Tag Archives: Third Circuit

D.N.J.: District Court Denies Motion to Vacate Clause Construction Permitting Arb to Proceed on Class Basis, Where Contract Was Silent as to Class Issues; U.S.S.C. to Take Up Issue

Opalinski v. Robert Half Intern., Inc.

Another court, this one within the Third Circuit (which had previously ruled on the issue), has held that an arbitrator does not exceed his or her authority when the arbitrator permits FLSA claims to proceed on a class-wide basis, in the face of an arbitration agreement that the parties stipulate is “silent” as to class issues. Determining that same was permissible under Stolt-Nielsen and under principles of New Jersey contract law, the court explained:

At issue here is whether the Award should be vacated because the Arbitrator exceeded her powers by finding that the Agreements allow for class arbitration. Defendants contend that the Arbitrator’s finding was erroneous and violates Supreme Court precedent. See Stolt–Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., –––U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 1758, 176 L.Ed.2d 605 (2010) (finding that arbitration panel exceeded its powers by imposing its own policy choice instead of interpreting and applying the agreement of the parties, and explaining that a party cannot be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so). Defendants note that the Agreements did not expressly authorize class arbitration and argue that an agreement to arbitrate does not implicitly authorize class arbitration, nor does the non-existence of an express class action waiver imply that the parties agreed upon class arbitration.

Defendants’ arguments are unpersuasive particularly given the binding precedent of Sutter v. Oxford Health Plans LLC, 675 F.3d 215 (3d Cir.2012), which is directly on point. In light of Stolt–Nielsen, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Sutter evaluated an arbitrator’s decision that class arbitration was allowed under a contract that was silent on the issue of class arbitration. The court explained that while “Stolt–Nielsen does prohibit an arbitrator from inferring parties’ consent to class arbitration solely from their failure to preclude that procedure,” it did not establish a rule that class arbitration is only allowed where an arbitration agreement expressly provides for class arbitration procedures. Sutter, 675 F.3d at 222, 224 . Instead, an arbitrator can interpret an arbitration clause to allow for class arbitration, even if the clause does not expressly provide for it, if the arbitrator articulates a contractual basis for that interpretation. Id. at 224. The arbitrator in Sutter examined the parties’ intent and used contract interpretation principles to reach his conclusion. He described the text of the arbitration clause—which provided that “no civil action concerning any dispute arising under this [a]greement shall be instituted before any court”—as broad and embracing all conceivable court actions including class actions. He further explained that an express carve-out for class arbitration would be required to negate this reading of the clause. Id. at 218. When reviewing the award, the court explained that the arbitrator had the authority to find for class arbitration because such a finding had a contractual basis. Id. at 223–24.

In light of binding Third Circuit authority and basic principles of New Jersey law regarding contract interpretation, the court held that the arbitrator was within her powers to hold that the arbitration of plaintiff’s claims could proceed on a class-wide basis, in the absence of an explicit class-waiver in the arbitration agreement.

Click Opalinski v. Robert Half Intern., Inc. to read the entire Opinion & Order.

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Significantly, within days of the Opalinkski decision, the Supreme Court agreed to take up this very issue. To that end, the Supreme Court accepted cert of the Sutter case, on which the Opalinski relied. The question certified by the Supreme Court is:

Whether an arbitrator acts within his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (as the Second and Third Circuits have held) or exceeds those powers (as the Fifth Circuit has held) by determining that parties affirmatively “agreed to authorize class arbitration,” Stolt-Nielsen, 130 S. Ct. at 1776, based solely on their use of broad contractual language precluding litigation and requiring arbitration of any dispute arising under their contract.

Click Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter to read more about the Supreme Court’s decision to accept cert.

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U.S.S.C. Grants Cert to Decide Whether a Defendant-Employer Can Moot a Putative Collective Action By “Picking Off” the Named Plaintiff

Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk

As reported by law360 and the ScotusBlog, today the Supreme Court announced that it had granted Certiori to a Defendant-employer who sought to moot a putative collective action by offering “full relief” to the named-Plaintiff before she could file a motion seeking conditional certification of her claims as a collective action.

Initially, the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims noting that:

 [Plaintiff] does not contend that other individuals have joined her collective action. Thus, this case, like each of the district court cases cited by Defendants, which concluded that a Rule 68 offer of judgment mooted the underlying FLSA collective action, involves a single named plaintiff. In addition, Symczyk does not contest Defendants’ assertion that the 68 offer of judgment fully satisfied her claims….

However, the Third Circuit reversed reasoning, in part:

When Rule 68 morphs into a tool for the strategic curtailment of representative actions, it facilitates an outcome antithetical to the purposes behind § 216(b). Symczyk’s claim-like that of the plaintiff in Weiss—was “acutely susceptible to mootness” while the action was in its early stages and the court had yet to determine whether to facilitate notice to prospective plaintiffs. See Weiss, 385 F.3d at 347 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the certification process has yet to unfold, application of the relation back doctrine prevents defendants from using Rule 68 to “undercut the viability” of either’ type of representative action. See id. at 344.

