Most commonly, where an employee challenges his or her classification by his or her employer as exempt in an FLSA lawsuit, the defendant seeks summary judgment (opposed by plaintiff), arguing that the employer can establish as a matter of law based on the undisputed factual record that the exempt classification was appropriate. Less often, a plaintiff will move for summary judgment, arguing the evidence produced in discovery regarding the classification demonstrates as a matter law that the individual was non-exempt. A court recently rejected one such plaintiff’s motion, finding questions of fact as to applicability of the administrative exemption. Caveness v. Vogely & Todd, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98144 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 30, 2011)
Caveness concerned the job duties of plaintiff, a former estimator for the defendant body shop, which repaired and restored damaged vehicles. Plaintiff characterized her duties as being rote, and ministerial in nature, consisting of reviewing the visible vehicle damage, inputting the damage into a computer program, generating reports and following-up to ensure that the work was completed and that defendant was paid for its services. The body shop disputed this characterization of the duties, asserting that plaintiff “decided whether to: repair or replace damaged parts and components; use new, used, or refurbished parts; use parts manufactured by the original manufacturer or a third party; and, override computer software estimates regarding labor hours).” In rejecting plaintiff’s motion, the court found a questions of fact as to whether plaintiff’s work was “production” work (i.e., related to the body shop’s product of repairing vehicles), or rather related to the “general business operations” of the defendant. The court observed that defendant was in the business of repairing vehicles and plaintiff did not perform such repairs. The court also found questions of fact as to whether plaintiff exercised discretion and independent judgment in performing her work (as defendant alleged she did in determining whether to override computer estimates and also in independently determine the scheduling and prioritization of repair work), and whether plaintiff in fact worked more than 40 hours per week.
Caveness is yet another federal district court decision highlighting the highly specific and at times unclear analysis regarding the applicability of the administrative exemption. This analysis is especially murky when focused on whether a position is related to production (and accordingly outside the administrative exemption as a matter of law) or general business operations. It also points out that not tracking hours worked by exempt can create an additional trial issue and potentially subject the employer to liability based on the plaintiff’s assertions of hours worked. All employers should consider tracking hours for exempt employees in situations where the classification of exempt and non-exempt is not clear from court or agency precedent.