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S.D.Fla.: Defendant’s Generalized Affirmative Defenses Struck; FLSA Plaintiff Entitled To Attorneys’ Fees If Prevails
Romero v. Southern Waste Systems, LLC
This case was before the Court pursuant to Plaintiffs Motion to Strike Defendant’s Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiff’s Complaint. Plaintiff moved to strike several affirmative defenses, including a generalized reference to all “white collar” exemptions, a generalized exemption that the Plaintiff was paid pursuant to the parties’ “agreement,” set-off (alleging no facts to support same), and a claim that Plaintiff was not entitled to prevailing attorneys’ fees under the FLSA. Additionally, the Answer had a request for Defendant’s attorney fees without basis. The Court struck all the affirmative defenses, which were the subject of the opinion, some with leave to re-plead and other without.
Addressing each of the Defendant’s disputed affirmative defenses, the Court stated, “Defendant’s Third Affirmative Defense claims that Plaintiff was exempt from overtime compensation pursuant to the 29 U.S.C. § 213(a) (1) exemption to the FLSA. Plaintiff complains that this affirmative defense fails to allege any facts that would put Plaintiff on notice of the basis of Defendant’s claim. This provision encompasses the executive exemption, the administrative exemption, the outside sales exception, the learned professional exemption and the creative professional exemption. Defendant has agreed to amend his defense to state that Plaintiff was exempt pursuant to the executive and/or administrative exemption pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Leave to amend is granted.
The Court notes that 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) prescribes damages under the FLSA and is unrelated to the exemptions to the FLSA. When Defendant amends this affirmative defense, the Court instructs Defendant to be clear regarding the provision of the FLSA that forms the basis for the claimed exemption(s).”
The Seventh Affirmative Defense alleges that Defendant paid Plaintiff “all monies owed per the agreement between them.”Plaintiff takes this defense to be a restatement of the defense of accord and satisfaction. This defense is not appropriate under the FLSA because an individual cannot waive entitlement to FLSA benefits. See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 707, 65 S.Ct. 895, 902 (1945) (“No one can doubt but that to allow waiver of statutory wages by agreement would nullify the purposes of the [FLSA].”). Defendant clarifies that the agreement to which the Seventh Affirmative Defense refers is the agreement that Plaintiff would be paid a salary. The Court requests that Defendant clarify this affirmative defense to make it clear that the “agreement” to which it refers is merely the “agreement” that Plaintiff would receive a salary.
The Tenth Affirmative Defense states that “Defendant is entitled to a credit/set-off for any compensation paid to Plaintiff to which he was not otherwise entitled to the extent such credits/set-off are permissible under the FLSA.”Plaintiff claims that this defense is conclusory in that it fails to allege any facts in support of any sort of set-off. Certain set-off defenses are allowable under the FLSA. Brennan v. Heard, 491 F.2d 1, 4 (5th Cir.1974), for instance, permits district courts to apply a set-off where the set-off would not reduce a plaintiff’s wages to an amount below the statutory minimum. Not all set-offs are permissible, however. This Court has previously ruled that “amounts loaned by an employer to an employee””cannot be applied to offset unpaid wages [under the FLSA].” Morrison, 434 F.Supp.2d at 1322 (citing Donovan v. Pointon, 717 F.2d 1320, 1323 (10th Cir.1983)).See also Hutton v. Grumpie’s Pizza & Subs, Inc., Case No. 07-81228-CIV-MIDDLEBROOKS, 2008 WL 1995091, *4 (S.D.Fla. May 7, 2008) (holding that a set-off defense for money employee allegedly stole from employer was inappropriate in FLSA). The Tenth Affirmative Defense does not state what, if any, compensation Plaintiff received to which he was not otherwise entitled, much less the nature of this compensation. The Tenth Affirmative Defense is stricken, but Defendant shall have leave to amend same.
The Sixteenth Affirmative Defense states that “[t]he Complaint fails to state a claim against [Defendant] upon which attorneys’ fees or costs can be awarded.”The FLSA provides that the Court “shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney’s fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.”29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The Sixteenth Affirmative Defense is stricken without leave to amend.
Defendant also requests attorneys’ fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927, which provides for awards of attorney’s fees where
[a]ny attorney or other person admitted to conduct cases in any court of the United States or any Territory thereof who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.
There is no allegation of such conduct in the Answer. Accordingly, the request for fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927 is stricken, but with leave to amend.”
D.Mass.: Motor Carrier Act (MCA) Exemption Not Fleet-wide For Drivers Of Vehicles Less Than 10,000 Pounds, Where Defendant Not Overwhelmingly Commercial Carrier
Brooks v. Halsted Communications, Ltd.
