F.2d 994 (6th Cir.1973).

Click Wells v. TaxMasters, Inc. to read the entire Opinion and Order.

Notwithstanding Management Duties, Police Lieutenant Might be Non-Exempt; Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment re: Executive Exemption Denied

Jones v. Williams

In the third exemption case of interest, the case was before the court on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment regarding all of plaintiff’s asserted claims (Title VII, retaliation, unpaid overtime, etc.). As discussed here, the court denied the defendant’s motion with regard to plaintiff’s unpaid overtime claim, citing issues of fact precluding a finding- as a matter of law- that plaintiff was subject to the executive exemption.

The court’s brief description of the plaintiff’s duties was as follows:

Steven Jones currently works as a police supervisor with the rank of lieutenant at BCCC. (Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 44, at 2, Ex. 1; Deposition of Steven Jones, ECF No. 51, at 7–8.) Jones’s duties include making shift assignments, reviewing paperwork, responding to calls in the event he is needed, and “mak[ing] sure everybody is on their post, looking clean and doing their jobs.”

After noting that the defendant’s cited an outdated regulation as the basis for their exemption defense, the court ultimately held that the defendant failed to show that the plaintiff’s primary duties were the performance of exempt work:

Here, the defendants’ exemption claim fails summary judgment on two fronts. First, the defendants have failed to adduce any evidence that Jones has any responsibility with respect to hiring or firing or that his opinions are given “particular weight” with regard to these matters. See
29 C.F.R. § 541.105. Without such evidence, the defendants cannot sustain an exemption claim under § 541.100.

Second, taking the available facts regarding his job responsibilities in the light most favorable to Jones, the defendants have not convincingly demonstrated that, even though he supervises other officers, Jones’s primary duty is not law enforcement. See 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(b). As evidence that Jones primarily performs exempt work, the defendants point to Jones’s statement that his duties include “making shift assignments … review[ing] all paperwork and … respond[ing] to calls in the event an officer has an issue or my sergeant is unable to deal with an issue … mak[ing] sure everybody is on their post, looking clean and doing their jobs.” (Jones Dep. at 9.) However, in interpreting a similar job description (“a lieutenant’s ‘primary responsibility … is to make sure that their people in the field can handle any situation that happens at any time’ “), the Tenth Circuit noted that this description could merely encompass “the kind of front-line supervision” that the regulations deem “non-managerial.” Maestas, 664 F.3d at 830. Elsewhere in the record, Jones has indicated that his duties also include being “on-call” (Jones Dep. at 59), maintaining emergency generators when needed, ensuring campus safety, and setting up traffic barrels. Jones was, apparently, essential to front line security during the snow storms that caused him to work substantial overtime. Jones may perform enough non-exempt duties like these to fall outside the scope of the exemption. The defendants have certainly not demonstrated his job position falls squarely within an exemption. Accordingly, the defendants’ motion for summary judge with respect to Jones’s FLSA claim will be denied.

Click Jones v. Williams to read the entire Memorandum opinion.

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9th Cir.: Social Workers Not Exempt Under FLSA; Not “Learned Professionals” Due to Non-Specialized Course of Studies

Solis v. Washington

This case was before the Ninth Circuit of the Secretary of Labor’s appeal of an order granting the defendant summary judgment.  The court below had held that plaintiffs- social workers employed by the State of Washington- were exempt as so-called “learned professionals,” because a prerequisite for their position was a 4 year degree academic degree.  The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the court below misconstrued the 4 year degree (B.A.) requirement as having met the prong of the exemption pertaining to “advanced knowledge customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.”  Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs were not “learned professionals,” because “the social worker positions at issue… require[d] only a degree in one of several diverse academic disciplines or sufficient coursework in any of those disciplines.”  Thus, because the position did not require a degree in a specific discipline the Ninth Circuit held the position did not plainly and unmistakably come within the exemption.