In sum, we believe the relation back doctrine helps ensure the use of Rule 68 does not prevent a collective action from playing out according to the directives of § 216(b) and the procedures authorized by the Supreme Court in Hoffmann–La Roche and further refined by courts applying this statute. Depriving the parties and the court of a reasonable opportunity to deliberate on the merits of collective action “conditional certification” frustrates the objectives served by § 216(b). Cf. Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 921 (explaining “there must be some time for a[n FLSA] plaintiff to move to certify a collective action before a defendant can moot the claim through an offer of judgment”). Absent undue delay, when an FLSA plaintiff moves for “certification” of a collective action, the appropriate course—particularly when a defendant makes a Rule 68 offer to the plaintiff that would have the possible effect of mooting the claim for collective relief asserted under § 216(b)—is for the district court to relate the motion back to the filing of the initial complaint.

Now the Supreme Court will apparently be weighing in on the issue.  

Of note, the plaintiff was a single plaintiff and had not sought conditional certification of a collective action at the time the defendant sought to moot the claim.  We will see how much, if at all, these facts play into the Court’s decision to come. 

Click ScotusBlog to read the briefs and Overtime Law Blog, to read our initial post regarding the 3rd Circuit’s Opinion.

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

Kesselman v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC

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

Discussing the Third Circuit precedent, the court stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3d Cir.: Hybrids Are Permissible; Rule 23, FLSA Claims Not Incompatible

Knepper v. Rite Aid Corp.

In one of the most anticipated wage and hour decisions pending at the circuit court level, the Third Circuit held yesterday that Rule 23 state law wage and hour class actions (opt-out) are not inherently incompatible with FLSA collective action (opt-in).  Likely ending one of the longest running and hotly contested issues in wage and hour litigation the Third Circuit “join[ed] the Second, Seventh, Ninth and D.C. circuits in ruling that this purported ‘inherent incompatibility’ does not defeat otherwise available federal jurisdiction.”

At the court below the plaintiffs had asserted a hybrid cause of action– claims under both the FLSA’s collective action mechanism and multiple states’ wage and hour laws (Rule 23 class actions).  Unlike some so-called hybrids though, here the Court’s jurisdiction over the Rule 23 state law claims was based on the original jurisdiction of CAFA, rather than the supplemental jurisdiction of 1367.  While the court below had held that the Rule 23 claims could not be brought together with the FLSA collective action claims, based on “inherent incompatibility” the Third Circuit disagreed and reversed.

Framing the issue, the court explained:

“This case involves a putative conflict between an opt-out Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3) damages class action based on state statutory wage and overtime laws that parallel the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and a separately filed opt-in collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) of the FLSA. Both suits allege violations arising from the same conduct or occurrence by the same defendant. At issue is whether federal jurisdiction over the Rule 23 class action based solely on diversity under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U .S.C. § 1332(d), is inherently incompatible with jurisdiction over the FLSA action, and whether the FLSA preempts state laws that parallel its protections. “

Although there had been many prior trial level decisions from the courts within the Third Circuit holding that so-called hybrids were “inherently incompatible,” the panel noted that “The concept of inherent incompatibility has not fared well at the appellate level. Four courts of appeals have rejected its application to dual-filed FLSA and class actions.”

Looking first to the text of the FLSA, the court agreed with the Seventh Circuit “that that the plain text of § 216(b) provides no support for the concept of inherent incompatibility.”  The court then explained that a look at legislative history was unnecessary in light of the unambiguous nature of the FLSA’s text in this regard.  Nonetheless, looking at the legislative history, the court concluded, “we disagree that certifying an opt-out class based on state employment law contravenes the congressional purpose behind the Portal–to–Portal Act.”

Perhaps most significantly, the court revisited its decision in De Asencio and noted that it was “distinguishable, as the Seventh, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits have all concluded. Ervin, 632 F.3d at 981 (“De Asencio represents only a fact-specific application of well-established rules, not a rigid rule about the use of supplemental jurisdiction in cases combining an FLSA count with a state-law class action.”); Wang, 623 F.3d at 761; Lindsay, 448 F.3d at 425 n. 11. Unlike the state law claims at issue in De Asencio, there is no suggestion that the claims under the MWHL and the OMFWSA are novel or complex; Rite Aid’s principal objection is that these state claims are too similar to federal claims with which the federal courts are well familiar. Nor does this case present an instance of supplemental jurisdiction, where there is statutory authority to decline jurisdiction in the factual circumstances of De Asencio.  Here, independent jurisdiction exists over plaintiffs’ claims under CAFA, which provides no statutory basis for declining jurisdiction in this instance. For these reasons, we do not believe De Asencio supports dismissal.”

The court concluded:

“In sum, we disagree with the conclusion that jurisdiction over an opt-out class action based on state-law claims that parallel the FLSA is inherently incompatible with the FLSA’s opt-in procedure. Nothing in the plain text of § 216(b) addresses the procedure for state-law claims, nor, in our view, does the provision’s legislative history establish a clear congressional intent to bar opt-out actions based on state law. We join the Second, Seventh, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits in ruling that this purported “inherent incompatibility” does not defeat otherwise available federal jurisdiction.”