This case was before the Court on cross motions for partial summary judgment filed by the parties with respect to the fleet-wide applicability of the Motor Carrier Act (MCA), to the entire putative class, Defendants’ employees who drove vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, prior to August. The Court framed the issue as “whether, for the period following SAFETEA-LU but prior to the enactment of the TCA, Defendants have carried their burden of showing that the MCA exemption applied to employees who exclusively operated light vehicles.” Whereas Defendants asserted, as a “commercial carrier” all of its drivers were/are exempt, Plaintiffs cited to well-established law that only those individual drivers coming within the MCA’s definition could be potentially exempt. The Court agreed with Plaintiffs entering a detailed Order discussing the issue, and denying Defendants’ motion for summary judgment:
“Plaintiffs are technicians employed by Defendant Halsted Communications, Ltd. (“Halsted, Ltd.”). Defendants are Halsted Ltd.; Halsted Communications, LLC; and Kirk Halsted. The heart of the issue is whether, for a certain period of time, Defendants were obliged to pay Plaintiffs time and a half for overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, §§ 1A and 1B, or were freed from any such obligation by virtue of an exemption set forth in the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”), 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(1) and adopted by Massachusetts, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, § 1A(8). The maze-like weave between the FLSA requirement and the MCA exemption has evolved through three different federal statutory enactments and has generated a modest burst of conflicting decisional law. The parties’ cross motions seek contrasting interpretations of the law.”
Reciting the relevant facts the Court said, “[e]ach Plaintiff was employed as a technician by Halsted Ltd. at some point between August 10, 2005 and the present. A technician’s job responsibilities included driving vehicles between work sites in connection with the activation, installation and service of satellite television equipment. Not a single plaintiff ever drove a vehicle that weighed more than 10,000 pounds. Indeed, at the relevant time, less than one percent of Halsted Ltd.’s entire fleet comprised vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds. Since March 13, 2007, Defendant Halsted Ltd. has been a motor carrier registered with the United State Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) based on its operation of one or more vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds.”
The Court discussed the differing case law at length, “As noted, the question of whether a “hybrid” motor carrier-i .e., one with drivers operating vehicles weighing both above and below 10,000 pounds-was obliged to pay FLSA overtime to its drivers of lighter vehicles before June 6, 2008 has produced conflicting answers. The weight of district court authority (no appellate decision has as yet appeared), however, strongly favors Plaintiffs. Cases supporting Plaintiffs’ position include Hernandez v. Brink’s, Inc., No. 08-20717-CIV, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2726 (S.D.Fla. Jan. 15, 2009) (ruling that mixed fleets containing both commercial and non-commercial vehicles should be treated for FLSA purposes as two separate sub-fleets); Tews v. Renzenberger, Inc., 592 F.Supp.2d 1331, 1346 (D.Kan.2009) (rejecting argument that “the mere presence of commercial motor vehicles in [a] fleet renders all employee-drivers exempt under the MCA exemption”); Vidinliev v. Carey International Inc., 581 F.Supp.2d 1281 (N.D .Ga.2008) (denying summary judgment regarding the applicability of the MCA exemption for claims arising after August 10, 2005 where the defendant operated a mixed fleet of commercial and noncommercial motor vehicles); Kautsch v. Premier Communications, 502 F.Supp.2d 1007 (W.D.Mo.2007) (ruling that the MCA exemption did not apply to the plaintiffs’ claims after August 10, 2005 because they did not operate commercial motor vehicles). Cases supporting Defendants include Collins v. Heritage Wine Cellars, Ltd., No. 07-CV1246, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104555 (N.D.Ill.Dec. 29, 2008) and Tidd v. Adecco USA, Inc., No. 07-11214-GAO, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69825 (D .Mass. Sept. 17, 2008).”
With its detailed analysis of the issue the Court concluded, “the court will side with Plaintiffs here and will hold that Defendants did not enjoy the exemption and Plaintiffs were entitled to overtime pay during the pertinent time period… a contrary ruling would lead to the absurd result that an employer with 1,000 employees all driving vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds would be able rid itself of any obligation to pay FLSA overtime to these otherwise covered employees simply by buying one vehicle weighing over 10,000 pounds and assigning one employee to drive it occasionally across state lines. It is a crazy world, but we can hope that it is not yet that crazy.”
W.D.Va.: “Assistant Manager” At Auto Parts Store Not Administrative Exempt; Damages To Be Calculated At Time And A Half Not Half-time
Brown v. Nipper Auto Parts and Supplies, Inc.
The case was before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment pertaining to whether Plaintiff was exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions under the FLSA. Additionally, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issues of willfulness (3 year statute, as well as liquidated damages), and for a finding that the method under which his overtime should be calculated was the default time and a half method. As discussed below, the Court found Plaintiff nonexempt and further held that his damages were due to be calculated based on time and a half and not the fluctuating workweek’s half-time formula.
Addressing the exemption issue first, the Court noted, “Brown’s primary duties were sales and other non-exempt work, not running or servicing; the business. Nipper Auto attempts to characterize Brown’s duties as procurement and quality control, exempt activities; but since his activities generally concerned ordering auto parts based on customers’ requests, these duties are more aptly described as sales, a non-exempt activity. Roger Nipper has indicated no significant managerial decisions or changes that he has made during Brown’s tenure at Nipper Auto in which Brown had input. Indeed, Nipper Auto’s music section, where Brown is purported to have had primary authority, existed before Brown’s hiring and has continued to exist after his termination. Finally, Brown’s intermittent supervision of Shultz fails to show that his primary duty was an exempt activity.” Therefore, the Court found Brown nonexempt.
