When Nurses are performing traditional nursing duties, there is no question that they are professionally exempt under the FLSA. When their duties vary from those usual ones, the analysis is murkier. In a case testing these parameters, a Nurse has sued her employer claiming that her duties, i.e. conducting medical necessity reviews, was non-exempt work and a class should be certified. The case is entitled Baker v. The Anthem Companies Inc. and was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Georgia.

The named plaintiff claims she and others often worked more than forty hours per week, but were not paid overtime and were not required to record their overtime hours. Although she claims there were various job titles used, the duties remained the same—the workers reviewed cases to ascertain their coverage under health insurance plans. She claims they were all given the same training, used the case management system were required to use the same guidelines and were working under identical production targets. The defense is that these Nurses remain exempt under the administrative or professional exemptions or, under the doctrine of “tacking,” a combination of these exemptions.

The named plaintiff, seeking conditional certification, asserts that individual differences in the class members and their levels of possible damages, are not to be litigated during the motion for conditional certification. The plaintiff contends that all she need do is demonstrate that there is a “reasonable basis” for the contention that these workers similarly situated employees. The motion state that “based on their common job duties and shared experiences, plaintiff and the opt-in plaintiffs believe they are similarly situated to defendant’s other medical management nurses.”

There is an interesting twist to this case. The named plaintiff (and others) sought to opt-in to a similar case, filed against the same employer, in a Tennessee federal court. They could not join because the Sixth Circuit has ruled that the collective action could only include employees working in Tennessee. The plaintiff in that case has petitioned the Supreme Court on February 2, trying to reverse that decision. The employer has sought to stay this case pending the completion of the matter now possibly pending in the Supreme Court. No decision has yet been made on the motion to stay.

The Takeaway

A Registered Nurse need not perform traditional duties in order to be exempt. If these employees are applying the knowledge and skills they acquired as Nurses to their reviews, then they will be exempt as either administrative and/or professional employees. This could well be a good case for the employer (ultimately) to make a motion for summary judgment on the exemption issue. That gets the whole case thrown out.

Worth a shot…