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S.D.Fla.: Pharma Rep (PSR) Entitled to Overtime If She Worked Over 40 Hours; Administrative and Outside Sales Exemptions Inapplicable

Palacios v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Pharmaceutical companies have been involved in a series of cases in recent years, regarding the exempt status of their pharmaceutical sales representatives (“PSRs”).  While the DOL has stated in a multiple amicus briefs that PSRs performing typical duties are not exempt under either the outside sales exemption or administrative exemption, the industry has stubbornly refused to reclassify its PSRs as non-exempt and begin paying overtime.

In the most recent case, Judge Ursula Ungaro in the Southern District of Florida joined the Second Circuit, the DOL and several other District-level courts around the country, and held that a Boehringer PSR was neither outside sales exempt nor administratively exempt. 

First, the court rejected the contention that the plaintiff was subject to the outside sales exemption.  Noting that she could not be outside sales exempt, if she did not perform sales, the court explained:

“Here, there is no dispute that Plaintiff was not permitted to give healthcare providers drugs in exchange for anything of value. It is also undisputed that the employees in Boehringer’s Trade Relations and Managed Markets sell drugs to retailers, and the retailers sell the drugs to patients with prescriptions for them. Moreover, there is no dispute that Plaintiff was not an employee in the Trade Relations and Managed Markets groups. Thus, none of the work that Plaintiff performed involved the “transfer of title to tangible property.” At best, Plaintiff’s presentation of Boehringer’s core message to physicians was non-exempt promotional work that was incident to the sales made by individuals in the Trade Relations and Managed Market groups. Accordingly, the Court agrees with the Second Circuit’s rationale. Plaintiff’s inability to transfer ownership of any one of the drugs she was responsible for in exchange for money, her inability to take a purchase order for any of the drugs, and her inability to obtain a binding commitment from physicians to prescribe a drug, renders her unable to make a “sale” as defined under the FLSA and its implementing regulations. See In re Novartis, 611 F.3d at 154.” 

In a footnote, the court discussed the fact that it was declining to follow the Ninth Circuit’s liberal reading of the phrase “sale.”

Specifically, the court said:

“The Court declines to follow the Ninth Circuit’s liberal reading of the phrase “sale” and its tenuous application of the outside sales exemption to PSRs. The crux of the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning in SmithKline Beecham is as follows: Because the products for which PSRs are responsible may be legally dispensed only with a prescription written by a licensed healthcare provider, the relevant purchaser is the healthcare provider, and thus PSRs make a “sale” when they obtain non-binding commitments from providers that they will write a prescription. 635 F.3d at 396. The undersigned disagrees with the contention that the relevant purchaser is the healthcare provider. First, the healthcare provider is not bound to write a prescription just because she tells a PSR that she will. Second, even if the provider writes a prescription, she does not actually purchase anything. The prescription merely allows a patient to purchase a given drug; it does not guarantee that there will be a “transfer of title to tangible property” because the prescription does not obligate the patient to purchase the drug. Accordingly, PSRs like Plaintiff cannot make a “sale” to physicians, because physicians cannot purchase the drugs.”

The court also held that plaintiff’s duties failed to satisfy either prong of the administrative exemption’s duties requirements.  The court explained:

“Here, Plaintiff was not involved in “running or servicing” Boehringer’s business. Instead, Plaintiff worked out of her vehicle or in physicians’ offices communicating to physicians Boehringer’s carefully scripted core message. Boehringer has separate departments in its corporate headquarters that are responsible for preforming administrative duties and running and servicing its business. For example, Boehringer has separate Trade Relations and Managed Markets groups, and separate advertising, sales operation, and commercial analytics departments. Plaintiff never worked in any of these groups or departments. Plaintiff’s role was to merely perform promotional work that aided these departments in their duties. Plaintiff also was not involved in Boehringer’s “management policies or general operations.” She never performed any work in the functional areas of tax, finance, accounting, auditing, advertising, research and development, personnel management, human resources, labor relations, government relations, or information technology. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s role was not related to the management or general business operations of Boehringer.”