Later in the decision, the Court addressed the issue of calculating Plaintiff’s damages: “Nipper Auto argues that if Brown is entitled to overtime compensation, it should be calculated using the fluctuating workweek method of payment (the “FWW”), under which an employee’s overtime pay rate is half his regular pay rate. Brown argues that the FWW should not apply and that his overtime compensation rate should be one and one-half times his regular rate. The court agrees with Brown.
Generally, the rate for overtime compensation is one and one-half times the regular rate of pay, 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), but when the FWW method applies, the rate for overtime compensation is one-half the regular pay. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a) (2003); Knight v. Morris, 693 F.Supp. 439, 445 (W.D.Va.1988). The FWW method is not an exception to the normal method of computing overtime compensation under the FLSA, “[i]t merely provides an alternative means by which an employer can determine its employees’ regular and overtime rate of pay.” Flood v. New Hanover County, 125 F.3d 249, 252 (4th Cir.1997). The employer must satisfy five conditions in order to take advantage of the FWW calculation: (1) the employee’s hours must fluctuate from week to week, (2) the employee must receive a fixed salary, (3) the salary must meet the minimum wage standards, (4) the employee and the employer must have a clear mutual understanding that the salary (not including overtime premiums) is fixed regardless of the number of hours the employee works, and (5) the employee must receive overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of forty hours, not less than the one-half rate of pay. Id.; 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). Though the first three FWW requirements are established, the court finds that the FWW method does not apply because Nipper Auto cannot fulfill the fourth and fifth requirements.
Under the fourth requirement, the parties must have a clear mutual understanding that “the fixed salary is to be compensation for all straight time hours worked, whether few or many.” Mayhew, 125 F.3d at 219. The burden is on the employer to show the existence of a clear mutual understanding. Monahan v. County of Chesterfield, 95 F.3d 1263, 1275 n. 12 (4th Cir.1996). If the employer believed the employee was exempt from overtime compensation, “then it was not possible … to have had a clear mutual understanding … that [the employee] was subject to [a] calculation method applicable only to non-exempt employees who are entitled to overtime compensation.” Cowan v. Treetop Enter., 163 F.Supp.2d 930, 942 (M.D.Tenn.2001); (quoting Rainey v. Am. Forest & Paper Ass’n Inc., 26 F.Supp.2d 82, 102 (D.D.C.1998)).
Nipper Auto cannot establish the fourth requirement because its principal argument is that Brown is an FLSA-exempt employee not entitled to any overtime compensation; in the alternative, Nipper Auto argues that the parties had an implied understanding with Brown regarding his salary and overtime compensation. If Nipper Auto believed Brown was exempt, the requisite clear mutual understanding for the application of the FWW method could not have existed. Rainey, 26 F.Supp.2d at 102. Both parties understood that Brown would receive no additional salary no matter how many hours he worked in a given week, but § 778.114(a) specifies that the fixed salary does not include overtime premiums. The court finds that, because Nipper Auto believed Brown was an FLSA-exempt employee, it has failed to create a material issue of fact as to the clear mutual understanding required to apply the FWW method.
In addition to this clear mutual understanding, under the fifth FWW requirement, the employer must also demonstrate that the employee has actually received some form of overtime compensation. See Cowan, 163 F.Supp.2d at 941 (“Moreover, to comply 29 C.F.R. Section 778.114 requires a contemporaneous payment of the half-time premium for an employer to avail itself of the fluctuating workweek provision.”). Indeed, the Fourth Circuit has applied the FWW method only when the employee has received contemporaneous payment for overtime. See generally Flood, 125 F.3d at 252 (applying the FWW where the employer contemporaneously provided some form of overtime compensation); Griffin, 142 F.3d at 715 (same); Mayhew, 125 F.3d at 218 (same). It is undisputed that Nipper Auto did not pay Brown any overtime compensation during his employment. Because no form of overtime compensation was provided, Nipper Auto cannot apply the FWW method retroactively. Flood, 125 F.3d at 249; Griffin, 142 F.3d at 716. The court finds that Nipper Auto’s evidence is insufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that Brown is subject to the FWW method of compensation; therefore, Brown’s overtime pay rate is one and one-half times his regular rate of pay. The court grants Brown’s motion for summary judgment on this matter.”
D.Mass.: SAFETEA-LU Does Not Apply Retroactively To Bar Claims Of Employees Who Drive Vehicles Of Less Than 10,001 Lbs.
Benoit v. Tri-Wire Engineering Solutions, Inc.
The parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on the issue of the applicability of the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption as a defense to Plaintiffs’ complaint which seeks to recover unpaid overtime from August 10, 2005, to the present. The issue was the retroactive applicability of the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 (“SAFETEA-LU”). Addressing numerous arguments from both Plaintiffs and Defendants, the Court concluded that SAFETEA-LU does not apply retroactively.
Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on December 11, 2007, and since then at least 125 additional technicians have filed consent-to-sue forms. On or about June 5, 2008, the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary recognition of this case as a FLSA collective action and established a discovery schedule. Coincidentally, on the very next day, June 6, 2008, the FLSA was amended in a manner potentially applicable here, i.e., it called into question whether a long-standing overtime exemption for employers of light-weight vehicle drivers-the MCA exemption-should retroactively apply to August 10, 2005. Accordingly, on October 15, 2008, the court entered a new scheduling order which allowed the parties to file cross-motions for partial summary judgment addressing that issue. The motions were filed and the court heard oral argument on March 26, 2009. In deciding in Plaintiffs favor the Court discussed the nature of the SAFETEA-LU amendments and their affect on the FLSA and the MCA:
“On August 10, 2005, however, Congress passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (hereinafter “the SAFETEA-LU”).Pub.L. No. 109-59, 119 Stat. 1747 (2005). Among other things, the SAFETEA-LU narrowed the definition of a “motor carrier” to include only “person[s] providing commercial motor vehicle (as defined in section 31132) transportation for compensation.”49 U.S.C. § 13102(14) (emphasis added). In turn, the “commercial motor vehicle” definition required that the vehicle have “a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of at least 10,001 pounds, whichever is greater.”49 U.S.C. 31132(1) (emphasis added). The practical effect of this amendment-i.e., the narrowing of the MCA exemption to include only operators of motor vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds-was that qualified employees who operated light-weight vehicles were entitled, apparently for the first time, to overtime pay under the FLSA.
On June 6, 2008, however, the SAFETEA-LU was enacted. Pub.L. No. 110-244, 122 Stat. 1572 (2008). Among other things, the SAFETEA-LU, in section 305, re-amended the definition of “motor carrier” by striking the word “commercial” and, hence, restoring the definition to its pre-SAFETEA-LU state. Id. § 305(c), 122 Stat. at 1620. The effective date of this part of the SAFETEA-LU, however, is a bit unclear. Accordingly, the court focuses its analysis on the question of whether section 305 applies retroactively to August 10, 2005.
Defendant argued that section 305 of the SAFETEA-LU is an amendment “to the SAFETEA-LU” and that, according to subsection (b) of section 121, it should apply retroactively beginning August 10, 2005. As Plaintiffs argued, however, a close look at the text of section 305 reveals that it is not an amendment to the SAFETEA-LU. Rather, it is an amendment to a portion the United States Code that was created by the ICC Termination Act of 1995. See generally Vidinliev, 581 F.Supp.2d at 1288-90.
Perhaps more importantly for purposes of statutory construction, the court agrees with the following point made in Vidinliev: “If the definition of motor carrier in section 305 applies retroactively, then the one-year defense in section 306 is nothing more than surplusage.” Id. Or, put another way, “applying section 305 retroactively would violate the rule that a statute should be ‘interpreted so that no words shall be discarded as meaningless, redundant, or mere surplusage.’ ” Id. (quoting United States v. Canals-Jimenez, 943 F.2d 1284, 1286 (11th Cir.1991)). See also Wood v. Spencer, 487 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir.2007) (”It is common ground that all words and provisions of statutes are intended to have meaning and are to be given effect.”) (citation, alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). Other courts have come to this very conclusion, i.e., “to suggest that the court interpret § 121 in a way that renders the safe harbor in § 306 a nullity is at odds with basic rules of statutory construction.” Tews, 592 F.Supp.2d at 1349 n. 8 (citing Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Pueblo of Santa Ana, 472 U.S. 237, 249 (1985)).See, e.g., Villegas, 2008 WL 5137321, at *21 n. 9 (”As this Court must presume that [all the] words of statutes are intended to have meaning, the Court will conclude that § 305 does not apply retroactively, and § 306 provides a one-year defense to liability.”); Veliz, 2008 WL 4911238, at * 6 (”For the one-year defense in Section [306(c) ] to have any relevance, Section 305(b) cannot apply retroactively.”).See also Hernandez v. Brink’s, Inc., 2009 WL 113406, at *7 (adopting reasoning of Vidinliev ); Loyd, 2008 WL 5211022, at *8 (following reasoning of both Vidinliev and Veliz );Horn v. Digital Cable & Communications, Inc., No. 1:06 CV 325, slip op. at 8-10 (N .D.Ohio Nov. 18, 2008) (following Vidinliev to hold that “Section 306 of the [TCA] undermines retroactivity finding”). And the Supreme Court recently reiterated, “one of the most basic interpretive canons [is] that ‘a statute should be construed so that effect is given to all of its provisions, so that no part will be inoperative or superfluous, void or insignificant.’ ” Corley v. United States, — U.S. —-, 2009 WL 901513, at *8 (Apr. 6, 2009) (quoting Hibbs v. Winn, 542 U.S. 88, 101 (2004)). In this court’s view as well, Plaintiffs’ section 306 surplusage argument cinches the result in their favor.”
Johnson v. Big Lots Stores, Inc.
This case presented the issue of whether salaried “Assistant Store Managers” (ASM’s) were exempt pursuant to the FLSA’s executive exemption. In deciding that they were not, because their primary duty was not management, the Court went through a detailed analysis of the test required by the CFR.
W.D.Ky.: “Plant Engineering-Facilities Support Group-Business Professional” For UPS Is Administrative Exempt
Hubbuch v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
This case was before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking a finding that Plaintiff, a “plant engineering-facilities support group-business professional” was administratively exempt from the FLSA, and therefore not entitled to overtime pay. In reaching its decision the Court discussed the factual background of Plaintiff’s job duties:
“It is undisputed that Hubbuch is a salaried employee. Hubbuch does not dispute that his primary duty is directly related to the management or general business operations of UPS or its customers and includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. However, Hubbuch argues that he does not perform office or non-manual work. Hubbuch argues that his job is “comparable to that of a maintenance mechanic, troubleshooting alarm systems, performing hands on investigations, solve [sic] problems with mechanical, electrical, plumbing and sprinklers, overhead door, etc.” UPS argues that Hubbuch performs exempt work.
