As discussed here and here, the availability of the FLSA’s administrative exemption continues to be a hotly-contested issue in wage and hour litigation. One of the many areas of dispute in applying the exemption concerns whether an employee performs a “production” role (rendering the exemption inapplicable) or an administrative role with duties related to the “general business operations” of the employer. 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a)(2). Last week, a federal district court in Minnesota ruled that three employees who provided consulting services regarding the use and configuration of the Defendant’s enterprise resource planning software satisfied the administrative exemption. See Cruz v. Lawson Software, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8184 (D. Minn. Jan. 27, 2011).
Plaintiffs in Cruz were Systems Consultants, Business Consultants and Technical Consultants of Lawson, who all spent approximately 80% of their time travelling to various sites and interfacing with Lawson’s clients regarding implementation of Lawson’s sophisticated software, designed to improve the client’s business operations. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that they were “production line workers” who simply applied rote processes to perform the same task over and over again (in this case, the upgrading of software product), and instead held Plaintiffs were “consulting to assist in configuring the software in order to improve efficiency in whatever particular area they are working in for the client – HR, procurement, etc.”—an administrative task, not a production task. Id. at * 34. The court determined that the Plaintiffs’ manual work necessary to implement a solution they developed (i.e., installing actual hardware or software) demonstrated the “prominence of the problem solving, planning and purchasing duties” the Plaintiffs performed for Defendant’s clients Id. at * 36. Interpreting DOL regulations, the Cruz court took an employer friendly view in defining Defendant’s “product” as the software suite itself, consistent with the regulation indicating that an employee who performs work relating the general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers is an administrative employee. 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a)(2). Thus, Plaintiffs were not “producers” of Defendant’s product, but rather administrative advisors as to how to best utilize that product.
The court also concluded that Plaintiffs satisfied the other requirement of the administrative exemption—“the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance”—because they assisted Defendant’s clients with training, troubleshooting and modifications. Id. at * 38 citing Verkuilen v. MediaBank, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 77407 (N.D. Ill. July 27, 2010).
This decision provides helpful guidance for businesses whose employees provide services, specifically technology based services, for its customers. However, as this is a fact-sensitive analysis, employers must assess on a case-by-case basis the type of work performed and whether it entails the necessary discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.