On February 14, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held GlaxoSmithKline’s pharmaceutical sales representatives (“PSRs”) are exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements under the outside sales exemption, rejecting a contrary decision from the Second Circuit, and an amicus brief filed by the United States Department of Labor. Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 2834 (9th Cir. Feb. 14, 2011). The Ninth Circuit refused to defer to the DOL, finding the amicus brief was merely a new “reinterpretation” of the exemption by the DOL, set forth only in its amicus brief, not in any regulations, and constituted a break from pharmaceutical industry standards regarding what constitutes sales, which the DOL had not objected to since the FLSA’s inception decades ago. According to the Ninth Circuit, “[i]n this industry, [a] ‘sale’ is the exchange of non-binding commitments between the PSR and physician at the end of a successful call. . . . [F]or all practical purposes, this is a sale.” Id. at * 35 (emphasis added).
Based on this Circuit split and the existing split between the Second and Third Circuits over the application of the administrative exemption to PSRs (not at issue in the Ninth Circuit decision), the Supreme Court may be more likely to weigh in on this issue.
We will continue to monitor developments surrounding this evolving issue.