The court also rejected the contention that the FLSA somehow preempts more beneficial state wage and hour laws.

Click Knepper v. Rite Aid Corp. to read the entire Opinion of the Court.  Click here to read the Secretary of Labor’s amicus brief in support of the plaintiff-appellant and here to read the amicus brief submitted on behalf of several employee rights’ organizations, including the National Employment Law Association (NELA).

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W.D.Pa.: Following Denial of Class Cert as Incompatible With 216(b) Collective Action, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Dismiss State Law Claims to Re-File in State Court Granted

Bell v. Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

Although all circuit courts that have taken up the issue have held that so-called hybrid wage and hour cases- comprised of both opt-in collective actions (FLSA) and opt-out class action (state wage and hour law)- are permissible, some courts within the Third Circuit continue to hold otherwise.  As a result, not surprisingly, defendant-employers in such cases continue fighting the class action components of such cases on “inherent incompatibility” grounds.  Such was the case here, where the court had previously conditionally certified the FLSA claims, but denied plaintiffs related motion for class certification of Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”) claims on compatibility grounds.  However, in what may become a frequently cited case going forward, the plaintiffs took the logical next step and asked the court to dismiss the PMWA claims so they could re-file them in state court alone, where there would be no issue of compatibility.  Not surprisingly, the defendants then threw up their arms, essentially arguing that the plaintiffs should not be able to bring their class claims in federal court and therefore not be able to proceed as a class in any venue.  The court rejected the defendants argument, permitting the voluntary dismissal of the state law claims to be pursued separately in state court.

After reviewing the applicable standards under Rule 41, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion for voluntary dismissal of the PMWA claims.  The court reasoned:

“Here, defendants have already filed an answer and do not stipulate to the dismissal. Therefore, the court must weigh the equities and decide whether to enter an order of dismissal. Defendants do not assert, and the court cannot ascertain, that they would suffer any plain legal prejudice as a result of dismissal of Watson’s claims. Watson’s intent to re-file a PMWA claim in state court is not plain prejudice. Pouls, 1993 WL 308645, at *1.

Upon weighing the factors set forth in Pouls, we conclude that it is appropriate to grant Watson’s motion to voluntarily dismiss her case. Defendants are not prejudiced by their efforts and expenses in this litigation, because other opt-in plaintiffs remain and the instant suit will continue. Defendants have failed to identify any efforts or expenses unique to Watson. Similarly, the progression of the litigation and Watson’s diligence in moving for dismissal are not determinative factors, due to the ongoing nature of the collective action suit. Consideration of the final factor, the duplicative or excessive expense of subsequent litigation, yields some possibility of prejudice to defendants. If Watson does file a PMWA case in state court and if defendants successfully remove it to federal court, defendants might incur some duplicative expenses in future federal court litigation on issues of claim incompatibility. However, at this time, such expenses are highly speculative. Therefore, we do not find plain prejudice to defendants based on duplicative expenses.

Accordingly, because there is no plain legal prejudice and because the equities weigh in favor of dismissal, we will grant plaintiff Watson’s motion to dismiss her claims without prejudice to her right to refile these claims in state court. An appropriate order follows.”

With the issue of permissibility of so-called hybrids up at the Third Circuit right now it will be interesting to see if this decision gains legs in its trial courts.  For now however it is safe to say that defendants in so-called hybrid cases should be careful what they wish for in seeking dismissal of state classes, because two is not always better than one.

Click Bell v. Citizens Financial Group, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Order.

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3d Cir.: Defendant May Not “Pick Off” a Putative Collective Action by Tendering Full Relief to Named-Plaintiff at Outset

Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp.

In an issue that has now been addressed by several circuits in recent years, the Third Circuit was presented with the question of whether a defendant-employer in an FLSA case may “pick off” a putative collective action (prior to conditional certification), where it tenders full relief to the named-Plaintiff.  Consistent with other circuits to have taken up this issue, the Third Circuit held that a defendant may not do so and that such an offer of judgment (OJ) does not moot a putative collective action.  As such, the court reversed the decision below, dismissing the case on mootness grounds.

In dismissing the case initially, the trial court below reasoned, “[Plaintiff] does not contend that other individuals have joined her collective action. Thus, this case, like each of the district court cases cited by Defendants, which concluded that a Rule 68 offer of judgment mooted the underlying FLSA collective action, involves a single named plaintiff. In addition, Symczyk does not contest Defendants’ assertion that the 68 offer of judgment fully satisfied her claims….”

