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2d. Cir.: Advertising Salespeople Are Not Administratively Exempt Under The FLSA; Sales Are Not “Directly Related To Management Policies Or General Business Operations”
Reiseck v. Universal Communications of Miami, Inc.
This case was before the Court on Plaintiff’s appeal an Order at the district court below, granting Defendants summary judgment on all counts of Plaintiff’s claim. The Court affirmed all parts of the judgment below, except for that pertaining to the FLSA. Resolving a question of first impression, the Court held that advertising salespeople, who conduct sales with individual customers are not subject to the administrative exemption as a matter of law, because such sales work is production work not administrative.
The Court discussed the following facts as relevant to its decision:
“September 2002, Reiseck began working as a Regional Director of Sales at Universal in New York City. As Regional Director of Sales, Reiseck was responsible for generating advertising sales in the northeastern United States and Canada from the travel and finance sectors for Universal’s magazine publication, Elite Traveler. While an employee of Universal, Reiseck was paid a base salary plus certain commissions. Plaintiff was paid no overtime during her tenure with Universal.
Elite Traveler is distributed on a complimentary basis. Advertising sales therefore constitute the majority of Universal’s revenue from Elite Traveler. The magazine had a sales staff, a marketing staff, and an editorial staff. The sales staff sold advertising space; the marketing staff created promotional material to increase advertising sales; and the editorial staff produced the “content” of the magazine.”
Discussing the inapplicability of the administrative exemption to the case at bar, the Court applied the s0-called pre-2004 “short test.”
“Under the short test as it applies here, an employee falls under the administrative employee exemption if the employee is paid on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $250 per week (i.e., the “salary test”), id. § 541.2(e)(2), and the employee’s “primary duty consists of … the performance of office or nonmanual work directly related to management policies or general business operations of his employer,” id. § 541.2(a), and requires “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment,” id. § 541.2(e)(2), (i.e., the “duties test”). As noted above, there is no dispute that Reiseck’s employment satisfies the salary test prong of the short test.
Because the first prong of the short test is not in dispute, we move to the second prong-the duties test. Here, it is uncontested that Reiseck’s primary duty consisted of “the performance of office or non-manual work”; therefore we must consider whether Reiseck’s primary duty was “directly related to management policies or general business operations” of Universal. Id. § 541.2(a).
The phrase “directly related to management policies or general business operations” is not self-defining, and the Secretary of Labor has promulgated interpretive regulations to aid our application of this test. See, e.g., id. § 541.2. Although the Secretary’s legislative regulations-those promulgated pursuant to an express grant of authority by Congress, like 29 C.F.R. § 541.2-have the power to control courts’ reading of the law, the Secretary’s interpretive regulations have only the power to persuade courts. See Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 139-40 (1944). See generally United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U .S. 218 (2001). And thus we defer to the Secretary’s interpretative regulations only to the extent that we find them persuasive. See Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140.
In its interpretive regulations, the Department of Labor describes “directly related to management policies or general business operations” in several ways. First, the interpretive rules state that the phrase at issue “describes those types activities relating to the administrative operations of a business as distinguished from ‘production’ or, in a retail or service establishment, ‘sales’ work.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.205(a). They also state that “the phrase limits the exemption to persons who perform work of substantial importance to the management or operation of the business.” Id. Alternatively, the interpretive rules state that the administrative operations include “advising the management, planning, negotiating, representing the company, purchasing, promoting sales, and business research and control.” Id. § 541.205(b).
At first glance, the two definitions of the phrase “directly related to management policies or general business operations” in the interpretive regulations seem to point to contradictory conclusions in Reiseck’s case. On the one hand, plaintiff was a salesperson responsible for selling specific advertising space, and so seems to fit comfortably on the “sales” side of the administrative/sales divide. See id. § 541.205(a). On the other hand, Reiseck also “promoted sales” in some sense, and thus seems to have performed administrative operations. See id. § 541.205(b). We are required to resolve this apparent contradiction. Whether advertising salespersons are administrative employees for the purposes of the exemptions to the FLSA’s overtime pay provisions is a question of first impression for this Court. In answering this question, we also refine our interpretation of the administrative exemption to the FLSA.
