This one is an interesting case.  A law firm, Morgan & Morgan, PLLC has just settled a class action arising from within its own house.  The law firm classified employees titled Case Managers as exempt.  The employees sued, claiming misclassification. Now, in a joint motion the law firm and employees have asked a federal judge to approve their settlement.  The case is entitled Rosado v. Morgan & Morgan Atlanta PLLC and was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia.

Law firms and administrative exemptions
Copyright: phartisan / 123RF Stock Photo

In another interesting twist, although settlement agreements in FLSA cases require court approval, they do so because the plaintiff is compromising her claims, i.e. taking some reduction in what a “full” recovery would be.  However, in this situation the two sides have stipulated that the plaintiff’s claims will be paid in full, so there is theoretically no need for court approval, but the parties want this imprimatur from the Judge to close the matter.  In contrast to that position, the Judge has stated that this settlement does require judicial approval.

The employee worked as a Case Manager for the law firm in its Atlanta office.  Her duties included sending letters of representation, reviewing files with attorneys, sending clients updates on their cases and coordinating with investigators.  She did not have supervisory responsibilities and was not a professional, so the only possible applicable exemption was the administrative exemption.

The duties described above can fairly be characterized as “white collar production” type of work, which is not the ancillary type, back-office function that is the hallmark of someone performing “administrative” work.  The law firm was wise to settle the case.

The Takeaway

The administrative exemption is the toughest one to defend.  Just because an employee is tasked with administrative functions and just because these functions are important to the flow of work and the business does not mean that they fit within the narrow parameters of the regulatory definition.

I think, and tell clients, that the best prism through which to view these issues is an “assembly line.”  If the job duties are geared towards producing a product, or pushing paper or a case through the pipeline, that kind of work is going to be viewed as assembly line work and non-exempt.  More often than not, it is those jobs that are more “cost centers” than “profit centers” where the back-office kind of “servicing the business” functions will be concentrated.

As will the administrative exemption(s).