If you were a “captain” in a wholesale food warehouse, would you be exempt or nonexempt? What if you earned $700 a week? Still not certain, because the job duties are key to the question.
What happened. A New York group of such captains, who worked for Baldor Specialty Foods, sued the employer, claiming they”d been misclassified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and seeking back overtime. Furthermore, they sued on behalf of everyone who held the title of captain and worked the night shift, as they did—some 20 employees.
The plaintiffs, who numbered eight, directed the work of employees called “pickers,” who drove trucks into the warehouse and loaded them with products ordered by Baldor’s customers. The captains assigned different types of work to pickers, tried to improve team performance over time, and prepared individual picker production reports.
The captains understood that their weekly salaries (well over the minimum of $455 for exemption); their responsibility to supervise two or more employees; and their ability to hire and fire or at least make suggestions and recommendations about hiring, firing, and advancement of pickers all qualified them for exemption as executives (as opposed to administrators or professionals). But there’s a fourth criterion for the executive exemption—the primary duty of management of the enterprise in which the employee works or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision of the company.
Not only did the plaintiffs lack offices, chairs, and other executive accoutrements, but they maintained that all they did was supervise workers loading vegetables and other food onto trucks. That didn’t amount, according to them, to managing even departments or subdivisions, much less the whole company. A federal district judge disagreed, however, so the plaintiffs appealed to the 2nd Circuit, which covers Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.
What the court said. Appellate judges noted that each captain was in charge of a team with a defined membership. Judges couldn’t see why those teams were not recognized departments or subdivisions with ”a permanent status and a continuing function in the enterprise,“ as FLSA describes those that qualify for their leaders’ executive exemption. So they, too, ruled against the plaintiffs. Ramos et al. v. Baldor Specialty Foods, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, No. 11-2616-cv (2012).
Point to remember: Wage and hour violations are very popular with plaintiffs’ attorneys, especially class actions like this one. Did these plaintiffs get bad advice?