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In an anxiously awaited decision the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision today holding that Pharmacy Reps are not entitled to overtime. Affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision holding pharma reps to be outside sales exempt the conservative majority’s decision was delivered by Justice Alito.
Click Christopher v. Smithkline Beecham Corp. to read the entire decision.
Schaefer-LaRose v. Eli Lilly & Co.
This case was before the Seventh Circuit on the consolidated appeals of two different summary judgment orders in two different cases. In one case, the trial court had granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment holding that, as a matter of law, pharmaceutical reps were not administratively exempt employees. In the other case, the trial court held that the pharmaceutical reps were subject to the administrative exemption, and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Resolving this issue, at least in the Seventh Circuit, the court agreed with the latter and held that pharma reps do in fact meet both of the duties prongs of the administrative exemption. In so doing, the court joined the Third Circuit and furthered the split with the Second Circuit which had previously held that pharma reps with virtually identical duties are not subject to the administrative exemption.
Initially, the court examined the first duties prong of the administrative exemption and held that the reps’ primary duty as pharmaceutical sales representatives was performance of office work directly related to their employers’ general business operations. In so doing, the Seventh Circuit seems to have taken a particularly broad view of the first prong, in line with other recent Seventh Circuit authority, but in contrast to other circuits such as the Second and Eleventh, which typically require that an administrative employee “run of service” the employer’s business or at least some aspect of it in order to fall under the exemption.
In holding that they exercised the requisite independent judgment and discretion, the court cited the arguments raised by the defendants that:
the pharmaceutical companies assert that the representatives had a host of core duties committed to their discretion, including determining how best to gain access to particular physicians and managing their limited discretionary budgets. Their primary argument, however, focuses on the discretion that an individual representative must employ in the course of an individual sales call with a physician to communicate effectively his employer’s core message to the specific audience and to address a physician’s particular concerns.
As in other recent cases regarding the administrative exemption, the Seventh Circuit seems to have lowered the bar for the level of discretion that an employee must exercise in order to qualify for the exemption. Whereas § 541.202(b) explains:
The phrase “discretion and independent judgment” must be applied in the light of all the facts involved in the particular employment situation in which the question arises. Factors to consider when determining whether an employee exercises discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance include, but are not limited to: whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices; whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to operation of a particular segment of the business; whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact; whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters; whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; whether the employee investigates and resolves matters of significance on behalf of management; and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes or resolving grievances.
the court seemed to simply conclude that the plaintiffs’ duties were sufficient because they exercised some level of discretion, a fact that the parties did not dispute. Discussing the discretion exercised by the plaintiffs, the court reasoned:
Beyond these physician interactions, which we consider to be the critical function of the job and the place in which discretion is most evident, the representatives’ other duties related to the actual call on the physician also manifest a substantial measure of judgment. Although representatives are given specific call plans identifying the physicians to be visited and the degree of frequency or priority category for each physician, several representatives testified that they apply a measure of strategic analysis to their work, choosing to see physicians not on their call plans or non-physicians who may influence prescribing patterns. See supra note 14 (describing discretion applied to call plans). They work collaboratively with one another, proposing comprehensive visit plans for the territories and checking in regularly by phone to keep each other abreast of developments in particular visits with physicians. Representatives also spend the vast majority of their time entirely unsupervised. Although they keep extensive records, through which management can and does monitor their progress, neither the fact that management reviews their work nor that they are required to keep such records detracts from the discretion they exercise in the core of their workday.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the plaintiffs’ principal duties involved the application of skill, rather than the judgment required for application of the exemption:
Finally, the plaintiffs and the Secretary briefly contend that the work of the representatives principally involves the application of skill, rather than judgment. Although they are correct that the regulations draw this distinction and caution that skill is insufficient to warrant the exemption, skill and judgment are not mutually exclusive. The records clearly demonstrate that the representatives receive extensive skills training, particularly on sales techniques. They most certainly employ this skill, and, indeed, many others in the course of their daily duties. Nevertheless, applying these skills entails a great deal of judgment. The job requires far more than “applying well-established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals.”
With the issue of whether pharmaceutical reps are subject to the outside sales exemption notwithstanding the fact that they technically do not make such sales currently before the Supreme Court, the conflict between the circuits may or may not continue to be significant in a few weeks time. Regardless of the effects of this decision on the ongoing pharma rep overtime battles, it is becoming more and more clear that the Seventh Circuit is the place employers want to be if they are arguing that any type of employee is administratively exempt.
Click Schaefer-LaRose v. Eli Lilly & Co. to read the entire Order.
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.
U.S.S.C.: Court Grants Certiorari to PSRs on Appeal of 9th Circuit Decision Holding Pharma Reps Exempt Under the FLSA’s Outside Sales Exemption
Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.
In a case with far sweeping ramifications for the pharmaceutical industry and its employees, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari to revisit the Ninth Circuit’s decision that held pharmaceutical representatives (pharma reps) to be exempt under the FLSA’s outside sales exemption, and therefore, entitled to overtime. The Supreme Court has granted Plaintiff’s Petition for Cert, and therefore the issue remains largely unresolved. In a decision discussed here, the Second Circuit had previously held that the pharma reps were non-exempt, notwithstanding the pharmaceutical companies’ arguments that they were outside sales and/or administrative exempt. While, the Third Circuit agreed that pharma reps were not outside salespeople because they did not complete any sales, in several cases, it has reached the conclusion that pharma reps are exempt under the administrative exemption. Most recently, the Ninth Circuit held that, notwithstanding the fact that pharma reps cannot and do not consummate sales, their promotional activities are close enough to render them exempt under the outside sales exemption. The Supreme Court has now granted cert in the Ninth Circuit case to potentially resolve the issue.
The Department of Labor had submitted an Amicus Brief in support of the employees in both the Second and Ninth Circuit cases. While the Second Circuit relied on the DOL’s Brief in large part, reaching its conclusion that the pharma reps are non-exempt, the Ninth Circuit rejected the arguments in the Brief. Now, the stage is set for the Supreme Court to resolve the conflict between the circuits once and for all.