Upon review of the facts, the court finds that Hubbuch performs a variety of non-manual work. The Job Description for engineering specialist at UPS identifies a host of responsibilities and activities that are fairly characterized as non-manual. The General Summary provides an overview:
The Business Professional is responsible for solving day-to-day problems inherent in keeping the physical facility in good working order, so as to enhance the hub operations. Activities performed include but are not limited to responding to internal customer requests, responding to facility alarms and emergencies, troubleshooting problems that arise, and coordinating repair work with outside vendors.
Each of the responsibilities and activities listed above have non-manual components. Other of Hubbuch’s enumerated Job Responsibilities, including developing training resources for other team members, working with vendors, and performing facility audits are non-manual in nature, as well. See Id. In addition, Hubbuch’s very basis for a claim here is that he has not been paid for the performance of non-manual work-troubleshooting by phone-while on call. Hubbuch has submitted an affidavit stating that, “The work performed while “on call” was the same work that Affiant performed on site.”
Hubbuch is not simply a mechanic. Hubbuch may perform substantial manual labor as part of his job; nonetheless his primary duty is the performance of non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of UPS or its customers. Hubbuch meets the definition of an exempt administrative employee and thus is exempt from FLSA’s overtime requirements.”
W.D.Pa.: Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives Are Exempt “Outside Salesmen” Notwithstanding The Fact That They Do Not Consummate Sales
Baum v. AstraZeneca LP
Addressing the oft-raised (recently) issue of whether pharmaceutical sales representative employees are subject to the Outside Sales exemption, the District Court answered the question in the affirmative and granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue. The Court went through a strained analysis of the pharmaceutical industry to reach this conclusion, and ultimately, seems to have refused to follow the long-standing mandate of FLSA construction that exemptions be narrowly construed against employers asserting them. The Court ultimately determined that the promotional work that sales reps do as their primary duty represents “sales” within the meaning of the FLSA, despite the fact that the sales reps do not actually obtain sales from anyone.
“The Court now returns to the definition of “sale”, and the somewhat related question of when a sale actually occurs. Obviously, a pharmaceutical sale is not exactly final until the patient herself completes a transaction by taking the physician permission slip (prescription) to a pharmacist for completion of the sale. However, the statutory language does not require a final sale, complete and consummated. Thus, pursuant to the above industry specifics, the Court believes that a “sale” may be defined as substantially occurring at the moment a physician commits to prescribing a particular pharmaceutical when treating a particular patient. In Clements v. Serco, in considering this question under the FLSA, the Tenth Circuit explained: “the touchstone for making a sale, under the Federal Regulations, is obtaining a commitment.” 530 F.3d 1224, 1227 (10th Cir.2008). Importantly, the facts of the case sub judice illustrate that the PSS’s were trained and employed for the purpose of obtaining a commitment, which is the “touchstone” for making a sale.
The Court concludes that in the pharmaceutical industry, the strongest evidence for sales activity and being employed for the purpose of making sales, is that the employee obtains commitments from physicians. Ms. Baum did precisely that: after carefully preparation and planning, she skillfully asked physicians for commitments to prescribe AstraZeneca products in appropriate situations. The capacity of a salesperson to obtain such commitments, in any field, is rare, and consequently well-compensated by private industry; the effort and charisma required to successfully close, as will be discussed infra, is a hallmark of professional sales activity.
Consequently, the Court holds that in the pharmaceutical context, given the realities of the professional paradigm, a sale occurs when a physician commits to prescribe a certain product in a certain situation. Therefore, the Court believes that a pharmaceutical sales representative, upon obtaining a commitment from a physician, has “in some sense” made a sale. See Dep’t of Labor, Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees; Final Rule, Fed.Reg. 22122, 22162-63 (Apr. 23, 2004). Relatedly, where a pharmaceutical sales representative seeks to obtain a physician’s professional commitment to prescribe certain pharmaceuticals, that representative was engaged in making sales. Importantly, Ms. Baum was not visiting the physician only to provide some education or background to pave the way, or prepare the physician for another appointment with a primary salesperson.
This Court believes that other courts, and perhaps regulatory agencies, underestimate the significance of this oral commitment from physicians. In part, this error emerges from a misunderstanding of the ways in which human beings are socially and informally motivated. Sometimes lawyers and judges forget that a person’s word means something; remarkably, many people do not actually need a 400-page contract to bind themselves to their word. Yale’s Yochai Benklar, a thinker with incisive prescience, explains that non-market intrinsic factors can serve as a more powerful motivating force than typical extrinsic economic incentives; applying such a theory to this situation, it is possible to imagine one business that thrives over time, enjoying ongoing, non-contractual relationships with its clientele, while a nearly identical business falters, its obsession with formalized contracts driving away a clientele socially frustrated with the non-trusting relationship. In short, this Court believes that one professional’s commitment may be worth more in sales volume than a hundred firm orders from a insolvent or dishonest source. A proper critique of this interpretation of “sale” is that such reasoning, if applied in a broader sense across industries, would quickly arrive at an unsustainable breaking point. However, this Court is not broadening the definition of “sale”, but simply seeking to understand and apply the definition within this particular industry. See In Re Novartis Wage and Hour Lit., 593 F.Supp.2d 637, 659 (“Reps make sales in the sense that sales are made in the pharmaceutical industry.”). For all of the above reasons, this Court, in performing its own construction and application of this statutory exemption, finds that in the pharmaceutical context, where a representative asks for a commitment from a physician, such activity is sales activity for the purposes of the Pennsylvania outside sales exemption.