After reviewing the relevant law from various circuits, the court held that the plaintiffs here did not meet the rigorous requirements for application of the “learned professional” exemption.  The court reasoned:

“Whether a position requires a degree in a specialized area, see Reich, 993 F.2d at 739, or merely a specific course of study, see Rutlin, 220 F.3d at 737, a “prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction” must be sufficiently specialized and relate directly to the position. An educational requirement that may be satisfied by degrees in fields as diverse as anthropology, education, criminal justice, and gerontology does not call for a “course of specialized intellectual instruction.” Moreover, in this case the net is cast even wider by the acceptance of applicants with other degrees as long as they have sufficient coursework in any of these fields.

DSHS nonetheless contends that it has presented evidence that each of the acceptable degrees relates to the duties of its social workers. However, while social workers no doubt have diverse jobs that benefit from a multi-disciplinary background, the “learned professional” exemption applies to positions that require “a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction,” not positions that draw from many varied fields. While particular coursework in each of the acceptable fields may be related to social work, DSHS admits that it does not examine an applicant’s coursework once it determines that the applicant’s degree is within one of those fields. For the “learned professional” exemption to apply, the knowledge required to perform the duties of a position must come from “advanced specialized intellectual instruction” rather than practical experience. 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d). The requirement of a degree or sufficient coursework in any of several fields broadly related to a position suggests that only general academic training is necessary, with the employer relying upon apprenticeship and experience to develop the advanced skills necessary for effective performance as a social worker.”

The court also discussed the significance of the fact that the defendant required each social worker to undergo a six-week on-the-job training session.  Interestingly, whereas the trial court had relied on this in support of finding the plaintiffs to be exempt “learned professionals,” the Ninth Circuit reasoned that it actually supported a finding of non-exemption, stating:

“The district court also gave weight to the six-week formal training program required for accepted applicants. However, such a program was determined to be insufficient in Vela, where the court concluded that 880 hours of specialized training in didactic courses, clinical experience, and field internship did not satisfy the education prong of the “learned professional” exemption. 276 F.3d at 659. If six weeks of additional training, only four weeks of which is in the classroom, were sufficient to qualify as a specialized course of intellectual instruction, nearly every position with a formal training program would qualify.

The district court concluded that the requirement of eighteen months of experience in social work was another factor weighing in favor of a determination of specialized instruction. However, the regulation states clearly that the exemption does not apply to “occupations in which most employees have acquired their skill by experience.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d). Owsley, upon which the district court relied, is not to the contrary, as the position at issue in that case included a requirement of specific academic courses as well as the apprenticeship requirement. 187 F.3d at 521. Indeed, Owsley distinguished Dybach on this exact point. Id. at 525.

This decision gives an important roadmap to employees, employers and courts alike in determining the applicability of the learned professional exemption. 

Click Solis v. Washington to read the entire opinion.  Click Secretary of Labor Brief, to read the SOL’s successful Brief in support of her appeal.

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D.Kan.: “A & P Mechanic” Was Non-Exempt; Learned Professional Exemption Was Inapplicable, Because Plaintiff’s Work Was Routine Mechanical Work

Dressler v. Kansas Copters and Wings, Inc.

This decision was rendered following a bench trial.  Plaintiff an “A&P Mechanic” sought unpaid overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The Defendant asserted that Plaintiff was exempt from overtime under the professional exemption.  Rejecting Defendant’s assertions, the Court ruled that Plaintiff was not professionally exempt, because his job duties did not meet any of the duties requirements for the application for such exemption.

Reciting its findings of fact, the Court stated:

“Plaintiff David Dressler is a certified A & P mechanic. After graduating from high school, plaintiff joined the United States Marine Corps. For five years, plaintiff worked as an aviation hydraulics mechanic in the Marines. Plaintiff then worked several years as a dental assistant. In January 2005, plaintiff enrolled in the Aviation Institute of Maintenance. Plaintiff obtained his A & P certification in August 2006. Plaintiff was then employed by Midwest Corporate Aviation and Wells Aircraft. On March 15, 2008, plaintiff applied for a position with Kansas Copters & Wings, Inc.

