Summary Judgment in Labor Law Class Action Turned on Issues of First Impression Recurrent in Federal Court Class Action Appeals, Warranting Referral of Questions Underlying Class Action to California Supreme Court for Resolution Ninth Circuit Holds
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against her employer, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, in California state court alleging labor law violations; specifically, the class action complaint asserted that Bayer misclassified pharmaceutical sales representatives (PSRs) as exempt employees, and accordingly failed to pay them overtime or provide them with meal breaks to which they would be entitled as non-exempt employees. D’Este v. Bayer Corp., 565 F.3d 1119, 1121-22 (9th Cir. 2009). Defense attorneys removed the class action to federal court, and the district court granted Bayer’s motion for summary judgment “finding that [plaintiff] was exempt under California’s outside sales exemption”’ and based on that finding, the district court did not address whether Bayer also was correct in relying on the “administrative exemption” in its classification of PSRs. Id., at 1122. Plaintiff appealed, id., at 1122. The Ninth Circuit observed that “The question whether PSRs are exempt under California’s outside salesperson and administrative exemptions is the central issue in multiple class action lawsuits in the Ninth Circuit as well as in other circuits.” Id. Accordingly, the Circuit Court – pursuant to Rule 8.548 of the California Rules of Court – certified two questions to the California Supreme Court, id., at 1120.
The Ninth Circuit summarized the relevant facts as follows. Bayer gave plaintiff a list of doctors and hospitals, as well as a list of products, for which she was responsible: “[Plaintiff’s] job was to communicate information about her Bayer products to her roster of doctors and seek their non-binding commitment to write prescriptions for those products. She was also responsible for communicating with hospitals in her territory to influence them to add the Bayer products for which she was responsible to their formularies.” D’Este, at 1121. Plaintiff was “trained on a message” and was required to “adhere closely to the information provided by Bayer about its products”; beyond this, however, “she had the freedom to develop her own strategy for communicating with and influencing doctors.” Id. Additionally, she “had flexibility regarding how she spent her day,” id., at 1122. Specifically, “[Plaintiff] developed her own schedule for meeting with the doctors on her list. She received little or no daily supervision, and saw her manager once every six to eight weeks.” Id. According to the class action complaint, plaintiff regularly worked more than 8 hours per day and more than 40 hours per week, id. For this, she received between $81,000 and $103,000 per year in compensation, id., at 1121. And plaintiff was “not required to keep or maintain set hours.” Id., at 1122.
The questions certified to the California Supreme Court are as follows:
1. The Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Orders 1-2001 and 4-2001 define “outside salesperson” to mean “any person, 18 years of age or over, who customarily and regularly works more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business selling tangible or intangible items or obtaining orders or contracts for products, services or use of facilities.” 8 Cal.Code Regs., tit. 8, §§ 11010, subd. 2(J); 11040, subd. 2(M). Does a pharmaceutical sales representative (PSR) qualify as an “outside salesperson” under this definition, if the PSR spends more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business and personally interacts with doctors and hospitals on behalf of drug companies for the purpose of increasing individual doctors’ prescriptions of specific drugs?
2. In the alternative, Wage Order 4-2001 defines a person employed in an administrative capacity as a person whose duties and responsibilities involve (among other things) “[t]he performance of office or non-manual work directly related to management policies or general business operations of his/her employer or his employer’s customers” and “[w]ho customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment.” Cal.Code Regs., tit. 8 § 11040, subd. 1(A)(2)(a)(I), 1(A)(2)(b). Is a PSR, as described above, involved in duties and responsibilities that meet these requirements?
D’Este, at 1120-21.
NOTE: The Ninth Circuit gave a detailed explanation of its request, and why it “believe[s] there is no controlling precedent or clear state court guidance on the question whether PSRs are exempt under the outside salesperson exemption,” id., at 1123, or the “applicability of the administrative exemption to PSRs, which is an important issue of first impression, id., at 1125. We do not here summarize that discussion.