Second Circuit Considers Academic Requirements for FLSA Professional Exemption

A recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont) clarified the “academic requirements condition” pertaining to the FLSA’s professional exemption. In Young v. Cooper Cameron Corp., No. 08-5847 (2d Cir. Nov. 12, 2009), the court held that the plaintiff was not exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions.

Plaintiff, Andrew Young, a high school graduate, worked in a position requiring technical expertise. The technical position did not require a college degree, but rather, 12 years of relevant experience. After Mr. Young was laid off, he brought suit alleging he was misclassified by his employer as “exempt” and should have been paid overtime.
The FLSA requires employers to pay non-exempt employees one and a half times their regular rate of pay for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours during any given workweek. A “Professional” is exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provision if his or her work requires “advanced knowledge” (i.e., work that is intellectual in character), if the advanced knowledge is in a field of science or learning, and the “advanced knowledge was acquired through a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.”
The Second Circuit held that the professional exemption applied to employees in positions that require “knowledge that is customarily acquired after a prolonged course of specialized, intellectual instruction or study.” The professional exemption will not apply to a job that does not require this type of knowlege, regardless of the job duties performed. The court also took into consideration the fact that no employee in plaintiff’s job had needed advanced education or instruction. Ultimately, the court held that Mr. Young was not an exempt professional under the FLSA, and was entitled to overtime compensation.

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