Kansas Copters is a factory authorized dealer and service center for the Robinson R22 helicopter. The president of the company, defendant Earl Schreiber, decided to offer plaintiff a position because of plaintiff’s experience with helicopters in the military and his education. On March 21, plaintiff signed an employment agreement with Kansas Copters. Plaintiff additionally signed a non-compete agreement in which he agreed to not accept employment for any company that offers the same services as defendants.

The employment agreement states in pertinent part:

Your primary function would be to work as an A & P mechanic. All of our employees are responsible for facility maintenance and janitorial duties…. You may be required to work on your days off and/or holidays from time to time. You will be required to travel and attend courses as needed by the company.

Should you terminate your employment we require a thirty (30) day advance notice. Any notice of less than thirty (30) days and/or employment of less than three years would require for you to reimburse the company(s) any funds spent on your training, attending courses, and any other expenses …

As such, the starting salary for this overtime exempt position considering your qualifications is $600.00 per week … Compensatory time is earned hour for hour for every hour in excess of Sixty (60) hours per work week…. The company(s) reserve the right to withhold compensatory time and/or regular pay, and/or vacation time and/or holiday pay in the amount equal to what the company(s) have paid for aforementioned training and expenses, etc., until you have served at least three (3) years continued employment.

Earl Schreiber drafted the employment agreement after consulting with his attorney. Schreiber determined that an A & P mechanic at his company would be exempt from the overtime provisions in the FLSA due to the specialized training and unique services offered by defendants. In making his determination, Schreiber researched the issue of overtime by reviewing brochures from the federal government and browsing the internet. Schreiber also contacted other businesses which contracted with Robinson aircraft. Schreiber learned that these businesses also paid their mechanics a weekly rate. Schreiber therefore determined that the position of an A & P mechanic would be exempt from overtime.

Plaintiff’s work at Kansas Copters was supervised by Laurence Schreiber, who was also an A & P mechanic. Plaintiff was required to perform routine maintenance on Robinson helicopters. Plaintiff was also required to diagnose issues that arose with Kansas Copters’ customers’ aircraft for non-scheduled maintenance. Plaintiff would adjust flight control surfaces, make repairs and adjustments to the engine, and replace parts. Plaintiff would then certify whether the aircraft was safe for flight. In addressing and diagnosing problems, plaintiff would review the flight history and utilize the manuals that were specific to the aircraft. Plaintiff did not deviate from the manuals. Plaintiff did not modify the flight systems and he was not hired to design modifications to the aircraft.

In addition to making repairs at the airport in Augusta, plaintiff was also expected to service Robinson helicopters at other locations. On one occasion during his employment, plaintiff traveled to Nebraska to make repairs on a Robinson helicopter. Plaintiff was also required to perform maintenance on the facility. Plaintiff would clean the floors, paint the hangar and pull weeds. All employees at Kansas Copters were required to assist in the upkeep of the facility. Plaintiff was required to do this type of work when he was not working on a helicopter.

Plaintiff’s work schedule initially required him to work from 8 a .m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Plaintiff then attended the Robinson Training Course in California during the week of May 11. After returning from the course, plaintiff was certified to work on Robinson helicopters. Plaintiff then began working on Saturdays for eight hours in addition to his regular forty-hour work week. Plaintiff’s compensation rose to $625 a week due after successful completion of the training course.

Plaintiff’s last day of employment with Kansas Copters was August 20, 2008. Instead of issuing plaintiff his final check in the amount of $625, Kansas Copters withheld plaintiff’s pay for reimbursement for the Robinson course.”