The 2 certified issues the Supreme Court is set to hear are:
(1) Whether deference is owed to the Secretary of Labor’s interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s outside sales exemption and related regulations; and (2) whether the Fair Labor Standards Act’s outside sales exemption applies to pharmaceutical sales representatives.
Visit the scotusblog to read the full decision below as well as the parties’ briefings to date in Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.
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.
U.S.S.C.: Court Denies Certiorari to Novartis and Schering on Appeals of Decisions Finding Pharma Reps Non-Exempt Under the FLSA
Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. v. Lopes, Simona M. and Schering Corporation v. Kuzinski, Eugene, et al.
In a case with far sweeping ramifications for the pharmaceutical industry and its employees, following the Second Circuit’s decision that found pharmaceutical representatives (pharma reps) to be non-exempt and therefore, entitled to overtime, the Supreme Court has denied Plaintiff’s Petition for Cert, and therefore the issue remains largely unresolved. In a decision discussed here, the Second Circuit had previously held that the pharma reps were non-exempt, notwithstanding the pharmaceutical companies’ arguments that they were outside sales and/or administrative exempt. However, the Third Circuit, on facts it acknowledged were limited to the case before it, recently reached the opposite conclusion, holding Johnson & Johnson pharma reps to be exempt under the administrative exemption. Most recently, the Ninth Circuit held that, notwithstanding the fact that pharma reps cannot and do not consummate sales, their promotional activities are close enough to render them exempt under the outside sales exemption.
The Department of Labor had submitted an Amicus Brief in support of the employees in both the Second and Ninth Circuit cases. While the Second Circuit relied on the DOL’s Brief in large part, reaching its conclusion that the pharma reps are non-exempt, the Ninth Circuit rejected the arguments in the Brief.
It will be interesting to see if the large pharmaceutical companies, most of whom are in the midst of FLSA collective actions and/or state wage and hour class actions, will reclassify their pharma reps based on the Novartis decision. The stakes are huge, and the risk- if they chose not to- could be an imposition of liquidated damages, in addition to unpaid wage awards in any case(s) the employees win.
9th Cir.: Notwithstanding DOL’s Position Otherwise, Pharmaceutical Reps (PSRs) Are “Outside Sales” Exempt
Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.
This case was before the Ninth Circuit on the plaintiffs’ appeal from an order granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding plaintiffs’, pharmaceutical reps (“PSRs”), to be exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) under the “outside sales” exemption. Although the DOL, filed an Amicus Brief, explaining that the type of work performed by the PSRs did not come within the “outside sales” exemption, because the PSR’s did not perform any sales, the Ninth Circuit disagreed.
Reasoning that the PSR employees came within the outside sales exemption, notwithstanding the fact that they did not complete sales, the court essentially held that their work was close enough to sales, that it should be deemed sales:
“Absent an agency-determined result, it is the province of the court to construe the relevant statutes and regulations. N. Cal. River Watch, 620 F.3d at 1088-89. As noted supra, Plaintiffs argue that by not transferring any product to physicians, they are not selling pharmaceuticals, but only “promoting” them. Plaintiffs say this distinction is warranted in light of the rule that the FLSA be “narrowly construed against … employers.” Webster, 247 F.3d at 914. For its part, Glaxo urges us to view “sale” in Section 3(k) in a commonsensical fashion, while contending that the meaning of “sale” is permissive. Glaxo urges us to adopt the rationale that the phrase “other disposition” in Section 3(k)’s definition of “sale” is a broad catch-all category. This view was cited with approval by the district court here, and is supported by the Secretary’s usage, dating back to 1940, of the language that an employee must “in some sense make a sale.” 69 Fed.Reg. at 22,162 (quoting “Executive, Administrative, Professional Outside Salesman” Redefined, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Report & Recommendations of the Presiding Officer (Harold Stein) at Hearings Preliminary to Redefinition, at 46 (Oct. 10, 1940)) (emphasis added).
Plaintiffs’ contention that they do not “sell” to doctors ignores the structure and realities of the heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry. It is undisputed that federal law prohibits pharmaceutical manufacturers from directly selling prescription medications to patients. Plaintiffs suggest that despite being hired for their sales experience, being trained in sales methods, encouraging physicians to prescribe their products, and receiving commission-based compensation tied to sales, their job cannot “in some sense” be called selling. This view ignores the reality of the nature of the work of detailers, as it has been carried out for decades. Plaintiffs’ argument also fails to account for the fact that the relevant “purchasers” in the pharmaceutical industry, and the appropriate foci of our inquiry, are not the end-users of the drug but, rather, the prescribing physicians whom they importune frequently. See, e.g., Baum v. AstraZeneca LP, 605 F.Supp.2d 669, 678-79 (W.D.Pa.2009) (discussing why the “professional paradigm” places the physician as the relevant decision maker in the health services industry), aff’d on other grounds, 372 Fed. App’x 246 (3d Cir.2010). Unlike conventional retail sales, the patient is not at liberty to choose personally which prescription pharmaceutical he desires. As such, he cannot be fairly characterized as the “buyer.” Instead, it is patient’s physician, who is vested with both a moral and legal duty to prescribe medication appropriately, who selects the medication and is the appropriate focus of our “sell/buy” inquiry. In this industry, the “sale” is the exchange of non-binding commitments between the PSR and physician at the end of a successful call. Through such commitments, the manufacturer will provide an effective product and the doctor will appropriately prescribe; for all practical purposes, this is a sale. Because pharmaceutical manufacturers appreciate who the “real” buyer is, they have structured their 90,000-person sales force and their marketing tactics to accommodate this unique environment.