Admittedly, this construction and application has its weaker points: obviously, not every sale defined this way will actually result in the delivery of a pharmaceutical in exchange for legal tender. Furthermore, other courts, assessing different industries, have held that individuals seeking to obtain commitments are not necessarily performing exempt sales activity. See, e.g., Clements v. Serco, 530 F.3d 1224, 1227 (10th Cir.2008). Ms. Baum’s briefing hopes to capitalize upon this particular weak point, arguing that even when a physician commits to writing a prescription for AstraZeneca’s pharmaceuticals, this commitment is certainly not binding upon either the physician or a patient. However, the rationale of such a critique could be equally applied to sales transactions in simpler fields. For instance, where a hypothetical Mr. Loman sells a widget, but the widget is ultimately returned six months later under a warranty claim, did a sale actually occur? Was the sale binding? Given this country’s aggressive implied warranty laws, is any sale ever binding? While the Court is certain that Mr. Loman engaged in the process of making sales or obtaining orders, the question presents itself: is any traditional sale more or less binding than a commitment sought and obtained from a honest and thoughtful physician? Admittedly, in the pharmaceutical context, obtaining a commitment from a doctor may not be a formal, binding contract that inexorably leads to the exchange of goods and services. However, the Court believes such formalities are simply not necessary for a “sale” to occur. The Court notes that private companies perhaps have a wiser approach to discerning what constitutes a sale: rather than wasting effort and energy arguing about how to apply abstract and reduced definitions to diverse industries, such companies simply find and execute the methods that work to increase sales; notably, pharmaceutical companies have all decided to employ large, direct sales forces to visit physicians.
The Court also acknowledges that physicians are not the only customer involved in the sale of pharmaceuticals. However, it cannot be argued that physicians are not an integral and essential gatekeeper within this sales process. In some, likely most, instances, physicians will be the dispositive force behind a sale. Furthermore, in all instances, a physician’s approval and consent to the sale is ultimately necessary. Other courts, in expressing their analyses of this pharmaceutical sales dynamic, have similarly stated the integral role of physicians in the sale of a pharmaceutical. See Barnick v. Wyeth, 522 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1264 (C.D.Cal.2007)(explaining that because physicians “determine whether or not a patient will buy a prescription product”, the physicians themselves are the appropriate target of sales efforts); see also D’Este v. Bayer Corp., No. 07-cv-3206, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87229, at *14 (C.D.Cal. Oct. 9, 2007) (emphasizing that the doctor places the order for the prescription product by writing a prescription).
In sum, in a determination unnecessary to present to a jury, and following an analysis of the dynamics of the industry, this Court finds that where pharmaceutical representatives seek to obtain physician commitments to write prescriptions, these representatives make sales and are engaged in the process of making sales for purposes of Pennsylvania’s outside sales exemption. In the alternative, this Court notes that a similar analysis could also be applied to pharmaceutical sales representatives “obtaining orders.” Consequently, a pharmaceutical sales representative performing duties similar to those performed by Ms. Baum, including visiting the offices of physicians for the purposes of obtaining commitments, meets this requirement of the outside sales exemption.”
D.Conn.: Pharmaceutical Sales Reps Not Exempt Under FLSA’s Outside Sales Exemption; Promotional Work Performed Is Not “Sales”
Kuzinski v. Schering Corp.
Plaintiffs initiated this suit against Schering Corporation, their former employer, for relief from Defendant’s alleged misclassification of them as “exempt” employees resulting in its failure to pay them overtime wages, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. Defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiffs fall within the FLSA’s outside sales exemption. After an extensive review and discussion of the record evidence, the Court denied Defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
In denying Defendant’s motion, the Court made clear that the promotional work which Plaintiffs, as pharmaceutical sales reps, performed for Defendant was not “sales” within the meaning of the FLSA. The Court addressed head-on supporting cases as well as those which Defendant had argued supported a contrary finding:
“Under the FLSA, the term ” ‘[s]ale’ or ‘sell’ includes any sale, exchange, contract to sell, consignment for sale, shipment for sale, or other disposition,”29 U.S.C. § 203(k), and also “include[s] the transfer of title to tangible property, and in certain cases, of tangible and valuable evidences of intangible property,”29 C.F.R. § 541.501(b). Schering’s PSRs do not make, or engage in, any of these things. PSRs do not consummate or make any “sales” of pharmaceuticals to the physicians they visit. PSRs do not “exchange” with physicians for any drugs; they do not make any “contract[s] to sell” drugs to physicians; they do not make any “consignment for sale” with physicians; FN13 they do not make any “shipment[s] for sale” to physicians; and they do not make any “other disposition” of drugs with physicians.FN14 PSRs also do not “transfer [pharmaceuticals] for a price.” Cf.BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 1364 (8th ed.2004) (defining “sale”).