After holding that plaintiff’s role was not related to the management or generatl business operations of defendant, it also addressed the plaintiff’s lack of independent discretion:

“In comparing Plaintiff’s primary duties against the factors set forth in § 541.202(b), the Court finds no evidence in the record that Plaintiff had any authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement Boehringer’s management or operating policies, or that she was involved in planning Boehringer’s long-term or short-term business objectives, or that she carried out major assignments in conducting the operation of Boehringer’s business, or that she had any authority to commit Boehringer in matters that have significant financial impact. See In re Novartis, 611 F.3d at 157. For example, although Plaintiff could decide how to use funds reserved for promotional events, her managers gave her a strict budget for each event, which she was not permitted to exceed. The record does not indicate that Plaintiff was allowed to negotiate and bind Boehringer to any significant matters, or waive or deviate from Boehringer’s established policies and procedures without its prior approval. Moreover, Plaintiff’s ability to determine how best to engage physicians, develop a rapport with them, and address their questions and concerns about a particular product are all skills that Plaintiff developed and honed through Boehringer’s training sessions. And, although Plaintiff determined how best to approach physicians, Boehringer never allowed her to stray outside the core message. Finally, even though Plaintiff had discretion in determining the order in which she would visit physicians, Boehringer determined which physicians she would visit, required her to visit every physician on its list, and mandated how many times she had to visit each physician in a six-month period. If Plaintiff did not visit every physician on the list the specified number of times, she was subject to discipline. In light of all the controls that Boehringer placed upon Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff did not exercise discretion or independent judgment relating to matters of significance.”

Click Palacios v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to read the entire Order on Motions for Summary Judgment.

Andrew Frisch, the publisher of the Overtime Law Blog, represents Ms. Palacios.  If you are a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep who believes you have been wrongly denied overtime, call Mr. Frisch at (888)OVERTIME or click here to learn about your wage and hour rights today.

9th Cir.: Group Home Housing “Severely Emotionally Disturbed” Children Not An “Institution Primarily Engaged in the Care of the Sick, the Aged, Mentally Ill”

Probert v. Family Centered Services of Alaska, Inc.

This case was before the Ninth Circuit on the defendant’s appeal of an order granting plaintiffs- house parents at their various group homes of emotionally disturbed children- summary judgment, holding that each of defendant’s homes were subject to FLSA coverage as an “institution primarily engaged in the care of the sick, the aged, mentally ill or defective who reside on the premises of such institution.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(A).  The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that defendant’s homes were not primarily engaged in such care, although it was undisputed that they provided housing for same.  In so doing, the Ninth Circuit ignored long-held jurisprudence requiring that courts liberally construe the FLSA’s coverage to serve the statute’s remedial goals.

Describing the relevant background facts, the Ninth Circuit explained:

“Plaintiffs Loretta and Robert Probert and Plaintiffs–Intervenors Debra and Eric Cloninger, Donna and John Grimes, Gene and Sandra Grissom, and Kenneth and Leona McDaniels are married couples who worked as “house parents” in FCSA’s Homes. Each Home housed up to five children. All the children were “severely emotionally disturbed” as defined by the Alaska law that qualifies the Homes for Medicaid funding, 7 Alaska Admin. Code § 43.471, and each of the children had at least one diagnosed mental disorder under Axis–I of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The children attended local public schools and participated in other activities away from the Homes. The children participated in group therapy conducted by clinicians in the Homes, but received most of their medical and psychological treatment outside the Homes. Plaintiffs were not licensed medical or social service professionals.

Plaintiffs sued FCSA for overtime pay under the FLSA.  After denying Plaintiffs’ first motion for partial summary judgment, the district court granted a similar motion for partial summary judgment in their favor, concluding that FCSA through its Homes, was operating “an institution primarily engaged in the care of the … mentally ill or defective who reside on the premises of such institution,’ “ 29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(A), and was therefore an enterprise subject to the FLSA’s overtime provisions, id. § 207(a)(1). The district court observed that the FLSA does not define “institution.” As an analogy, the district court looked to a federal Medicaid regulation, not directly applicable to this situation, that defined “institution” as “an establishment that furnishes (in single or multiple facilities) food, shelter, and some treatment or services to four or more persons unrelated to the proprietor,” 42 C.F.R. § 435.1010, and concluded that the “Homes (either individually or as a group) could be considered an ‘institution.’ “ The court also relied on FCSA’s own website, which described the Homes as “provid[ing] quality residential care to male and female youth ages 6–18 that are experiencing mental health and behavioral issues and are at imminent risk of psychiatric placement outside of their community.”

Holding that the defendant did not fall within the definition of 203(r)(2)(A), the court reasoned:

“Plaintiffs argue that each of the FCSA Homes in which they worked is covered by the statute as “an institution primarily engaged in the care of … the mentally ill … who reside on the premises of such institution.”  The FLSA is a remedial statute that is “to be liberally construed to apply to the furthest reaches consistent with Congressional direction.” Dent v. Cox Communications Las Vegas, Inc., 502 F.3d 1141, 1146 (9th Cir.2007) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also 29 C.F.R. § 779.101 (“An employer who claims an exemption under the Act has the burden of showing that it applies.”). Nonetheless, we conclude that the language of the statute does not cover the FCSA Homes, for two primary reasons.

