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The last few weeks have brought their share of interesting misclassification/exemption cases. In one case, a law school graduate performing non-lawyer duties was held to be non-exempt. In another, a court within the Fifth Circuit held that a tax lien negotiation business- clearly within the CFR’s definitions of a business lacking a retail concept- was in fact a retail business subject to 7(i)’s so-called retail sales exemption. Lastly, despite his managerial duties at times, a court held that a police sergeant might not be exempt under the executive exemption and denied the police department-employer’s motion for summary judgment. Each of these decisions is discussed in greater detail below.
Law School Graduate Employed as a Graphic Consultant Non-Exempt
Kadden v. VisuaLex, LLC
In the first case, the defendant- a litigation support company- employed plaintiff- a college and law school graduate as a graphics consultant. At issue was whether the defendant had properly deemed plaintiff to be exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. The defendant (“VisuaLex”) contended that the plaintiff was exempt under either the creative professional exemption, the administrative exemption, or the so-called combination exemption whereby an employer can utilize elements of multiple white-collar exemptions to render an employee exempt. While acknowledging that the case presented a close call, the court held that the plaintiff lacked the requisite primary duties to meet the elements of any of the exemptions asserted. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff had been misclassified and should have been paid proper overtime. In so doing, the court reiterated that the fundamental tenet of exemption cases is an examination of the employees primary duties and not simply a job description or a list of duties performed. The court also reminded us that the learned professional examination is only applicable where the advanced degree of learning or science is actually required for and by the position performed by the employee- holding such a degree alone is not sufficient to meet the stringent exemption requirements.
Click Kadden v. VisuaLex, LLC to read the entire Opinion and Order.
Tax Consultants Subject to 7(i) Retail Exemption Notwithstanding CFR Regs Defining “Tax Services” Establishments as “Lacking a Retail Concept”
Wells v. TaxMasters, Inc.
The second case was before the court on the parties’ competing motions for summary judgment. Deciding the case in favor of the defendants, the court held that the plaintiffs were subject to the so-called retail exemption codified in 7(i) of the FLSA. It was uncontested that the plaintiffs regularly worked in excess of 40 hours. Similarly, the duties they performed were not at issue nor was the methodology by which they were paid (qualifying for the pay element of the retail sales exemption). Rather the sole issue appears to have been whether or not defendants- an enterprise engaged in rendering “tax resolution services”- was in a retail establishment within the meaning of 7(i) such that plaintiffs could properly be deemed to be exempt from overtime under the so-called retail exemption.
Holding that the defendants were a retail establishment, notwithstanding the Department of Labor’s regulations stating otherwise, the court reasoned:
Whether Defendants were exempt under Section 207(i) thus turns on whether they were “an establishment 75 percentum of whose annual dollar volume of sales of goods or services (or of both) is not for resale and is recognized as retail sales or services in the particular industry.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(2). According to Department of Labor regulations, a retail or service establishment must have a “retail concept.” 29 C.F.R. § 779.316 (2005). Section 318 of the regulations describes the “characteristics and examples” of retail or service establishments:
Typically a retail or service establishment is one which sells goods or services to the general public. It serves the everyday needs of the community in which it is located. The retail or service establishment performs a function in the business organization of the Nation which is at the very end of the stream of distribution, disposing in small quantities of the products and skills of such organization and does not take part in the manufacturing process.
Such an establishment sells to the general public its food and drink. It sells to such public its clothing and its furniture, its automobiles, its radios and refrigerators, its coal and its lumber, and other goods, and performs incidental services on such goods when necessary. It provides the general public its repair services and other services for the comfort and convenience of such public in the course of its daily living. 29 C.F.R. § 779.318. Section 317 of the regulations provide a “partial list of establishments lacking ‘retail concept’ ” which includes, among over one hundred other examples, “tax services.” 29 C.F.R. § 779.317.
Plaintiffs do not dispute that Defendants sold more than 75 per cent of their products directly to the consumer. Instead, Plaintiffs insist that the Department of Labor regulations, which expressly define “tax services” companies as lacking a retail component, are determinative. See Doc. 60, 61, 63. Defendants contend both that they were not a “tax services” establishment and that Section 779.317 therefore does not apply and that Fifth Circuit precedent holds that the Department of Labor’s list of non-retail establishments is not determinative. Doc. 64.
The Defendants are correct that the Fifth Circuit has declined to follow strictly the Department of Labor’s list. See Rachal v. Allen, 376 F.2d 999 (5th Cir.1967) (rejecting Secretary of Labor’s position that a fixed base aeronautics operator’s business has no retail concept merely because it is part of an industry, namely, the air transportation industry, that Section 779.317 lists as lacking a retail concept). “There is no magic in placing a business in a category and then asserting that since it is in that category, it is like all businesses with which it has been placed.” Id. at 1003. In Rachal, the Fifth Circuit rejected the Secretary of Labor’s argument that because a fixed-base operator engaged in servicing and selling aircraft at airports was in the air transportation industry, and because the Secretary had made a determination in Section 779.317 that the air transportation industry lacked a retail concept, a fixed base operator necessarily lacked a retail concept:
[T]he Secretary’s argument … assumes the result of the issue we are asked to determine…. The issue is whether, under the statute, there may be, as a matter of law, and if so whether there is as a matter of fact, a retail concept in the defendants’ business, notwithstanding the Secretary’s determination. It is, of course, the function of the Court, as well as of the Secretary, to interpret the statute. Id. (citing Walling v. La Belle S.S. Co., 148 F.2d 198 (6th Cir.1945)). The question for this Court, then, is whether Defendants provided services that meet the Secretary’s four criteria for establishments with a retail concept. 29 C.F.R. § 770.319 (listing criteria).