When a PSR visits a doctor, he or she attempts to obtain the absolute maximum commitment from his or her “buyer”-a non-binding commitment from the physician to prescribe the PSR’s assigned product when medically appropriate. In most industries, there are no firm legal barriers that prohibit the actual physical exchange of the goods offered for sale. Because such barriers do exist in this industry, the fact that commitments are non-binding is irrelevant; the record reveals that binding or non-binding, a physician’s commitment to a PSR is nevertheless a meaningful exchange because pharmaceutical manufacturers value these commitments enough to reward a PSR with increased commissions when a physician increases his or her use of a drug in the PSR’s bag. See, e.g., Baum, 605 F.Supp.2d at 681 (“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.”).
Moreover, the industry has agreed upon and abides by the PhRMA Code to regulate the marketing of medicine to healthcare professionals-just as any consumer-products maker might develop rules to limit the express warranties its sales force might offer to a customer. Such industry practice and prevailing customs should inform our disposition. Cf. Reiseck v. Universal Commc’ns of Miami, Inc., 591 F.3d 101, 106 (2d Cir.2010) (in resolving whether advertising sales director was an administrative or sales worker in the publishing industry “a careful consideration of [employer’s] business model provides some clarity”).
Under Plaintiffs’ view, PSRs are not salespeople, despite the fact that more than 90,000 pharmaceutical representatives make daily calls on physicians for the purpose of driving greater sales. See IMS Health, 616 F.3d at 14. We cannot square this view with Section 3(k)’s open-ended use of the word “sale,” which includes “other disposition[s].” While we recognize that the FLSA is to be narrowly construed in light of its remedial nature, that general principle does not mean that every word must be given a rigid, formalistic interpretation. For example, for over seventy years, the Secretary has emphasized a sensible application of the exemptions; in the Preamble to the 2004 Rule, the Secretary employs the openended concept that a salesman is someone who “in some sense” sells. 69 Fed.Reg. at 22,162-63 (emphasis added). In other words, while the Secretary asks us to narrowly interpret this exemption, she herself acknowledges that technical considerations alone and changes in the way sales are made should not be grounds for denying the exemption. See 69 Fed.Reg. at 22,162.
To further explain our common sense understanding of why PSRs make sales, we find the paradigm “outside salesman” case Jewel Tea Co. v. Williams-instructive. 118 F.2d 202 (10th Cir.1941). The importance of Jewel Tea is illustrated by the fact that both parties and the amicus offer it as favorable precedent for their conflicting positions.
Jewel Tea involved a FLSA overtime-wage suit brought by three employees of a tea, coffee, and sundry goods manufacturer and distributor. 118 F.2d at 203. The plaintiffs held the position of “route salesmen” to “sell and distribute” products to customers in their homes. Id. The area in which the company sold its goods was divided and “[e]ach salesman [was] assigned an exclusive territory which he cover[ed].” Id. The employees made no immediate deliveries but instead took orders for future delivery, although they might advance an item to a customer. Id. The company provided sales training and sent a supervisor with a new hire on early sales calls before permitting the employee to “go out on a route by himself.” Id. at 204. Further, employees were taught a “five-point sale” method to employ when speaking with customers. Id. A certain degree of knowledge about the products and potential customers was also required-“[t]he salesman must know recipes for the preparation of the Company’s products … [and] must learn the general requirements of each family, in order to avoid over-stocking his customer and in order to anticipate the family’s needs.” Id. After working in the field during the day, employees completed some clerical tasks at night. Id. at 205. Finally, employees were paid a base salary plus a commission if their collections were in excess of a sum certain. Id.
The Jewel Tea plaintiffs brought suit to collect unpaid overtime, asserting they did not fall within the “outside sales” exemption, primarily employing the argument that they were “delivery men.” Id. at 208. In its decision denying plaintiffs overtime pay, the Tenth Circuit penned the oft-quoted justification for the outside sales exemption:
The reasons for excluding an outside salesman are fairly apparent. Such salesman, to a great extent, works individually. There are no restrictions respecting the time he shall work and he can earn as much or as little, within the range of his ability, as his ambition dictates. In lieu of overtime, he ordinarily receives commissions as extra compensation. He works away from his employer’s place of business, is not subject to the personal supervision of his employer, and his employer has no way of knowing the number of hours he works per day. To apply hourly standards primarily devised for an employee on a fixed hourly wage is incompatible with the individual character of the work of an outside salesman. Id. at 207-08.
Reviewing the undisputed facts here, we consider the rationale for applying the outside sales exemption to PSRs to be as “apparent” as it was in Jewel Tea. Of course, this case does not involve door-to-door consumer-product sales. But, the FLSA is not an industry-specific statute. As the Second Circuit recognized in Reiseck, not all FLSA claims will involve the “archetypal businesses envisaged by the FLSA,” 591 F.3d at 106. Even though there are differences, it is notable that the salesmen in Jewel Tea and Plaintiffs here each (1) worked in assigned territories, (2) did not make immediate deliveries, (3) were required to analyze client backgrounds, (4) received product training, (5) employed a pre-planned routine for client interaction, (6) were accompanied by supervisors for training, (7) were later subject to minimal supervisor oversight, (8) completed clerical activities at the end of the day, and (9) had a dual salary and commission-based compensation plan tied to their performance. Even though PSRs lack some hallmarks of the classic salesman, the great bulk of their activities are the same, as is the overarching purpose of obtaining a commitment to purchase (prescribe) something.
The primary duty of a PSR is not promoting Glaxo’s products in general or schooling physicians in drug development. These are but preliminary steps toward the end goal of causing a particular doctor to commit to prescribing more of the particular drugs in the PSR’s drug bag. Without this commitment and the concomitant increase in prescriptions, or drug volume, or market share-i.e. without more sales-the PSR would not receive his or her commission salary and could soon find himself or herself unemployed. While not all steps in the PSR’s daily activities constitute “selling,” that fact does not render the totality of those activities non-exempt promotion; “work performed incidental to and in conjunction with the employee’s own outside sales or solicitations … shall be regarded as exempt outside sales work … [and] … other work that furthers the employee’s sales efforts also shall be regarded as exempt work.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.500(b).