After discussing the application of full tender relief offers in the Rule 23 context, the court concluded that the same reasoning precludes picking off the named-plaintiff in a representative action brought pursuant to 216(b).  Instead, the court held that a motion for conditional certification in an FLSA case made within a reasonable time “relates back” to the time of the filing of the Complaint and thus such a representative action may proceed, notwithstanding to purportedly “full tender” offer to the named-plaintiff.  The court explained:

“Although the opt-in mechanism transforms the manner in which a named plaintiff acquires a personal stake in representing the interests of others, it does not present a compelling justification for limiting the relation back doctrine to the Rule 23 setting. The considerations that caution against allowing a defendant’s use of Rule 68 to impede the advancement of a representative action are equally weighty in either context. Rule 23 permits plaintiffs “to pool claims which would be uneconomical to litigate individually.” Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts, 472 U.S. 797, 809, 105 S.Ct. 2965, 86 L.Ed.2d 628 (1985). Similarly, § 216(b) affords plaintiffs “the advantage of lower individual costs to vindicate rights by the pooling of resources.” Hoffmann–La Roche, 493 U.S. at 170. Rule 23 promotes “efficiency and economy of litigation.” Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 349, 103 S.Ct. 2392, 76 L.Ed.2d 628 (1983). Similarly, “Congress’ purpose in authorizing § 216(b) class actions was to avoid multiple lawsuits where numerous employees have allegedly been harmed by a claimed violation or violations of the FLSA by a particular employer.” Prickett v. DeKalb Cnty., 349 F.3d 1294, 1297 (11th Cir.2003).

When Rule 68 morphs into a tool for the strategic curtailment of representative actions, it facilitates an outcome antithetical to the purposes behind § 216(b). Symczyk’s claim-like that of the plaintiff in Weiss—was “acutely susceptible to mootness” while the action was in its early stages and the court had yet to determine whether to facilitate notice to prospective plaintiffs. See Weiss, 385 F.3d at 347 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the certification process has yet to unfold, application of the relation back doctrine prevents defendants from using Rule 68 to “undercut the viability” of either’ type of representative action. See id. at 344.

Additionally, the relation back doctrine helps safeguard against the erosion of FLSA claims by operation of the Act’s statute of limitations. To qualify for relief under the FLSA, a party plaintiff must “commence” his cause of action before the statute of limitations applying to his individual claim has lapsed. Sperling v. Hoffmann–La Roche, Inc., 24 F.3d 463, 469 (3d Cir.1994).  For a named plaintiff, the action commences on the date the complaint is filed. 29 U.S.C. § 256(a). For an opt-in plaintiff, however, the action commences only upon filing of a written consent. Id. § 256(b). This represents a departure from Rule 23, in which the filing of a complaint tolls the statute of limitations “as to all asserted members of the class” even if the putative class member is not cognizant of the suit’s existence. See Crown, Cork & Seal Co. 462 U.S. at 350 (internal quotation marks omitted). Protracted disputes over the propriety of dismissal in light of Rule 68 offers may deprive potential opt-ins whose claims are in jeopardy of expiring of the opportunity to toll the limitations period—and preserve their entitlements to recovery—by filing consents within the prescribed window.

In sum, we believe the relation back doctrine helps ensure the use of Rule 68 does not prevent a collective action from playing out according to the directives of § 216(b) and the procedures authorized by the Supreme Court in Hoffmann–La Roche and further refined by courts applying this statute. Depriving the parties and the court of a reasonable opportunity to deliberate on the merits of collective action “conditional certification” frustrates the objectives served by § 216(b). Cf. Sandoz, 553 F.3d at 921 (explaining “there must be some time for a[n FLSA] plaintiff to move to certify a collective action before a defendant can moot the claim through an offer of judgment”). Absent undue delay, when an FLSA plaintiff moves for “certification” of a collective action, the appropriate course—particularly when a defendant makes a Rule 68 offer to the plaintiff that would have the possible effect of mooting the claim for collective relief asserted under § 216(b)—is for the district court to relate the motion back to the filing of the initial complaint.

Upon remand, should Symczyk move for “conditional certification,” the court’ shall consider whether such motion was made without undue delay, and, if it so finds, shall relate the motion back to December 4, 2009the date on which Symczyk filed her initial complaint. If (1) Symczyk may yet timely seek “conditional certification” of her collective action, (2) the court permits the case to move forward as a collective action (by virtue of Symczyk’s satisfaction of the “modest factual showing” standard), and (3) at least one other similarly situated employee opts in, then defendants’ Rule 68 offer of judgment would no longer fully satisfy the claims of everyone in the collective action, and the proffered rationale behind dismissing the complaint on jurisdictional grounds would no longer be applicable. If, however, the court finds Symczyk’s motion to certify would be untimely, or otherwise denies the motion on its merits, then defendants’ Rule 68 offer to Symczyk—in full satisfaction of her individual claim—would moot the action.

For the foregoing reasons, we will reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Thus, while ultimately the OJ might have the effect of mooting the case, it could not do so prior to a reasonable opportunity to plaintiff of seeking conditional certification of same.

Click Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp. to read the entire decision.

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3d Cir.: Enforceability Of Class/Collective Action Waiver In Agreement To Arbitrate Is Issue For Arbitrator Not The Court

Vilches v. Travelers Companies, Inc.

This appeal raised the issue of whether the District Court properly determined that the Plaintiff-Appellant (employee) assented to the insertion of a class arbitration waiver into an existing arbitration policy, and that the waiver was not unconscionable.  The District Court ordered the parties into arbitration to individually resolve the claims brought by Plaintiff under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (“FLSA”), and New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J.S.A. § 34:11-4.1, et seq. (“NJWHL”).  While it held that the class arbitration waiver was not unconscionable, the Third Circuit vacated the District Court’s order and referred the matter to arbitration to determine whether Vilches can proceed as a class based upon the parties’ agreements.

