We previously discussed New York courts applying the FLSA’s executive exemption, which exempts employees whose primary duty is management (and who are paid on a salary basis) from minimum wage and overtime pay obligations. Recently, Judge Berman of the Southern District upheld the application of the exemption to a group of warehouse “Captains.” Ramos v. Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66631 (S.D.N.Y. June 16, 2011)(Berman, J).
Ramos concerned warehouse captains who oversee a team of 3-6 “pickers,” the employees responsible for compiling orders of merchandise within defendant’s warehouse and loading that merchandise onto trucks for delivery to defendant’s customers. Relying heavily on the testimony of plaintiff Jose Barranco, whom the parties stipulated would serve as the representative deponent for all eight Captain plaintiffs, the court observed that this testimonial evidence (along with other affidavits submitted by defendant from other Captains) established that each Captain was “in charge” of his pickers because captains:
· Ensured that pickers arrive to work on time;
· Ensured that pickers performed their job duties correctly and at an acceptable productivity level;
· Counseled pickers who worked too slowly or made too many mistakes;
· Gave particular assignments to specific pickers based on his or her belief that that individual picker could carry out the assigned task (i.e., obtain the correct product for the order);
· Participated in the performance evaluations for those on their team and served as the primary source of information for the night warehouse manager (the Captains’ own supervisor) concerning pickers’ performance;
· Could request transfer of pickers away from his or her team;
· Had the authority to issue a warning to a picker; and,
· Completed a picker production report for every picker on his team each night, and conducted a final sign-out and inspection of the pickers equipment.
Calling these tasks “clearly managerial,” the court ruled, in line with DOL regulations, that these managerial tasks constituted the pickers primary duty and that each captain’s team constituted a recognized “department or subdivision” over which that captain had managerial control. Finally, the court found that while the credible evidence established that a Captain could hire or fire pickers, such finding was not determinative as “courts uniformly reject arguments that an employee cannot be an exempt executive if he cannot make hiring or firing decisions.” Id. citing Pollard v. GPM Invs., LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24199 (E.D. Va. Mar. 10, 2011) (collecting cases).
This decision highlights the fact- intensive inquiry necessary to determine if an individual is an exempt executive, especially if the individual is a “front line” supervisor responsible for hands-on review of the work performed by non-exempt employees. Employers must continually analyze the appropriateness of their classification of managers as exempt executives under both federal and state law.