The Secretary’s distinction between selling and promoting is only meaningful if the employee does not engage in any activities that constitute “selling” under the Act. This much is seen from the plain language of the regulations, which gives the example of promotional work as “a company representative who visits chain stores, arranges the merchandise on shelves, replenishes stock by replacing old with new merchandise, sets up displays and consults with the store manager when inventory runs low, but does not obtain a commitment for additional purchases.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.503(c) (emphasis added). PSRs do far more than collect general data or provide consultations; indeed they ask for, and sometimes obtain, a commitment by the doctor to prescribe Glaxo drugs, and whether the doctor keeps that commitment is verified and traced using aggregated pharmacy data Glaxo collects. See IMS Health, 550 F.3d at 44-47 (“A valuable tool in this endeavor, available through the omnipresence of computerized technology, is knowledge of each individual physician’s prescribing history.”).
In Reisick, the Second Circuit highlighted an important distinction between selling and promoting, noting that the latter is directed to the public at large, as opposed to a particular client:
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. Reiseck, 591 F.3d at 107. At Glaxo, Plaintiffs had no interest in “generally” promoting sales by the company or improving sales across the board. Rather, Plaintiffs directed their sales efforts only towards certain products, only to a discrete group of physicians, and only within a defined geographic area. Targeting physicians is not based on mass appeals or general advertisements, but is the result of a personalized review of each physician’s prescribing habits and history. The process, like any sales process, is tailored to the customer’s preferences.
We also find that the Secretary’s acquiescence in the sales practices of the drug industry for over seventy years further buttresses our decision. The outside sales exemption has existed since 1938. Detail men have practiced their craft over that same period. Generally, they have been considered salespeople. Until the Secretary’s appearance in Novartis, the DOL did not challenge the conventional wisdom that detailing is the functional equivalent of selling pharmaceutical products. Indeed, the DOL has recognized as much in its Dictionary of Occupation Titles, which provides the following definition for pharmaceutical detailers:
Promotes use of and sells ethical drugs and other pharmaceutical products to physicians, [dentists], hospitals, and retail and wholesale drug establishments, utilizing knowledge of medical practices, drugs, and medicines: Calls on customers, informs customer of new drugs, and explains characteristics and clinical studies conducted with drug. Discusses dosage, use, and effect of new drugs and medicinal preparations. Gives samples of new drugs to customer. Promotes and sells other drugs and medicines manufactured by company. May sell and take orders for pharmaceutical supply items from persons contacted.
D.O.L. Dictionary of Occupational Titles § 262.157-010 (4th ed.1991) (emphases added). Likewise, although it emerged in a different context, we find Judge Posner’s observation in Yi v. Sterling Collison Centers, Inc., 480 F.3d 505, 510-11 (7th Cir.2007), informative-while it is “possible for an entire industry to be in violation of the [FSLA] for a long time without the Labor Department noticing[, the] more plausible hypothesis is that the … industry has been left alone” because DOL believed its practices were lawful.
In view of many similarities between PSRs and salespeople in other fields, pharmaceutical industry norms, and the acquiescence of the Secretary over the last seventy-plus years, we cannot accord even minimal Skidmore deference to the position expressed in the amicus brief. Under Skidmore, “[t]he fair measure of deference to an agency administering its own statute has been understood to vary with circumstances, and courts have looked to the degree of the agency’s care, its consistency, formality, and relative expertness, and to the persuasiveness of the agency’s position.” United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 228 (2001) (internal citations omitted); see also League of Wilderness Defenders v. Forsgren, 309 F.3d 1181, 1189 (9th Cir.2002) (quoting Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140) (internal quotation marks omitted). Many, if not all, of these hallmarks of “respectful” deference are absent here. The about-face regulation, expressed only in ad hoc amicus filings, is not enough to overcome decades of DOL nonfeasance and the consistent message to employers that a salesman is someone who “in some sense” sells. Moreover, we are unable to accept an argument that fails to account for industry customs and emphasizes formalism over practicality, in particular the argument that “obtaining a commitment to buy” is the sine qua non of the exemption. Under the Secretary’s view, “sale” means unequivocally the final execution of a legally binding contract for the exchange of a discrete good. In addition to the point that such stringent wording is not found in Section 3(k), or plausibly implied from phrases like “other disposition,” the Secretary’s approach transforms what since the time of Jewel Tea has been recognized as a multi-factor review of an employee’s functions into a single, stagnant inquiry.
Telephones, television, shopping malls, the Internet and general societal progress have largely relegated the professional pitchman embodied in Jewel Tea to the history books. But selling continues, and, as in prior eras, a salesperson learns the nuances of a product and those of his or her potential clientele, tailors a scripted message based on intuition about the customer, asks for the customer to consider her need for the product, and then receives a commission when the customer’s positive impression ultimately results in a purchase.
For the past seventy-plus years, selling in the pharmaceutical industry has followed this process. PSRs are driven by their own ambition and rewarded with commissions when their efforts generate new sales. They receive their commissions in lieu of overtime and enjoy a largely autonomous work-life outside of an office. The pharmaceutical industry’s representatives-detail men and women-share many more similarities than differences with their colleagues in other sales fields, and we hold that they are exempt from the FLSA overtime-pay requirement.
For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the district court’s summary judgment for Defendant-Appellee SmithKline Beecham Corporation.”
Click Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp. to read the entire decision.
S.D.Tex.: Upon Reconsideration, Pharmaceutical Reps Nonexempt; Court Elects To Adopt Second Circuit’s Reasoning
Harris v. Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
This case was before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration of the court’s prior decision granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The court had previously held that the Plaintiff’s, pharmaceutical representatives were exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) under both the administrative and outside sales exemptions. Plaintiff sought reconsideration in light of the United States Secretary of Labor’s amicus curiae brief filed in In re Novartis Wage and Hour Litigation. Granting the Plaintiff’s Motion, the court reversed itself, finding that the Second Circuit’s recent opinion was more persuasive than the contrary jurisprudence.