Discussing the relevant procedural and factual background the court stated:

“We briefly summarize the allegations pertinent to our decision. Appellants Vilches filed a class and collective action in the Superior Court of New Jersey to recover unpaid wages and overtime allegedly withheld in violation of the FLSA and the NJWHL, contending that Travelers consistently required its insurance appraisers to work beyond 40 hours per week but failed to properly compensate the appraisers for the additional labor. Travelers removed the matter to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking the dismissal of the complaint and an order compelling Vilches to arbitrate their individual wage and hour claims.

Upon commencing employment with Travelers, Vilches agreed to an employment provision making arbitration “the required, and exclusive, forum for the resolution of all employment disputes that may arise” pursuant to an enumerated list of federal statutes, and under “any other federal, state or local statute, regulation or common law doctrine, regarding employment discrimination, conditions of employment or termination of employment.” (App’x at 79.) The agreement did not expressly reference class or collective arbitration or any waiver of the same. The agreement reserved to Travelers the right to alter or amend the arbitration policy at its discretion with appropriate notice to employees.

In April 2005, Travelers electronically published a revised Arbitration Policy. In addition to restating the expansive scope of the Policy, the update also included an express statement prohibiting arbitration through class or collective action:

The Policy makes arbitration the required and exclusive forum for the resolution of all employment-related and compensation-related disputes based on legally protected rights (i.e ., statutory, contractual or common law rights) that may arise between an employee or former employee and the Company…. [T]here will be no right or authority for any dispute to be brought, heard or arbitrated under this Policy as a class or collective action, private attorney general, or in a representative capacity on behalf of any person. (App’x at 88) (emphasis added). Travelers communicated the revised Policy to Vilches in several electronic communications.

Before the District Court, Vilches initially alleged that they never agreed to arbitrate any claims against Travelers; their position changed, however, during the course of proceedings and they ultimately conceded that all employment disputes with Travelers must be arbitrated pursuant to the arbitration agreement they signed at commencement of employment. They nevertheless insisted that the revised Arbitration Policy introduced by Travelers in April 2005 prohibiting class arbitration, which Travelers attempted to enforce, did not bind them because they never assented to its terms. Vilches further argued that, even assuming that the updated Policy did bind them, the revision was unconscionable and unenforceable.

Notwithstanding the fact that the parties agreed to arbitrate all employment disputes, as we discuss below, the District Court addressed the question of whether Vilches agreed to waive the right to proceed by way of class arbitration. In an oral decision, the District Court granted Travelers’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the various forms of correspondence from Travelers provided sufficient notice to Vilches of the revised Policy, and that their electronic assent and continued employment constituted agreement to the update. As such, the Court held that Vilches waived the ability to proceed in a representative capacity through class arbitration. The Court’s opinion only briefly touched upon the unconscionability claims, stating that “there was no adhesion that was part of that process.” (App’x at 23.) The Court ordered the parties to individually arbitrate the employment disputes, and this appeal followed.”

Holding that the Arbitrator and not the Court should decide the issue of enforceability of the class/collective action waiver, the Third Circuit reasoned:

“The parties agree that any and all disputes arising out of the employment relationship-including the claims asserted here-are to be resolved in binding arbitration. Accordingly, the role of the Court is limited to deciding whether the revised Arbitration Policy introduced in April 2005-and the class arbitration waiver included within that revision-governed this dispute. We conclude that the District Court should not have decided the issue presented as to the class action waiver, and, as we explain below, we will refer the resolution of this question to arbitration in accordance with governing jurisprudence. The District Court should have, however, ruled on the issue of unconscionability and we will address it.

We have repeatedly stated that courts play a limited role when a litigant moves to compel arbitration. Specifically, “whether the parties have submitted a particular dispute to arbitration, i.e., the question of arbitrability, is an issue for judicial determination unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise.’ “ Puleo, 605 F.3d at 178 (quoting Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 83 (2002)). “[A] question of arbitrability arises only in two circumstances-first, when there is a threshold dispute over whether the parties have a valid arbitration agreement at all,’ and, second, when the parties are in dispute as to whether a concededly binding arbitration clause applies to a certain type of controversy.’ “ Id. (quoting Green Tree Fin. Corp. v. Bazzle, 539 U.S. 444, 452 (2003)). In contrast, the Supreme Court has distinguished “questions of arbitrability with disputes over arbitration procedure, which do not bear upon the validity of an agreement to arbitrate.” Id. at 179. We noted in Puleo that “procedural questions”-such as waiver or delay-“which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition are presumptively not for the judge.” Id.

