One commonly held misconception in wage-and-hour law is that all investment professionals in the financial industry are categorically exempt from overtime pay. In a decision contrary to such assumption, Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York recently denied summary judgment to a boutique investment bank as to the exempt status of a financial analyst, and conditionally certified a class of similarly situated financial analysts, permitting the Plaintiff to invite them to join the case. Henderson v. Transp. Group, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66109 (S.D.N.Y., Jul. 1, 2010).

As a financial analyst, Plaintiff Henderson worked as the junior member of an investment team consisting of financial analysts, associates and vice presidents. Financial analysts, although the junior members of the bank’s deal teams, participated in all major tasks, including “(1) making telephone calls and sending emails to prospective investors in order to market transactions, (2) assisting in the development of financial models using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and (3) developing term sheets to finalize a deal.” Henderson received a starting salary of $35,000 per year, sufficient to satisfy the “salary basis” prong of the exempt status test.

The Court acknowledged throughout the opinion that these tasks could give rise to the requisite discretion and independent judgment necessary to qualify for the administrative exemption, but denied the motion based on the bank’s failure to provide specific evidence of how financial analysts exercised discretion in carrying out these tasks. The Court wrote:

“The defendants have not, however, submitted evidence describing the specific tasks performed in providing that support and assistance and in creating term sheets. Similarly, with respect to financial modeling, the defendants’ witness opines that ‘[p]utting together such a file is a sophisticated and dynamic process changing frequently in reaction to market and investor demand.’ But the witness does not describe, for example, what, if any, alternatives, variables, or considerations must be weighed to create or apply the model, how an analyst is expected to react to "market and investor demand," or what authority analysts possess to decide any matter of significance.”

Because this evidence of the nature and extent of the analysts’ discretion was lacking, the court denied summary judgment. This decision is consistent with other authority within the Circuit finding summary judgment inappropriate in applying the administrative exemption to analysts. See e.g. DiFilippo v. Barclays Capital, Inc., 552 F. Supp. 2d 417 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)(denying summary judgment as to applicability of administrative exemption to Government Clearance Analysts). 

Henderson is the most recent in a series of decisions pointing out concerns with a uniform exempt classification of financial services employees. Industry employers should review their current classifications of financial professionals as exempt or non-exempt as litigation of classification issues in the industry is expected to continue.