FN13. That is, PSRs do not “commit,” “dedicate,” “deliver,” “transfer,” “give” or “hand over possession” drugs into the physicians’ “custody,” or “entrust” drugs to physicians, for a later sale. See BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 327 (8th ed.2004) (defining “consign” and “consignment”); WEBSTER’S II DICTIONARY 157 (3d ed.2005) (same).
FN14. Plaintiffs did not “transfer[ ] something to [a physician’s] care or possession” including “by deed or will,” and they did not engage in the “relinquishment of property” to physicians. See BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 505 (8th ed.2004) (defining “disposition”). Given this meaning of “disposition,” Defendant’s argument that the regulation’s catch-all term “other disposition” encompasses in its scope activities such as those performed by Plaintiffs is unavailing. Were the Court to construe the phrase “other disposition” broadly enough to encompass PSRs’ visits with physicians (see Def.’s Mem. Supp. at 22 (emphasizing phrase); Oral Arg. Tr. at 40:5-41:15 (Schering arguing that the phrase “allow[s] for those instances where there cannot be a direct interaction between the salesman and the purchaser”)), it would substantially expand the outside sales exemption, in direct contravention of its mandate to construe the exemption narrowly and within its plain terms.
Moreover, PSRs and physicians do not even have the capacity to consummate sales. Schering’s PSRs, like Boehringer’s PSRs, are barred both by law and by their employer from entering into contracts or binding commitments with physicians for the prescription of their employer’s products. Cf. Ruggeri I, 585 F.Supp.2d at 267-68 (PSRs “do not and cannot make or produce” sales); accord Smith, 2008 WL 5427802, *7, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104952, *20-*21 (“in no ordinary sense of the word ‘consummation’ could one of [the PSR’s] sales calls end in the consummation of a sale. [The PSR] could only provide useful information to the physician, and could not enter into an agreement regarding prescriptions by the physician.”). And physicians neither have nor exercise the capacity to make binding commitments to purchase or prescribe pharmaceuticals promoted by Schering’s PSRs. DeFeo testified that physicians never order pharmaceuticals directly from Schering even in potential “emergency” situations, when they would obtain them directly through a “group purchasing organization,” and in any event ethical and legal obligations bar physicians from “mak[ing] a binding commitment to a[PSR] to prescribe certain [pharmaceutical] products.” In re Novartis, 593 F.Supp.2d at 650;see also Ruggeri I, 585 F.Supp.2d at 268 (“physicians do not have ‘the capacity to purchase or place an order for’… pharmaceutical products”).
The conclusion that PSRs fall within the outside sales exemption from FLSA’s overtime provisions on the basis of “the characteristics of the industry in question,” In re Novartis, 593 F.Supp.2d at 649,“[n]otwithstanding PSRs’ lack of capacity to sell, and physicians’ lack of capacity to purchase,”see Ruggeri I, 585 F.Supp.2d at 268, appears to be the back-fitting of the FLSA to industry practices which this Court has rejected, see id. at 272;see also Clements, 530 F.3d at 1227 (“[t]he touchstone for making a sale, under the Federal Regulations, is obtaining a commitment.”); Smith, 2008 WL 5427802, *7, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104952, *19 (“[p]hysicians … do indeed present a chokepoint in the sale of pharmaceuticals, but the nature of the prescription system insulates them from being amenable to ‘sales’ within the definition of the applicable regulation”).In re Novartis’s focus on a pharmaceutical product’s “purchase cycle,” which “commences” with a physician writing a prescription for the product for a patient, In re Novartis, 593 F.Supp.2d at 650-51, and which, in this case, presumably would continue through a patient’s filling the prescription at a pharmacy, to the pharmacy’s re-ordering the product from a wholesaler, who then places an order for additional product with the “trade organization” and “legal team” operating under Schering’s managed markets group, is not what the PSRs do, which excludes it from the relevant inquiry for FLSA purposes.
As DeFeo’s testimony and Plaintiffs’ declarations illustrate, the closest that Schering’s PSRs come to consummating “sales” is increasing the overall demand for its products, such that non-PSR Schering employees negotiate and commit to contracts with wholesalers-not the physicians to whom Schering’s products are promoted. An employee does not consummate a “sale” for purposes of the FLSA merely by “lay[ing] the groundwork” for another employee to obtain a customer’s commitment. Clements, 530 F.3d at 1229;29 C.F.R. § 541.503(a) (even though promotional work can be considered exempt sales work, “promotional work that is incidental to sales made, or to be made, by someone else is not exempt outside sales work”) (emphasis added). Here, not only do the PSRs not consummate the sales, but the physicians with whom the PSRs visit are not Schering’s customers. To the extent PSRs lay foundation or groundwork, it is to increase or maintain their employer’s market share for the products they promote. In this sense they pave the way for sales but in no more direct a manner as a pharmaceutical company’s direct-to-consumer advertising, which raises demand for that company’s products. Neither of these activities constitutes “sales” under the FLSA.