This matter satisfies neither of the Puleo arbitrability circumstances. As stated, neither party questions “whether the parties have a valid arbitration agreement at all.” Id.; (see also Appellants’ Br. at 15 (“Plaintiffs do not challenge the validity of the arbitration agreements they entered into when they first began their employment”); Appellees’ Br. at 6 (“At the outset of employment, Appellants agreed to the Travelers Employment Arbitration Policy”).) The original arbitration provision to which Vilches admittedly agreed provided that “the required, and exclusive, forum for the resolution of all employment disputes ” would be arbitration. (App’x at 79 (emphasis added).) Here, the issue of whether an employee is bound by a disputed amendment to existing employment provisions falls within the scope of this expansive agreement to arbitrate. Indeed, the language makes clear that the “concededly binding arbitration clause applies” to the particular employment claims at stake here, and the parties do not advance a cognizable argument to suggest otherwise. Puleo, 605 F.3d at 178. Accordingly, the second Puleo arbitrability element is also unfulfilled.

While the parties framed their arguments so as to invite the Court’s attention to the class action waiver issue-namely, whether the revised Arbitration Policy expressly prohibiting class arbitration governs the relationship between Travelers and Vilches-we conclude that “the relevant question here is what kind of arbitration proceeding the parties agreed to.”   Bazzle, 539 U.S. at 452 (emphasis in original). As stated, the addition of the disputed class arbitration waiver did not disturb the parties’ agreement to refer “all employment disputes” to arbitration, and, thus, “does not bear upon the validity of an agreement to arbitrate.” Puleo, 605 F.3d at 179. Assuming binding arbitration of all employment disputes, the contested waiver provision solely affects the type of procedural arbitration mechanism applicable to this dispute. “[T]he Supreme Court has made clear that questions of contract interpretation’ aimed at discerning whether a particular procedural mechanism is authorized by a given arbitration agreement are matters for the arbitrator to decide .” Id. (emphasis in original). Where contractual silence is implicated, “the arbitrator and not a court should decide whether a contract [ was] indeed silent’ on the issue of class arbitration,” and “whether a contract with an arbitration clause forbids class arbitration.” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S.Ct. 1758, 1771-72 (2010).

The Policy originally in force made no mention of class action or class arbitration, and was entirely silent on whether the parties had a right to proceed through class or collective arbitration. In contrast, the amended Policy explicitly precludes class arbitration. Accordingly, we must “give effect to the contractual rights and expectations of the parties,” and refer the questions of whether class arbitration was agreed upon to the arbitrator. Stolt-Nielsen, 130 S.Ct. at 1774.

Although we offer no forecast as to the arbitrator’s potential resolution of these questions, assuming arguendo that the arbitrator finds the class action waiver binding, we will address Vilches’ alternative argument that the addition of the class action waiver was unconscionable for the sake of judicial efficiency, and because it does concern “arbitrabillity.” See Puleo, 605 F.3d at 179.”

The Third Circuit went on to hold that, in the event the class action waiver language was binding, it was not unconscionable.

Click Vilches v. Travelers Companies, Inc., to read the entire opinion.

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D.N.J.: Plaintiffs’ State Law Claims Not “Inherently Incompatible” With FLSA Claims; Plaintiffs’ Motion to Remand Denied

Dare v. Comcast Corp

This matter was before the Court on the motion of Plaintiffs to sever and remand all state wage and hour claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 21.  In denying Plaintiffs’ motion, the Court discussed, at length the state of Third Circuit law applicable to so-called hybrid (state law and FLSA) cases.

Unlike many cases within the Third Circuit to have considered the viability of hybrid Wage and Hour cases, in this case it was the Plaintiffs arguing that State Law claims and FLSA claims were “inherently incompatible.”  Rejecting this oft-raised argument the Court explained:

Fed.R.Civ.P. 21 provides for the severance of claims “at any time, on just terms.” Courts must balance several considerations in determining whether severance is warranted, including “the convenience of the parties, avoidance of prejudice to either party, and promotion of the expeditious resolution of the litigation.” German v. Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., 896 F.Supp. 1385, 1400 n. 6 (2d Cir.1995); see also Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors v. Shapiro, 190 F.R.D. 352, 355 (E.D.Pa.2000). Specific factors that must be weighed are:

(1) whether the claims arise out of the same transaction or occurrence; (2) whether the claims present some common questions of law or fact; (3) whether settlement of the claims or judicial economy would be facilitated; (4) whether prejudice would be avoided if severance were granted; and (5) whether different witnesses and documentary proof are required for the separate claims.  In re Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc. Research Reports Securities Litigation, 214 F.R.D. 152, 154-55 (S.D.N.Y.2003).

In this case, the factors all weigh against severance at this time. With regard to the first two factors, it is clear that both Plaintiffs’ state and federal claims arise from and are predicated upon the same set of core facts. Specifically, both claims are based on the fact that Defendants allegedly failed to pay its employees for overtime or off-the-clock hours worked, failed to provide the required minimum wage, and took unauthorized deductions from employee wages. As to the third factor, severance of the state claims would require the parties to litigate parallel cases with duplicative discovery, thereby frustrating judicial economy. Fourth, there is no indication that any of the parties would be prejudiced by not severing Plaintiffs’ state law claims at this time. Finally, there is no indication that the state and federal claims would require different witnesses or documentary proofs.