Discussing the exemption issues, the court reasoned:
“In its previous order, this Court determined that Harris could not bring a FLSA claim because her position as a Medical Sales Consultant (“MSC”), or pharmaceutical representative, took her out of FLSA’s purview. This Court found that the MSC position was exempt from FLSA under the “administrative” and “outside sales” exemptions.
Shortly after this Court’s order came out, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) filed an amicus curiae brief in a case then pending before the Second Circuit, In re Novartis Wage & Hour Litigation, 611 F.3d 141 (2010). In Novartis, The DOL argued that, under its regulations, pharmaceutical representatives “do not meet the requirements for either the outside sales or administrative exemption.” (Br. for the Secretary of Labor as Amicus Curiae in Supp. of Pls.-Appellants, Doc. No. 106-2, at 5.) Regarding the outside sales exemption, the DOL noted that, “[b]ecause the [pharmaceutical representatives] do not sell any drugs or obtain any orders for drugs, and can at most obtain from the physicians a non-binding commitment to prescribe NPC’s drugs to their patients when appropriate, [they] do not meet the regulation’s plain and unmistakable requirement that their primary duty must be ‘making sales.’ “ (Id. at 10.) Under the administrative exemption, the DOL noted that, although pharmaceutical representatives work independently, that “does not suffice to qualify for the administrative exemption; [the representatives] do not perform any primary duties that are largely comparable to those found in 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b), such as formulating or implementing management policies, utilizing authority to deviate from established policies, providing expert advice, or planning business objectives.” (Doc. No. 106-2, at 21.)
While this motion for reconsideration was pending at this Court, the Second Circuit concluded that under the DOL’s regulations, pharmaceutical representatives are not outside salesmen or administrative employees for the purposes of FLSA’s overtime pay requirements. Novartis, 611 F.3d at 149. The Novartis court determined that the DOL’s interpretations were “entitled to ‘controlling’ deference,” id., under the Supreme Court’s decision in Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997).
After a review of the applicable authority, this Court adopts the reasoning of the Second Circuit and holds that Plaintiffs are not outside salesmen or administrative employees under FLSA. This Court recognizes that district courts are split on the issue, and that some courts have specifically rejected the DOL’s reasoning as set forth in its Novartis amicus brief. See, e.g., Christopher v. SmithKlein Beecham Corp., 2010 WL 396300, at *1-2 (D.Ariz. Feb. 1, 2010). In this Court’s opinion, however, the Novartis court sets forth a persuasive and reasoned analysis for its deference to the DOL’s interpretation of its regulations. As the Novartis court pointed out, the DOL’s interpretations “do far more than merely parrot the language of the FLSA,” and are therefore “entitled to ‘controlling’ deference unless those interpretations are ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’ “ 611 F.3d at 153 (quoting Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997)). This Court further agrees that no such error or inconsistency exists. Id.
Auxilium points this Court to two opinions in the Third Circuit that came to the opposite conclusion on this question: Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, 593 F.3d 280 (3d Cir.2010), and Baum v. AstraZeneca LP, 372 F. App’x 246 (3d Cir.2010). Neither of these cases, however, considers the impact of the DOL’s amicus brief on their decisions. Therefore, they do not provide a reasoned counterweight to the Second Circuit’s analysis.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: There continues to be a split of authority with respect to whether pharmaceutical representatives are exempt or nonexempt under the FLSA. Within the last week, another court, analyzing the very same issue–whether reconsideration (of an order granting defendant summary judgment) in light of the Novartis ruling and the DOL’s amicus brief(s) was warranted–another court held that the decision was not due to be reconsidered and allowed its prior decision to stand. Schaefer-Larose v. Eli Lilly and Co., 2010 WL 3892464, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 29, 2010).
Jackson v. Alpharma, Inc.
Less than a month after the Second Circuit held that pharmaceutical representatives, who performed typical marketing duties, were non-exempt and entitled to overtime pay, a District Court in New Jersey reminds us that the Third Circuit disagrees, and believes that pharma reps are administrative exempt. However, like some other courts before it, the Court declined to address whether such employees qualify for the outside sales exemption as well.
The Court cited the following facts as relevant to its inquiry:
“The plaintiffs worked as PSRs for Alpharma, which manufactures Kadian and Flector, two treatments for pain. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 2-4; Doc. No. 81-4.) Because of federal statutes and regulations, Kadian and Flector can be sold or dispensed to the public only by a prescription written by a licensed healthcare professional. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Therefore, plaintiffs did not “sell” the drugs, but rather called on doctors and pharmacies to encourage them to prescribe or stock Alpharma’s products over the products of its competitors. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 6.)
Defendant paints a picture of the PSR with unlimited autonomy, given only a list of doctors and an expense account with which to effectuate their goal. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 38-71.) The facts that defendant highlights to pinpoint the PSRs’ discretion include: (1) that each PSR worked alone and not with partners or on teams; (2) that plaintiffs spent only two days with their District Manager every one to two months; (3) that upon the beginning of their employment with Alpharma, each plaintiff was given a list of 500 physicians in their territory, and it was up to each PSR to narrow this list to approximately 120 physicians, and further that it was up to each PSR to decide how best to contact these doctors and move their business; (4) that PSRs had similar experiences when dealing with pharmacies; (5) that the PSRs planned their own routing, the process by which they would map out what their activities would be for the upcoming weeks; and (6) that each PSR prepared an annual business plan, which laid out how the PSR intended to grow his or her business in the coming year.
Plaintiffs, on the other hand, paint a picture of Alpharma “micro-managing” its PSRs. Alpharma notes that from the beginning of their employment, Alpharma PSRs receive training and instruction from Alpharma specifically designed to ensure the Alpharma Representatives did not deviate from corporate-approved messages about the drugs. (Pl.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 22; Doc. No. 83-1.) Plaintiffs also state that they had no discretion concerning, and did not exercise independent judgment in framing Alpharma’s message, and Alpharma explicitly directed its PSRs to use company scripted messages. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-25.) Further, with respect to Kadian, plaintiffs state that they had no discretion in describing its effectiveness, but instead were trained to adhere to the information that was already on the package insert. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Alpharma also provided specific information in the form of handouts and promotional literature that could not be altered or modified by the PSRs, nor could the PSRs develop their own aids to use in their work. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Further, according to plaintiffs, their direct supervisors were micro-managers that “wanted to know everything you were doing” and required plaintiffs to check in with management at least three times per day. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.)”
