After a three-week jury trial, Southern New England Telephone Company has won a verdict finding that employees who were titled as field managers and classified as exempt, were in fact exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law. This case is significant because, as a rule, first-level managers are often in reality “working foreman” type of workers and are usually found to be non-exempt. The case is entitled Perkins et al. v. Southern New England Telephone Company and was filed in federal court in the District of Connecticut.
Under the FLSA, employees classified as executive exempt must supervise at least two workers on a full time and direct basis, must have input into or authority over different personnel decisions, such as hiring, firing, compensation, promotion, etc and must have management as their primary duty. With first-level managers, the problem (for defense counsel) often arises because these managers do the same kind of work as their subordinates so the primary duty factor often is an issue.
The plaintiffs had claimed that they were merely given the title of manager and were, under that umbrella, compelled to work 50-70 hours per week, without overtime payment. The plaintiffs contended, as indicated above, that they had and exercised no managerial authority over their so-called subordinates.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers had valued the case at a startling figure exceeding $50 million. This verdict is even more significant given the fact that the judge had ruled (prior to trial) that the Company had destroyed a very large chunk of evidence that the plaintiffs’ lawyers asserted hampered their prosecution of the case and benefited the defendants.
The judge evidently agreed with the plaintiffs, as he had rejected defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that the field managers were themselves closely supervised and actually earned less than the people they supervised. The defendant will not, I daresay, argue with the result, but, on balance, this is against the odds.