Although Plaintiffs have raised a number of arguments in support of their position that the claims should be severed, all are without merit. First, Plaintiffs argue that their state law claims should be severed and remanded in this case because “an FLSA opt-in collective action and a state law wage and hour opt-out class action are ‘inherently incompatible.’ “ (Pl. Br. at 3.) However, this is not an accurate statement of the law. Although Plaintiffs cite to De Asencio v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 342 F.3d 301 (3d Cir.2003) in support of their argument, this case does not stand for that proposition. To the contrary, the Third Circuit’s holding in De Asencio was premised on a case-specific analysis of supplemental jurisdiction, and not any alleged incompatibility between Rule 23 class actions and FLSA collective actions. See 342 F.3d at 312. Plaintiffs have failed to cite to any case in which the state class action claims were dismissed on the basis of their alleged inherent incompatibility with FLSA claims.

Second, Plaintiffs argue that the differences between the opt-in nature of their FLSA collective action and the opt-out nature of their state law class action warrants severance of the state law claim. However, the Court finds the procedural differences between the state and federal claims to be outweighed by the common questions of fact and substantive law. See De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 307-312 (noting that bringing state law class action in same case as FLSA claim “may be proper strategy where the state and federal actions raise similar issues and require similar terms of proof”); Cannon v. Vineland Hous. Auth., 627 F.Supp.2d 171, 176 n. 4 (D.N.J.2008) (noting that FLSA and New Jersey wage and hour laws employ same test for overtime claims).

Third, Plaintiffs argue that denial of the motion will prejudice them by delaying both class certification and the speedy trial of their state claims by a state court should this Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction at some point in the future. However, the Court can conceive of no reason why the presence of both state and federal claims in this action would prevent Plaintiffs from seeking to certify the class in a timely manner. Indeed, since filing the instant motion Plaintiffs have moved to conditionally certify the class for their state claims. Further, any hypothetical delay Plaintiffs might suffer should the Court decline supplemental jurisdiction at some point in the future is outweighed by the very real prejudice of having to conduct parallel state and federal court actions with expensive, duplicative discovery that Defendants would face were this motion granted. Plaintiffs contention that Defendants would not be prejudiced by severing the state claims because any duplicative discovery, additional expense, or inconsistent results could have been avoided if they declined to remove the case is likewise unavailing. Plaintiffs have not cited any authority to suggest that a defendant waives its right to argue that it would be prejudiced by an action simply by exercising its right to remove a case involving a federal question.

Finally, Plaintiffs argue that the state claim should be severed because it will substantially predominate the FLSA claim. This argument implicates the Court’s exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ state claim. District courts have supplemental jurisdiction over any claims that share a “common nucleus of operative fact” with a claim over which they have original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a); De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 307-312. The courts may nonetheless decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction if “the state law claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2). Generally, a state claim will be found to substantially predominate where it “ ‘constitutes the real body of a case, to which the federal claim is only an appendage’-only where permitting litigation of all claims in the district court can accurately be described as allowing a federal tail to wag what is in substance a state dog.” Borough of W. Mifflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir.1995) (quoting United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 727 (1966)); see also De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 309. In such instances, “the state claims may be dismissed without prejudice and left for resolution to state tribunals.” Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 726.

The Third Circuit has made clear that in examining supplemental jurisdiction over state wage and hour claims brought alongside an FLSA collective action:

[a] court must examine the scope of the state and federal issues, the terms of proof required by each type of claim, the comprehensiveness of the remedies, and the ability to dismiss the state claims without prejudice to determine whether the state claim constitutes the real body of the case. This is necessarily a case-specific analysis.  De Asencio, 342 F.3d at 312. This analysis may only be conducted after the parties have completed substantial discovery, the opt-in procedure is completed, and the plaintiffs move for class certification of their state claims. See id. at 309-312.

In this case, the opt-in procedure for Plaintiffs’ FLSA claim has not been completed and discovery is ongoing. Further, although Plaintiffs have moved for conditionally certify the state law class, this motion is still pending before the Court. Accordingly, it is premature for the Court to consider whether Plaintiffs’ state law claim substantially predominates over its FLSA claim such that the Court should decline supplemental jurisdiction. Plaintiffs’ argument on this issue is therefore not a proper basis for severance at this time.”

To read the entire decision, click here.

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3rd. Cir.: “Senior Professional Sales Representative” For Pharmaceutical Company Exempt From Overtime Provisions Of FLSA Under Administrative Exemption

Smith v. Johnson and Johnson

The Court below determined that Plaintiff was exempt under the Administrative Exemption, based on her duties and salary while employed as a “Senior Professional Sales Representative.”  On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed.

Discussing the relevant facts, the Court stated:

“From April 2006 to October 2006, McNeill Pediatrics, a J & J wholly-owned subsidiary, employed Smith in the position of Senior Professional Sales Representative. In essence, Smith’s position required her to travel to various doctors’ offices and hospitals where she extolled the benefit of J & J’s pharmaceutical drug Concerta to the prescribing doctors. J & J hoped that the doctors, having learned about the benefits of Concerta, would choose to prescribe this drug for their patients. Smith, however, did not sell Concerta (a controlled substance) directly to the doctors, as such sales are prohibited by law.