The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Gregory v. First Title of America, Inc. is not to the contrary. There, the court held that an insurer’s “marketing executive” made sales-and thus was an exempt outside salesperson-because “[o]nce an order for title insurance services is obtained [by the plaintiff], the sale is complete.” 555 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir.2009) (first alteration in original). The court relied on the fact that the plaintiff “did not collect orders and turn them over to another salesperson,” and there was no “evidence of any other intervening sales effort between [the plaintiff] and orders placed with [the employer],” such that “[a]s opposed to conceiving of [the plaintiff] as ‘paving the way’ for others to consummate the sale, we view her as acting more as a conduit through which orders for services flowed.”Id. The critical difference between the work of First Title’s marketing executive and Schering’s PSRs is obvious: whereas the marketing executive did all of the work necessary to reach an agreement with a customer, PSRs do not even communicate with the entities to which Schering sells its products, let alone negotiate the contracts or process the orders by which its products are sold.
Some courts concluding that PSRs “sell” pharmaceutical products within the meaning of the FLSA have looked to IMS Health Inc. v. Ayotte, 550 F.3d 42 (1st Cir.2008). There, the court was faced with a constitutional challenge to the Prescription Information Law, a New Hampshire statute affecting PSRs’ work by preventing the use ” ‘for any commercial purpose’ ” of information about pharmaceutical prescriptions containing any ” ‘patient-identifiable and prescriber-identifiable data.’ ” Id. at 47 (quoting N.H.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 318:47-f). In the course of lengthy opinions upholding the constitutionality of the law, both the majority and concurrence/dissent described generally the work of PSRs-in the First Circuit’s parlance, “detailers”-within the pharmaceutical industry. The majority described each part of the state’s evidence that its law “directly advances [its] interest” of “cost containment” as “forg[ing] some part of the causal chain leading from transfers of prescribers’ histories for use in detailing to higher drug prices,” id. at 55, and stated: “[d]etailing works: that it succeeds in inducing physicians to prescribe larger quantities of brand-name drugs seems clear (even if the exact magnitude of that effect is not),” id. at 56.In an opinion concurring and dissenting, one member of the panel used the word “sales” in describing the efficacy of PSRs’ efforts: “Detailing is the face-to-face advocacy of a product by sales representatives who visit doctors’ offices and hospitals to meet with the prescribing health care professionals. Although the objective of these visits is to make sales, detailers often provide valuable information about the drugs they are selling.” Id. at 71 (Lipez, J., concurring and dissenting).”
In denying Defendant’s motion, the Court further stated, “[i]t is the clarity of the statutory and regulatory language at issue defining the conduct and activity which constitutes “selling” or making a “sale” which undermines Schering’s use of the term “sales” to classify PSRs’ work as exempt from FLSA’s overtime pay provisions and which renders unpersuasive other cases’ characterizations of PSRs’ work. Because PSRs undisputedly do not “sell” or make any “sales” as those terms are defined in the FLSA and its implementing regulations, they fall outside the FLSA’s outside sales exemption.”
N.D.Ill.: Duties Listed On Resume Do Not Meet FLSA Defendants’ Burden On Exemption, In Light Of Testimony Regarding Actual Duties Performed
Boring v. World Gym – Bishop, Inc.
Defendants moved for Summary Judgment alleging, among other things, that Plaintiff was administratively exempt under the FLSA, and therefore not entitled to overtime compensation, regardless of whether she worked in excess of 40 hours per week or not. In support of their Motion, the Defendant relied on Plaintiff’s resume (created subsequent to the employment at issue) in which she stated her duties worked, while employed by Defendants. Since, the testimony of actual duties performed largely differed from the resume duties, the Court denied Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on the exemption issue stating:
“Defendants rely on a description of Boring’s job duties as they appear on her resume. Her resume lists her positions at World Gym as “Accounts Payable, Secretary, Office Manager.” A sampling of the responsibilities listed includes: “Managed 8 full-time employees,” “Customer Service,” “Assisted company comptroller in budgeting, locating and reducing company losses,” “Security and overseeing of repairs,” “Revised and produced Employee Handbook,” “Coordinated resolution of internal theft,” “Assisted in creating slogans and artwork for advertising and sales events,” and “Recommended changes that increased the monthly collections of bad debt by the outside collection company.”The appropriate inquiry, though, is into Boring’s actual job duties and not into what she lists on her resume. Boring denies that she actually performed office manager duties, managed 8 full time employees at World Gym, or actually determined any revisions to be made in the Employee Handbook. Based on the testimony in the record, a reasonable finder of fact could conclude that Boring’s job description as listed on her resume is incompatible with the actual work she performed. Both Al and Barbara described Boring’s primary duties as letter writing and issuing checks.
A reasonable finder of fact could conclude that Boring’s primary duty at World Gym was not directly related to management policies or general business operations and that her work did not include any meaningful exercise of discretion or independent judgment. Accordingly, Defendants have not met their burden of proof that Boring fits within the administrative exemption to the FLSA, and their motion for summary judgment on this claim must be denied.”
Although not groundbreaking, this decision is notable, because it speaks to an issue widely raised by Defendants in FLSA cases, that actual duties are trumped by resume or job description. It is clear from this decision, as many others have previously stated, the inquiry of importance in determining the applicability of an exemption are the actual duties performed, rather than some paper description of same.