In light of other case law, a recent pro-employer decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, holding that a salaried dispatcher for a crane rental company qualified as an exempt administrative employee, adds credence to a question often asked by legal and human resources professionals: is the administrative exemption in the eye of the beholder? Rock v. Ray Anthony Int’l, LLC, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 10775 (11th Cir. Fla. May 26, 2010).

At the trial court level, the district court found that Rock’s duties as dispatcher included “customer communication, choosing the appropriate crane for specific jobs, assigning operators to cranes, overseeing other employees, preparing and reviewing job tickets, and maintaining the crane rental schedule . . . He was also responsible for selecting the type of materials, supplies, machinery, equipment, and tools that were needed to meet the customers’ needs.” Id. at * 5-6. The trial court concluded that these duties “related to servicing or running [defendant’s] general business operations”, rendering him eligible for the administrative exemption. Id. at * 6.

On appeal, Rock argued that the recently issued DOL Administrative Interpretation regarding loan officers (discussed here), which opined that employees performing sales work generally are engaged in “production” and not eligible for classification as exempt “administrative” employees, supported a non-exempt finding, as his responsibilities were “more akin to sales and retail.”

The Eleventh Circuit, relying on precedent within the Circuit, observed that “even when employees engage in sales, their duties are administrative if the majority of their time is spent advising customers, hiring and training staff, determining staff pay, and delegating matters to staff.” Id. at * 9 citing Hogan v. Allstate Ins. Co., 361 F.3d 621, 627 (11th Cir. 2004). Because the trial court found that Rock’s duties “went beyond mere sales” and included management of the crane division, the administrative classification was upheld.  Id.

Rock is welcome news for employers within the 11th Circuit’s purview of Florida, Georgia and Alabama. However, the general lack of clarity as to what constitutes “administrative” work is highlighted when the Rock decision is juxtaposed with a recent decision involving dispatchers issued by a New York federal court. In Iaria v. Metro Fuel Oil Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6844 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2009), the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment as to its classification of a dispatcher as an exempt administrative employees. In part, the Court’s decision in Iaria was premised on crediting the plaintiffs’ testimony that their duties did not involve supervisory or management responsibilities, but were limited to “monitoring drivers’ deliveries, responding to drivers’ problems, handling some customer service calls, routing, entering data in the computers, and checking the drivers’ logs.” Id. at * 3.  The Court stated that these dispatcher plaintiffs’ “duties relate more directly to the service and product that [defendant] provides — the delivery of fuel for heating — than they do to servicing the business.” Id. at * 11.   

Employers utilizing the administrative exemption, especially with sales and quasi-sales position, must closely review the DOL’s current position and the applicable law in their Circuit, as well as applicable state law, to ensure understanding of all potential risks.