Determining that Plaintiff was not professional exempt, the Court reasoned:

“To qualify for the learned professional exemption, an employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. This primary duty test includes three elements:

(1) The employee must perform work requiring advanced knowledge;

(2) The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and

(3) The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

29 C.F.R. § 541.301(a).

First, in determining whether the initial element is met, the court is guided by the definition set forth in the regulations:

The phrase “work requiring advanced knowledge” means work which is predominantly intellectual in character, and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment, as distinguished from performance of routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work. An employee who performs work requiring advanced knowledge generally uses the advanced knowledge to analyze, interpret or make deductions from varying facts or circumstances. Advanced knowledge cannot be attained at the high school level.  29 C.F.R. § 541.301(b).

The testimony in this case established that plaintiff performed his position as an A & P mechanic in strict compliance with guidelines set forth by the manufacturer. Plaintiff could not deviate from the design of the helicopter or make any modifications without specific input from the manufacturer. Plaintiff’s work was routine and he worked on the same type of aircraft. The court finds that plaintiff’s work was not predominantly intellectual in character. Plaintiff’s work was routine mechanical work and therefore does not qualify for the learned professional exemption.

Even if the court were to find that the first element was met, the final two elements have not been proven. The second element is as follows:

The phrase “field of science or learning” includes the traditional professions of law, medicine, theology, accounting, actuarial computation, engineering, architecture, teaching, various types of physical, chemical and biological sciences, pharmacy and other similar occupations that have a recognized professional status as distinguished from the mechanical arts or skilled trades where in some instances the knowledge is of a fairly advanced type, but is not in a field of science or learning.  29 C.F.R. § 541.301(c).

Clearly, an aircraft mechanic does not fall into the traditional professions listed in the regulation. Defendants cite Paul v. Petroleum Equip. Tools Co., 708 F.2d 168 (5th Cir.1983) to support the position that pilots have been found to qualify for the professional employee exemption. In Paul, the court determined that flying is a field of science or learning because the pilot “must acquire extensive knowledge of aerodynamics, airplane regulations, airplane operations, instrument procedures, aeronautical charts, and weather forecasting.” 708 F.2d at 173. Plaintiff, however, is not a pilot. Plaintiff’s knowledge is not similar to what is required of a pilot. Plaintiff’s learning is of a mechanical nature and that is excluded by the regulation.

The final element has also not been met. The regulations explain the element as follows:

The phrase “customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction” restricts the exemption to professions where specialized academic training is a standard prerequisite for entrance into the profession. The best prima facie evidence that an employee meets this requirement is possession of the appropriate academic degree. However, the word “customarily” means that the exemption is also available to employees in such professions who have substantially the same knowledge level and perform substantially the same work as the degreed employees, but who attained the advanced knowledge through a combination of work experience and intellectual instruction. Thus, for example, the learned professional exemption is available to the occasional lawyer who has not gone to law school, or the occasional chemist who is not the possessor of a degree in chemistry. However, the learned professional exemption is not available for occupations that customarily may be performed with only the general knowledge acquired by an academic degree in any field, with knowledge acquired through an apprenticeship, or with training in the performance of routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical processes. The learned professional exemption also does not apply to occupations in which most employees have acquired their skill by experience rather than by advanced specialized intellectual instruction. 29 C.F.R. § 541.301(d).

While plaintiff clearly gained his education from technical school and Marine Corps experience, advanced education is not required in order to gain FAA certification. Plaintiff’s short course of training with the manufacturer of Robinson helicopters does not amount to a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. Defendants have again cited cases which deal only with pilots. Plaintiff is not a pilot. The language in the regulation contemplates that some individuals may qualify for the exemption without formal education but then cites rare examples of occupations which routinely required advanced education. The examples cited are clearly those professions which are highly intellectual in nature and not mechanical, like that of an A & P mechanic.

The court finds that plaintiff’s position as an A & P mechanic is not exempt under § 213(a)(1) because he does not qualify as a professional.”

To read the entire decision, click here.

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

Pignataro v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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