J & J gave Smith a list of target doctors that it created and told her to complete an average of ten visits per day, visiting every doctor on her target list at least once each quarter. To schedule visits with reluctant doctors, Smith had to be inventive and cultivate relationships with the doctor’s staff, an endeavor in which she found that coffee and donuts were useful tools. J & J left the itinerary and order of Smith’s visits to the target doctors to her discretion. The J & J target list identified “high-priority” doctors that issued a large number of prescriptions for Concerta or a competing product, and Smith could choose to visit high-priority doctors more than once each quarter. J & J gave her a budget for these visits and she could use the money in the budget to take the doctors to lunch or to sponsor seminars.

At the meetings, Smith worked off of a prepared “message” that J & J provided her, although she had some discretion when deciding how to approach the conversation. J & J gave her pre-approved visual aids and did not permit her to use other aids. J & J trained its representatives to gauge a doctor’s interest and knowledge about the product, eventually building to a “commitment” to prescribe the drug.

In Smith’s deposition she made it clear that she appreciated the freedom and responsibility that her position provided. Though a supervisor accompanied Smith during the doctor visits on a few days each quarter, by her own calculation Smith was unsupervised 95% of the time. As Smith explained during her deposition, “[i]t was really up to me to run the territory the way I wanted to. And it was not a micromanaged type of job. I had pretty much the ability to work it the way I wanted to work it.” App. at 54. According to Smith’s job description, she was required to plan and prioritize her responsibilities in a manner that maximized business results. J & J witnesses testified (and J & J documents confirmed) that Smith was the “expert” on her own territory and was supposed to develop a strategic plan to achieve higher sales.

Before her visits, Smith completed pre-visit reports to help her select the correct strategy for that day’s visits. At the end of her day, Smith completed post-visit reports summarizing the events of the visits. Smith would refer back to this information before her next visit to the same doctors. After adding up the time she spent writing pre-visit reports, driving, conducting the visits, writing post-visit reports, and completing other tasks, Smith worked more than eight hours per day.

Smith earned a base salary of $66,000 but was not paid overtime, though J & J, at its discretion, could award her a bonus. J & J considered the number of Concerta prescriptions issued in Smith’s territory in determining her bonus. The collection of this data and its direct relationship to Smith’s efforts was, however, subject to error as purchasers might fill their prescriptions in another territory or with a pharmacy that would not release the pertinent information to J & J.”

Applying the Administrative Exemption to the facts of this case, the Court held, that the Administrative Exemption was applicable to Smith.  The Court reasoned, “[w]hile testifying at her deposition Smith elaborated on the independent and managerial qualities that her position required. Her non-manual position required her to form a strategic plan designed to maximize sales in her territory. We think that this requirement satisfied the “directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer” provision of the administrative employee exemption because it involved a high level of planning and foresight, and the strategic plan that Smith developed guided the execution of her remaining duties. See29 C.F.R. § 541.203(e) (“Human resources managers who formulate, interpret or implement employment policies and management consultants who study the operations of a business and propose changes in organization generally meet the duties requirements for the administrative exemption.”); Reich v. John Alden Life Ins. Co. ., 126 F.3d 1, 3-5, 12 (1st Cir.1997) (applying administrative employee exemption to marketing representatives who dealt with licensed independent insurance agents who, in turn, dealt with purchasers of insurance products).

When we turn to the “exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance” requirement, we note that Smith executed nearly all of her duties without direct oversight. In fact, she described herself as the manager of her own business who could run her own territory as she saw fit. Given these descriptions, we conclude that Smith was subject to the administrative employee exemption. Cf. Cote v. Burroughs Wellcome Co., 558 F.Supp. 883, 886-87 (E.D.Pa.1982) (applying administrative employee exemption to medical “detailer” even though description of employee’s duties was more parsimonious than Smith’s description of her duties here).

Smith nevertheless has asked us to limit the significance of her testimony and find that she lacked discretion with respect to matters of significance. Indeed, her attorney contended at oral argument on this appeal that Smith overinflated her importance during the deposition, and that we should consider her statements mere puffery. We are unwilling to ignore Smith’s testimony to hold that there is an issue of material fact merely because of Smith’s request that we do so. In this regard, we point out that when Smith testified she surely understood the significance of her testimony in the context of this case. In the circumstances before us, we accept Smith’s deposition testimony as an accurate description of her position and thus we will affirm the order granting J & J summary judgment.FN3

In reaching our result we have not overlooked our opinion in Martin v. Cooper Elec. Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896 (3d Cir.1991), on which Smith heavily relies. Rather, we find that Cooper is distinguishable on the facts. Moreover, we agree with the District Court that changes in the Secretary’s regulations since Cooper make that case inapplicable here. See Smith, 2008 WL 5427802, at *8-9.”

Interestingly, neither the Court below, nor the Third Circuit, reached the hot button issue of whether Smith was subject to the Outside Sales Exemption, despite the fact that the issue was briefed both on Defendant’s Motion below, and on cross-appeal.

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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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