Reasoning that that Plaintiffs were exempt under the administrative exemption, the Court stated:
“The parties concede that the plaintiffs in this case meet the salary requirement of the rules. (Pl.’s Br. in Opp. at Fn. 8; Doc. No. 83.) The main disputes are the second and third prongs: whether the PSRs work is directly related to management or general business operations, and whether the PSRs exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.
With respect to the second prong, the phrase “directly related to the management or general business operations” refers to the type of work performed by the employee. “To meet this requirement, an employee must perform work directly related to assisting with the running or servicing of the business.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.201(a). The regulations distinguish this type of work from, for example, “working on a manufacturing production line” or “selling a product in a retail or service establishment.” Id. The regulations state that “[w]ork directly related to management or general business operations includes, but is not limited to, work in functional areas such as … advertising; marketing … and similar activities.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.201(b). The regulations specifically include “marketing” and “promoting sales” in the definition of general business operations. Id. Because the PSRs in this case were clearly marketing and promoting the sale of Alpharma’s products, the Court concludes that they were performing work “directly related to the management or general business operations” of Alpharma.
With respect to the third prong:
In general, the exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves the comparison and the evaluation of possible courses of conduct, and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered. The term “matters of significance” refers to the level of importance or consequence of the work performed. 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(a).
Defendant argues that the primary duties of the PSRs require discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. (Def.’s Br. at 24; Doc. No. 81-2.) Defendant relies heavily on Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, 593 F.3d 280 (3d Cir.2010), the pending outcome of which caused this matter to be stayed. In Smith, the Third Circuit held that a pharmaceutical sales representative was not entitled to overtime pay because she qualified for the administrative exemption under the FLSA. Id. at 285. In Smith, the plaintiff testified regarding the independent and managerial qualities that her position required. Smith described herself as “the manager of her own business who could run her own territory as she saw fit.” Id. Though the duties of a particular position is a fact-sensitive inquiry, the facts in Smith are startlingly similar to the case at bar. Johnson & Johnson (“J & J”), Smith’s employer, gave her a list of target doctors that it created and told her to complete an average of ten visits for day. Id. at 282. J & J left the itinerary and order of Smith’s visits to the target doctors to her discretion. Id. The J & J target list identified “high-priority” doctors that issued a large number of prescriptions for the drug that Smith was promoting, or a competing product. Id. While meeting with doctors, Smith worked off of a prepared “message” that J & J provided, although she had “some discretion when deciding how to approach the conversation. Id. J & J gave her visual aids and did not permit her to use other aids.” Id.
Here, the plaintiffs were assigned a geographic territory for which they were solely responsible. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 40; Doc. No. 81-4.) They worked alone the majority of the time. (Id. at ¶ 42.) PSRs controlled their territory by developing business plans designed to grow their business and also by governing their own day-to-day activities (Id. at ¶ 72.) PSRs decided when and where to travel (their “routing”) and with whom to meet in order to effectuate the most business. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶¶ 51, 67-68.) In executing individual calls, the plaintiffs had discretion by deciding how to approach the physician, what topics to discuss with the physician, and what materials to use (though the universe of materials were provided to them, as in Smith ). (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at 59, 83, 97.)
Plaintiffs argue that this case is distinguishable from Smith, because here the plaintiffs worked under a “closely supervised and tightly controlled regime, exercising no independence and discretion in any important matters.” (Pl.’s Br. in Opp. at 35; Doc. No. 83.) Plaintiffs argue that the controlling nature of Alpharma, as noted in the facts section above, differs from the type of “freelancing” done by the plaintiff in Smith. (Id. at 36.) Further, plaintiffs note that the regulations provide a nonexhaustive list of factors for use in the Court’s examination of whether or not an employee exercises the requisite discretion and judgment to fit within the exemption. (Id. at 31.) The list includes: whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to the operation of a particular segment of the business; … whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; … whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; … and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes, or resolving grievances. 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b). Plaintiffs argue that they do not meet a single one of the identified factors, nor any surrogates of those factors, and thus do not exercise discretion or independent judgment. (Pls.’ Br. at 32; Doc. No. 83.)
The Court concludes that the plaintiffs in this case, like the plaintiff in Smith, qualify for the administrative employee exemption. While this case lacks the direct testimony of the plaintiffs regarding their autonomy and independent nature, the underlying facts differ little from the facts in Smith. Through either stipulation or undisputed facts (not plaintiffs’ characterizations of those facts), it is clearly shown that the plaintiffs in this case (1) earn a salary high enough to qualify for the first prong of the exemption, (2) perform non-manual work directly related to the general business operations of their employer, and (3) exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. Of the ten factors listed in § 541.202(b), the Court concludes that the plaintiffs satisfy the same two that Smith did: their work for advancing the sales of their products within their territories “affects business operations to a substantial degree,” and they are “involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives” related to the marketing of their products within their territories. 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b). These conclusions are buttressed by the plaintiffs’ duties to write reports and business plans to determine where their business was coming from, to detect trends in the sales of the drug, and to generate ideas on how to grow the business. (Def.’s 56.1 Stmt. at ¶ 76; Doc. No. 81-4.)
In supplemental submissions, the plaintiffs direct the Court’s attention to two new cases: Jirak v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., Civ. No. 07-3626 (N.D. Ill. June 10, 2010) (Doc. No. 85) and In re Novartis Wage and Hour Litigation, Civ. No. 09-0437 (2d Cir. July 6, 2010) (Doc. No. 87). In light of the Third Circuit’s clear opinion in Smith, and subsequent nonprecedential opinion in Baum v. Astrazeneca LP, 2010 U.S.App. LEXIS 6047 (3d Cir. Mar. 24, 2010), the Court does not find it necessary to discuss these other cases.”
