In a much-awaited decision, earlier this week  the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a New York District Court and held that pharmaceutical sales representatives are not exempt outside sales or administrative employees.  In re Novartis Wage & Hour Litig., No. 09-0437-cv, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 13708 (2d Cir. July 6, 2010). The Court concurred with and deferred to the position of the U.S. Secretary of Labor, who appeared as amicus curiae or “friend of the court” at the appellate stage, and stated that  “the Secretary of Labor’s interpretations of her regulations are entitled to “‘controlling’ deference unless those interpretations are ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’”   In essence, the Second Circuit held that the representatives do not meet the outside sales exemption because “where [an] 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[,] . . . 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.” In a similarly narrow interpretation of the FLSA, the Second Circuit, again deferring to the Secretary’s view, held that the representatives’ duties do not demonstrate the necessary exercise of independent discretion and judgment as to matters of significance for application of the administrative exemption, and performance of those duties required only skills gained through training

A petition for review likely will follow and the scope of the exemptions may need to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, in light of conflicting authority including the Third Circuit’s contrary decision applying the administrative exemption to pharmaceutical sales representatives.  See Smith v. Johnson & Johnson, 593 F.3d 280 (3d Cir. 2010)

For a more detailed analysis of the Second Circuit’s decision, click here

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[UPDATE].  On July 19, 2010, another district court within the Third Circuit relied on the Johnson & Johnson decision to hold that pharmaceutical sales representatives qualify for the administrative exemption.  Jackson v. Alpharma, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72435 (D.N.J. July 19, 2010).  The ever-growing and sharply divided body of authority regarding applicability of the administrative exemption in the pharmaceutical industry make In Re Novartis a candidate for Supreme Court review.  We will continue to monitor developments in the case.