Executive Assistant Fell Within Wage Laws’ Administrative Exemption; Not Entitled to Overtime

In Dineley v. Coach, Inc., No. 16CV3197 (DLC), 2017 WL 2963499 (S.D.N.Y. July 11, 2017), the court (inter alia) held that an executive assistant was not entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act or the New York Labor Law, because she was subject to the “administrative” exemption under the statutes.

That exemption – codified at 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1) – applies to

any employee: (1) Compensated on a salary or fee basis at a rate of not less than $455 per week …; (2) Whose primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers; and (3) Whose primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. (29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a) (emphasis added).)

It was undisputed that plaintiff met the first two factors; thus the court focused on the third factor.

The court explained:

In general, the exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves the comparison and the evaluation of possible courses of conduct, and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered. [] The exercise of discretion and independent judgment must be more than the use of skill in applying well-established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals or other sources. (Quoting 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.202(a); 541.202(e).)

The following factors, taken from 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(b), that inform/guide the analysis:

  • whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices;
  • whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business;
  • whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to operation of a particular segment of the business;
  • whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact;
  • whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval;
  • whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters;
  • whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management;
  • whether the employee is involved in planning long-or short-term business objectives;
  • whether the employee investigates and resolves matters of significance on behalf of management; and
  • whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes or resolving grievances.

It observed that “[a]n executive assistant or administrative assistant to a business owner or senior executive of a large business generally meets the duties requirements for the administrative exemption if such employee, without specific instructions or prescribed procedures, has been delegated authority regarding matters of significance.” (Quoting 29 C.F.R. § 541.203.)

Applying the law to the facts, the court concluded:

A reasonable jury could only conclude that Dineley’s primary duties required the exercise of discretion and independent judgment on matters of significance to such an extent that she qualified for the administrative exemption to the laws requiring overtime pay. Dineley was paid a salary that was commensurate with her level of experience and responsibilities. Her salary was approximately double that of the non-exempt administrative assistants over whom she shared supervisory responsibilities.

Dineley directly supported high level executives within a large company of approximately 17,000 people, the type of position explicitly contemplated in the regulations. She first worked for the second most senior member of Coach’s HR department. Her work in HR required constant exercise of judgment. Dineley also trained new assistants and “on-boarded” them when they joined Coach. Dineley next directly supported the Design VP, the second most senior executive in the Design Department. Again, her primary duties required the exercise of discretion and judgment regarding matters of significance. She was also the person given primary responsibility for supervising and delegating work to two administrative assistants in the Design Department. Further, she interviewed applicants for administrative and executive assistant positions, including one of the assistants she supervised, and made recommendations on who should be hired. Because nothing in the record, when viewed in the light most favorable to Dineley, raises a triable issue of fact as to whether Dineley’s primary duties included the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance, Coach has shown that it is entitled to a determination that the administrative exemptions to the FLSA and NYLL applied to Dineley.

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