Although the holding here should come as no surprise, given Third Circuit precedent, it does create a situation where abutting districts (New Jersey and the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York) ascribe entirely different meanings to the administrative exemption generally, and specifically its effect on the classification of pharmaceutical reps. With so much at stake, it’s likely this conflict of law is headed to the United States Supreme Court for resolution.
To read the entire decision, click here.
In re Novartis Wage and Hour Litigation
This case was before the Second Circuit on Plaintiffs’ appeal of the lower Court’s Order granting Defendant summary judgment, which held that Plaintiffs, Pharmaceutical Representatives, were exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA under both the outside sales exemption and the administrative sales exemption. Reversing the Court below, the Second Circuit held that, based on their duties, the Plaintiffs were neither outside sales exempt nor administrative sales exempt.
Discussing the outside sales exemption first, the Court explained:
“We note that the distinction between obtaining commitments to buy and promoting sales by other persons has been respected in areas other than the pharmaceutical industry. See, e.g., Gregory v. First Title of America, Inc., 555 F.3d 1300, 1309 (11th Cir.2009) (employee who obtained commitments to buy her employer’s title insurance service and was credited with those sales, and all of whose efforts were directed towards the consummation of her own sales and not towards stimulating sales for the employer in general, was an outside sales employee within the meaning of the FLSA and the regulations); Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224, 1228 (10th Cir.2008) (civilian military recruiters who did not obtain commitments from recruits were not outside salesmen within the meaning of, e.g., 29 C.F.R. § 541.504); Wirtz v. Keystone Readers Service, Inc., 418 F.2d 249, 253, 260 (5th Cir.1969) (“student salesmen” were not outside sales employees where their promotional activities were incidental to sales made by others).
We think it clear that the above regulations, defining the term “sale” as involving a transfer of title, and defining and delimiting the term “outside salesman” in connection with an employee’s efforts to promote the employer’s products, do far more than merely parrot the language of the FLSA. The Secretary’s interpretations of her regulations are thus entitled to “controlling” deference unless those interpretations are “ ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’ “ Auer, 519 U.S. at 461 (quoting Robertson v. Methow Valley Citizens Council, 490 U.S. 332, 359 (1989) (other internal quotation marks omitted)).
We find no such inconsistency and see no such error. Although Novartis contends that the position taken by the Secretary as amicus on this appeal is contrary to the regulations, we disagree. The basic premise of the regulations explaining who may properly be considered an exempt “outside salesman”-a term for which the FLSA explicitly relies on the Secretary to promulgate defining and delimiting regulations-is that an employee is not an outside salesman unless he does “in some sense make the sales,” 2004 Final Rule at 22162. And although that phrase (on which Novartis relies heavily (see, e.g., Novartis brief on appeal at 12, 22, 25, 29)) does not appear in any of the regulations that explicate the term “outside salesman,” the regulations quoted above make it clear that a person who merely promotes a product that will be sold by another person does not, in any sense intended by the regulations, make the sale. The position taken by the Secretary on this appeal is that when an employee promotes to a physician a pharmaceutical that may thereafter be purchased by a patient from a pharmacy if the physician-who cannot lawfully give a binding commitment to do so-prescribes it, the employee does not in any sense make the sale. Thus, the interpretation of the regulations given by the Secretary in her position as amicus on this appeal is entirely consistent with the regulations.
Nor can we conclude that the regulations constitute an erroneous interpretation of the FLSA definition of “sale” to “include [ ] any sale, exchange, contract to sell, consignment for sale, shipment for sale, or other disposition,” 29 U.S.C. § 203(k). Although the phrase “other disposition” is a catch-all that could have an expansive connotation, we see no error in the regulations’ requirement that any such “other disposition” be “in some sense a sale.” Such an ejusdem generis-type interpretation is consistent with the interpretive canon that exemptions to remedial statutes such as the FLSA are to be read narrowly, see Arnold, 361 U.S. at 392; see generally A.H. Phillips, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 490, 493 (1945), and is neither erroneous nor unreasonable, see, e.g., Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842-43 (1984). We accordingly owe the Secretary’s interpretation deference, and we turn to the question of its applicability to the present cases.
There is no genuine dispute over the sales path generally traversed by Novartis pharmaceuticals. As described in Part I.A. above, Novartis sells its drugs to wholesalers; the wholesalers then sell them to pharmacies; and the pharmacies ultimately sell the drugs to patients who have prescriptions for them. The Reps promote the drugs to the physicians; the Reps do not speak to the wholesalers or to the pharmacies or to the patients.
Nor is there any dispute as to what occurs during the Reps’ “sales” calls on physicians. The meetings are brief-generally less than five minutes-and the physicians neither buy pharmaceuticals from the Reps nor commit to buying anything from the Reps or from Novartis. The Reps may give physicians free samples, but the Reps cannot transfer ownership of any quantity of the drug in exchange for anything of value. The physician is of course an essential step in the path that leads to the ultimate sale of a Novartis product to an end user; a patient cannot purchase the product from a pharmacy without a prescription, and it is the physician who must be persuaded that a particular Novartis drug may appropriately be prescribed for a particular patient. But it is reasonable to view what occurs between the physicians and the Reps as less than a “sale.”
