California Labor &
Employment Law Blog
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.

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