It’s quiz time. Here’s the scenario: An employer claims the plaintiff’s job duties fit within an exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act. It’s the charge conference. The defendant asks for the following instruction: “An employer seeking an exemption from the overtime requirements of the FLSA bears the burden of proving an exemption.” The plaintiff seeks this instruction: “An employer seeking an exemption from the overtime requirements of the FLSA bears the burden of proving that the particular employee fits plainly and unmistakably within the terms of the claimed exemption.” Quick, who’s right?
The trial court sided with the plaintiff, and the plaintiff won a verdict. But the 10th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals set aside the judgment and sent it back to the trial court. This is all laid out in the opinion in Lederman v. Frontier Fire Protection, et al (2012).
Why did the trial court make the wrong choice? According to the appeals court, the trial court relied on cases addressing legal — rather than factual — issues, such as in determining whether to grant summary judgment.
Here is the 10th Circuit: “When our prior cases employing this phrase (that is, ‘plainly and unmistakably’) are read as a whole, they do not establish a heightened evidentiary requirement on employers seeking to prove an FLSA exemption. Instead, the ordinary burden of proof — preponderance of the evidence — controls the jury’s evaluation of whether the facts establish an exemption to the FLSA.”
Take the case to your next charge conference. Good stuff.