Novartis suggests that “sale” should be read broadly in light of the statement in the Preamble that “ ‘[e]mployees have a primary duty of making sales if they “obtain a commitment to buy ” from the customer and are credited with the sale.’ “ (Novartis brief on appeal at 23 (quoting 2004 Final Rule at 22162) (emphases in brief).) It argues that the Reps “make sales in some sense” because “they are responsible for eliciting commitments from the physicians on whom they call to write prescriptions for NPC drugs and that these prescriptions are, in essence, orders for NPC drugs to be used by the patients in purchasing the drugs from pharmacies.” (Novartis brief on appeal at 25-26 (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).) Novartis’s emphatic reliance on the word “commitments,” however, does not lead to a conclusion that the Reps make sales, for it ignores the nature of the “commitment” expressly envisioned by the Secretary in enacting the regulations: “a commitment to buy,” 2004 Final Rule at 22162, 22163 (emphasis added). The type of “commitment” the Reps seek and sometimes receive from physicians is not a commitment “to buy” and is not even a binding commitment to prescribe. As the district court noted, “physicians have an ethical obligation to prescribe only drugs suitable for their patients’ medical needs, meaning that they cannot make a binding commitment to a Rep to prescribe ” a particular Novartis product. Novartis I, 593 F.Supp.2d at 650 (emphasis added). Thus, although physicians may say that they will prescribe a given Novartis drug for patients with appropriate diagnoses, such an assurance is not a binding commitment, and physicians remain entirely free to prescribe a competing product made by a company other than Novartis.
In sum, where the employee promotes a pharmaceutical product to a physician but can transfer to the physician nothing more than free samples and cannot lawfully transfer ownership of any quantity of the drug in exchange for anything of value, cannot lawfully take an order for its purchase, and cannot lawfully even obtain from the physician a binding commitment to prescribe it, we conclude that it is not plainly erroneous to conclude that the employee has not in any sense, within the meaning of the statute or the regulations, made a sale.
Novartis points out that a number of district courts have held that pharmaceutical sales representatives are exempt from the FLSA overtime pay requirements as outside salesmen (and/or administrative employees). Those cases are, of course, not binding on us, and their reasoning does not persuade us that the Secretary’s interpretations of the regulations should be disregarded. To the extent that the pharmaceuticals industry wishes to have the concept of “sales” expanded to include the promotional activities at issue here, it should direct its efforts to Congress, not the courts. Given the existing statute and regulations, we conclude that the district court should have ruled that the Reps are not outside salesmen within the meaning of the FLSA and the regulations.”
Next the Court rejected the lower Court’s holding that the Plaintiffs were administratively exempt:
“On appeal, the Reps contend that they do “low-level, discretionless marketing work, strictly controlled by Novartis,” and that their duties and authority do not satisfy the requirements for applicability of the administrative employee exemption. (Plaintiffs’ brief on appeal at 40.) Novartis, in contending that the Reps exercise discretion and independent judgment, argues that the Reps, for example, “must determine how best to develop a rapport with a physician and develop strategies to engage physicians in an interactive dialogue to draw out their patient concerns, treatment styles and predilections”; must “be able to react to expressed physician concerns by emphasizing particular clinical findings regarding the efficacy and safety of NPC’s drugs for specific patient types”; “must determine when and how to deliver the [Novartis-determined core] message, taking into consideration,” e.g., “the prior call history with each physician, the physician’s time constraints, expressed concerns, prescription-writing tendencies and patient population”; and must “determine how best to close each call by evaluating whether sufficient groundwork has been laid to seek the physician’s commitment on that call to write prescriptions.” (Novartis brief on appeal at 50-51.)
The Secretary points out that the regulations make clear that the requirement for authority to “exercise … discretion and independent judgment” means more than simply the need to use skill in applying well-established techniques or procedures prescribed by the employer, see 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(e). The Secretary takes the position that for the administrative exemption to apply to the Reps, the regulations require a showing of a greater degree of discretion, and more authority to use independent judgment in matters of significance, than Novartis allows the Reps. Again we find it appropriate to defer to the Secretary’s interpretation.
Comparing the record as to the Reps’ primary duties against the illustrative factors set out in § 541.202(b), for example, we see no evidence in the record that the Reps have any authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement Novartis’s management policies or its operating practices, or that they are involved in planning Novartis’s long-term or short-term business objectives, or that they carry out major assignments in conducting the operations of Novartis’s business, or that they have any authority to commit Novartis in matters that have significant financial impact. Although Novartis argues that the Reps do commit Novartis financially when they enter into contracts with hotels, restaurants, and other venues for promotional events, “which may cost NPC thousands of dollars” (Novartis brief on appeal at 3-4), the record reveals that the Reps have been given budgets for such events by the Novartis managers and that the Reps have no discretion to exceed those budgets. Nor have we been pointed to any evidence that the Reps have authority to negotiate and bind Novartis on any significant matters, or have authority to waive or deviate from Novartis’s established policies and procedures without its prior approval. What Novartis characterizes as the Reps’ exercise of discretion and independent judgment-ability to answer questions about the product, ability to develop a rapport with a physician who has a certain social style, ability to remember past conversations with a given physician, ability to recognize when a message has been persuasive-are skills gained and/or honed in their Novartis training sessions. As described in Part I.A. above, these skills are exercised within severe limits imposed by Novartis. Thus, it is undisputed that the Reps, inter alia,
• have no role in planning Novartis’s marketing strategy;
• have no role in formulating the “core messages” they deliver to physicians;
• are required to visit a given physician a certain number of times per trimester as established by Novartis;
• are required to promote a given drug a certain number of times per trimester as established by Novartis;
• are required to hold at least the number of promotional events ordered by Novartis;
• are not allowed to deviate from the promotional “core messages”;
• and are forbidden to answer any question for which they have not been scripted.
Novartis argues that the Reps exercise a great deal of discretion because they are free to decide in what order to visit physicians’ offices, free to decide how best to gain access to those offices, free to decide how to allocate their Novartis budgets for promotional events, and free to determine how to allocate their samples. (See Novartis brief on appeal at 51.) In light of the above controls to which Novartis subjects the Reps, we agree with the Secretary that the four freedoms advanced by Novartis do not show that the Reps are sufficiently allowed to exercise either discretion or independent judgment in the performance of their primary duties. Accordingly, we conclude that the district court should have ruled that the Reps are not bona fide administrative employees within the meaning of the FLSA and the regulations.”
To read the entire decision, click here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On the same day it handed down this decision, the Second Circuit also affirmed, by summary order, the decision from a lower court that held pharmaceutical representatives employed by Schering Corp. were not outside sales exempt under the FLSA. To read the entire summary order in Kuzinski v. Schering Corp., click here.