The first reason is that the Homes were not “primarily engaged” in providing “care,” as that term is used in the statute. The statute refers to “care” in relation to groups with special needs, namely “the sick, the aged, the mentally ill or defective.” 29 U.S .C. § 203(r)(2)(A). As such, we understand “care” in this context to include something more like treatment. What the Homes primarily provided, as their name suggests, was a home or a residence. As noted above, the children attended school, engaged in activities, and received most of their medical and psychological treatment from medical and mental health professionals outside the Homes. Obviously, for children a home should be more than simply a place to live, and the children presumably benefitted from Plaintiffs’ “care” as house parents. But Plaintiffs were not medical or social service professionals and were not primarily focused on providing the type of “care” that those professionals provide.

The language of the statute clearly suggests a covered institution must provide more than the general care of a residence. In addition to requiring that the institution’s patrons “reside on the premises of [the] institution,” the institution must provide “care” of the type that is provided to “the sick, the aged, the mentally ill or defective.” If residing on the premises were enough by itself to define the given premises as covered by the statute, then the requirement that the institution be “primarily engaged” in the “care” of the individuals residing there would be superfluous. We are to avoid interpreting a statute in that manner. See TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 31 (2001) (“It is a cardinal principle of statutory construction that a statute ought, upon the whole, to be so construed that, if it can be prevented, no clause, sentence, or word shall be superfluous, void, or insignificant.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Second, the Homes do not appear to us to be “institutions” as that term is used in this statute. Around the time the 1966 amendment was drafted, the Oxford English Dictionary offered the following definition of “institution”:

An establishment, organization, or association, instituted for the promotion of some object, esp. one of public or general utility, religious, charitable, educational, etc., e.g. a church, school, college, hospital, asylum, reformatory, mission, or the like; as a literary and philosophical institution, a deaf and dumb institution, the Royal National Life-boat Institution, the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution …, the Railway Benevolent Institution, etc.  5 Oxford English Dictionary 354 (1933, reprinted 1961). The FCSA Homes do not fit well within that definition.

Nor do the Homes fit well with the neighboring parts of the relevant statute. They are not very much like

a hospital, …, a school for mentally or physically handicapped or gifted children, a preschool, elementary or secondary school, or an institution of higher education (regardless of whether or not such hospital, institution, or school is operated for profit or not for profit).  29 U.S.C. § 203(r)(2)(A).”

Similar to reasoning in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., broadly construing the outsides sales exemption and refusing to adopt the guidance of the DOL outside of regulations promulgated by the Administrator of the DOL, the court further reasoned:

“Plaintiffs argue that we should interpret § 203(r)(2)(A) to include FCSA’s Homes because guidance from the Department of Labor indicates that a reference to “nursing homes” in that provision should be interpreted broadly. See Dep’t of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Field Operations Handbook (FOH), ch. 12, § 12g02 (“[Institutions primarily engaged in the care of the aged] are not limited to nursing homes, … but include those institutions generally known as nursing homes, rest homes, convalescent homes, homes for the elderly and infirm, and the like.”). Plaintiffs argue that by the same reasoning, “institution primarily engaged in the care of the … mentally ill” should be interpreted broadly to include FCSA’s Homes. We disagree.

The FCSA Homes are very different from nursing homes and the related facilities listed in the handbook. The children who live at the FCSA Homes spend much of their time, perhaps a majority of their waking hours, elsewhere. They leave the Homes to attend school, participate in activities, and receive medical and psychological treatment. Residents of nursing homes are not necessarily confined completely to those facilities, but the expectation is that the vast majority of their time is spent there. Those facilities are also staffed with professionals, not simply house parents, and residents may be expected to receive substantially greater “care” in those facilities.”

Combined with its recent decision in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., this decision is particularly disturbing.  It appears the Ninth Circuit is quickly moving away from long held tenets of FLSA jurisprudence, the twin constructs that FLSA coverage is to be liberally construed, while exemptions/exceptions to coverage are to be narrowly construed against employers.  In any case, it clear that here, that the Ninth Circuit construed FLSA coverage as narrowly as possible in holding that defendant was not a covered enterprise.

Click Probert v. Family Centered Services of Alaska, Inc. to read the entire Opinion.