You know, law firms are not immune from FLSA issues merely because they are law firms and may be allegedly endowed with some superior knowledge of laws. A recent case illustrates this maxim. The name partner of a Los Angeles firm has been charged with misclassifying his legal secretary as exempt. She now has won a jury verdict of $80,000 in overtime; her former boss had claimed that she was properly classified as an executive employee. The case is entitled Bernal v. Little PC et al. and was filed in state court in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.
Ms. Bernal alleges that she was promised a salary of $1,000 per week and no evening hours. Her workload increased but Mr. Little refused to pay her overtime wages. Her counsel told the jury to disregard Little’s assertion that they had an arrangement to pay the Plaintiff a set salary, because the lawyer explained that her position was not exempt from overtime.
Mr. Little claimed Bernal was exempt as manager, as she directed the work of two or more other employees, was responsible for HR and payroll duties and could establish her own hours and manage her own workload. The plaintiff’s lawyer took strong issue with those assertions, telling the jury that she was primarily a legal secretary, including the taking of dictation.
The lawyer testified that Ms. Bernal had worked for him before and knew what the hours were and that there was no conversation about her having a set hourly schedule as she claimed. He also asserted that Ms. Bernal knew it was a “salaried” position; he told the jury that she testified that the initial offer appealed to her because she would be paid for days she did not work. The secretary countered by claiming that her job was all-consuming, sometimes working twenty-hour days and running personal errands for Little, as well as being required to respond to texts and calls on nights and weekends.
Merely paying someone a salary does not mean that they could not eligible for overtime. They must perform the duties required for the executive (or other) exemption. This person’s job duties did not sound like that. Nor does fancy title, if she had one, e.g. Office Manager, mean that she managed anything.
(Expensive) lesson learned…