Certainly Defendants sold their services to the general public. In fact, the Plaintiffs in this action worked as salespeople in a call center and sold Defendants’ services directly to consumers. Plaintiffs contend, however, that Defendants’ “services do not serve the every day needs of the public” because “these services provide a specialized function that is not necessary for the community’s daily routine.” Doc. 68 at 22. It is not the case that an establishment must provide a product or service used by each member of the community on daily basis for it to serve the everyday needs of the community. Addressing just such an argument, the District Court for the Middle District of Florida reasoned that:
[t]he list provided in the regulations of businesses which are recognized as retail reflects that such narrow interpretation would be incorrect. This list includes billiard parlors, bowling alleys, cemeteries, coal yards, crematories, dance halls, embalming establishments, funeral homes, fur repair and storage shops, hotels, masseur establishments, recreational camps, taxidermists, theatres, and undertakers, none of which would be used daily by everyone in the community. Reich v. Cruises Only, Inc., 1997 WL 1507504, *4 (M.D.Fla.1997).
This Court agrees. The summary judgment evidence before the Court indicates that Defendants provided not only tax preparation services that each member of the community may well utilize, but also tax dispute services to address issues that may, in some instances, arise in the course of filing taxes. Doc. 64–1 at 7–8. Each member of “the community” does not require tax services on a daily basis any more than they require frequent visits to the undertaker. Yet these services derive inevitably from the only two certainties in life. Such certain, but periodic, services are no less retail in nature than the sale of “automobiles, … radios and refrigerators,” or the “incidental services on such goods when necessary.” 29 C.F.R. § 779.318. Defendants’ tax resolution services clearly were “services for the comfort and convenience of such public in the course of its daily living.” Id.
It is not clear if the case would have been decided differently outside the Fifth Circuit. Of interest, in footnote 5 of its opinion, the court declined to follow a Sixth Circuit opinion on point that reached the opposite conclusion, Hodgson v. N.G. Kallas Co., 480 F.2d 994 (6th Cir.1973).
Click Wells v. TaxMasters, Inc. to read the entire Opinion and Order.
Notwithstanding Management Duties, Police Lieutenant Might be Non-Exempt; Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment re: Executive Exemption Denied
Jones v. Williams
In the third exemption case of interest, the case was before the court on the defendant’s motion for summary judgment regarding all of plaintiff’s asserted claims (Title VII, retaliation, unpaid overtime, etc.). As discussed here, the court denied the defendant’s motion with regard to plaintiff’s unpaid overtime claim, citing issues of fact precluding a finding- as a matter of law- that plaintiff was subject to the executive exemption.
The court’s brief description of the plaintiff’s duties was as follows:
Steven Jones currently works as a police supervisor with the rank of lieutenant at BCCC. (Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 44, at 2, Ex. 1; Deposition of Steven Jones, ECF No. 51, at 7–8.) Jones’s duties include making shift assignments, reviewing paperwork, responding to calls in the event he is needed, and “mak[ing] sure everybody is on their post, looking clean and doing their jobs.”
After noting that the defendant’s cited an outdated regulation as the basis for their exemption defense, the court ultimately held that the defendant failed to show that the plaintiff’s primary duties were the performance of exempt work:
Here, the defendants’ exemption claim fails summary judgment on two fronts. First, the defendants have failed to adduce any evidence that Jones has any responsibility with respect to hiring or firing or that his opinions are given “particular weight” with regard to these matters. See
29 C.F.R. § 541.105. Without such evidence, the defendants cannot sustain an exemption claim under § 541.100.
Second, taking the available facts regarding his job responsibilities in the light most favorable to Jones, the defendants have not convincingly demonstrated that, even though he supervises other officers, Jones’s primary duty is not law enforcement. See 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(b). As evidence that Jones primarily performs exempt work, the defendants point to Jones’s statement that his duties include “making shift assignments … review[ing] all paperwork and … respond[ing] to calls in the event an officer has an issue or my sergeant is unable to deal with an issue … mak[ing] sure everybody is on their post, looking clean and doing their jobs.” (Jones Dep. at 9.) However, in interpreting a similar job description (“a lieutenant’s ‘primary responsibility … is to make sure that their people in the field can handle any situation that happens at any time’ “), the Tenth Circuit noted that this description could merely encompass “the kind of front-line supervision” that the regulations deem “non-managerial.” Maestas, 664 F.3d at 830. Elsewhere in the record, Jones has indicated that his duties also include being “on-call” (Jones Dep. at 59), maintaining emergency generators when needed, ensuring campus safety, and setting up traffic barrels. Jones was, apparently, essential to front line security during the snow storms that caused him to work substantial overtime. Jones may perform enough non-exempt duties like these to fall outside the scope of the exemption. The defendants have certainly not demonstrated his job position falls squarely within an exemption. Accordingly, the defendants’ motion for summary judge with respect to Jones’s FLSA claim will be denied.
Click Jones v. Williams to read the entire Memorandum opinion.