Aug. 19 2011

Court Says Law Clerk Exempt from Overtime Pay

Topics: Court Decisions, Wage & Hour Issues

A California court ruled this week that a law school graduate who had not yet passed the bar was a "learned professional" and thereby exempt from overtime compensation and similar benefits afforded only non-exempt employees. The plaintiff in the case began working for a law firm after graduating law school and while awaiting bar exam results and admission to the bar. During this time period, the law firm classified the plaintiff as an exempt professional employee and paid him a set salary. As an exempt employee, plaintiff was not paid overtime. The plaintiff later sued for unpaid overtime compensation, claiming the firm had misclassified him as an exempt employee. The firm moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiff had been properly classified and was not entitled to overtime compensation. The trial court judge agreed and threw out the case. Plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff's claims had no merit. Plaintiff argued that California's professional exemption only applies to licensed attorneys (who have passed the bar and been admitted to practice) and cannot be applied to law school graduates prior to bar admission. The court flatly rejected this argument, holding that California'sprofessional exemption applies not only to certain licensed professionals, but also to "learned professionals" who do not necessarily need to be licensed to qualify. The court held that the plaintiff's job duties (equivalent to those of a first year attorney) along with his salary clearly qualified him for exemption as a learned professional. The court's decision was limited to the facts at hand, which involved a law school graduate who was awaiting bar admission. The court did not address applicability of the learned professional exemption to law school students who work at law firms during summer breaks.

The case is Zelasko-Barrett v. Brayton-Purcell LLP and the decision is here.

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For over 20 years, CDF has distinguished itself as one of the top employment, labor and immigration firms in California, representing employers in single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits and advising employers on related legal compliance and risk avoidance. We cover the state, with five locations from Sacramento to San Diego.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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