First, we consider the Department’s distinction between “administrative” and “sales.” As a magazine publisher, Universal is not one of the archetypal businesses envisaged by the FLSA; it is neither a manufacturer nor a retailer. Accordingly, placing Reiseck’s work into either the administrative or sales category is difficult initially. Nevertheless, a careful consideration of Universal’s business model provides some clarity. Because Universal does not charge readers for Elite Traveler, advertising sales are a critical source of revenue for Universal. One could thus conclude that advertising space is Universal’s “product.” If advertising space is Universal’s product and Reiseck’s primary duty was the sale of that product, then she may reasonably be considered a sales employee, rather than an administrative employee.
Next, we consider the contradictory conclusion suggested by the second description found in the interpretive regulations-namely, that administrative operations include “promoting sales.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.205(b). Because Reiseck sold advertising space, it seems that she must have “promoted sales.” But under that theory, any sales clerk in a retail store would “promote sales” when assisting potential customers, and there would be no administrative/sales distinction in a retail store despite the clear assertion of the interpretive rule that sales work in a retail store is not administrative work for the purposes of the FLSA. Id. One of our sister circuits has provided some helpful guidance on this matter. In Martin v. Cooper Electric Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896, 905 (3d Cir.1991), the Third Circuit reasoned that sales promotion “consists of marketing activity aimed at promoting (i.e., increasing, developing, facilitating, and/or maintaining) customer sales generally.” According to the logic of the Third Circuit, which we now adopt, an employee making specific sales to individual customers is a salesperson for the purposes of the FLSA, while an employee encouraging an increase in sales generally among all customers is an administrative employee for the purposes of the FLSA. Consider a clothing store. The individual who assists customers in finding their size of clothing or who completes the transaction at the cash register is a salesperson under the FLSA, while the individual who designs advertisements for the store or decides when to reduce prices to attract customers is an administrative employee for the purposes of the FLSA.
Here, Reiseck is plainly a salesperson. Although she did “develop new clients” with the goal of increasing sales generally, this was not her primary duty. Under the interpretive regulations, an employee’s “primary duty” is the duty that consumes a “major part, or over [fifty] percent, of the employee’s time.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.103 (defining “primary duty” for the executive employee); see also 29 C.F.R. § 541.206 (applying the definition of “primary duty” for the executive employee to the administrative employee). The record shows that Reiseck’s primary duty was to sell specific advertising space to clients. Even Gollan, plaintiff’s supervisor, conceded that Reiseck was a member of the “sales staff” and not the “marketing staff.” Because Reiseck’s primary duty was the sale of advertising space, she is properly considered a “salesperson” for the purposes of the FLSA and therefore does not fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA.
Recent amendments to the interpretive regulations provide helpful guidance to support our conclusion above. Although these interpretive regulations do not apply retroactively, see ante note 5, (and even if they did apply retroactively, we need not consider them if we find them unpersuasive, see Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140), we nevertheless note that the new regulations reach the same conclusion that we reach above. When providing examples of employees who fall under the administrative exemption, the interpretative regulations state that an employee in the financial sector whose primary duty includes “marketing, servicing, or promoting the employer’s financial products” likely falls under the administrative exemption. 29 C.F.R. § 541.203(b) (2004). But, the regulations then specify that “an employee whose primary duty is selling financial products does not qualify for the administrative exemption.” Id. (emphasis added). For example, if a bank employee, acting within the scope of her primary duty, encourages a customer to open a money market account while she opens a checking account for that customer, she would not likely be an administrative employee because she simply was selling a financial product. If, however, an employee’s primary duty included deciding which interest rates to offer to encourage customers to open money market accounts, then that employee would likely be considered an administrative employee, because she was “marketing … or promoting” the financial products. Universal’s sale of advertising space is similar to a financial services company’s sale of financial products. Neither fits neatly within the traditional retail sales model, yet both are standard products sold directly to clients. Additionally, the new interpretative regulations confirm t
Because Reiseck’s primary duty is not administrative, she cannot fall under the administrative exemption to the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA. Our inquiry ends there-we need not inquire whether her work requires “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment,” because the short test requires both that the employee’s primary duty be administrative and that the employee’s work involves the use of discretion. 29 C.F.R. § 541.2(e)(2).”